Monday, May 30, 2011

Great 70's Dads, Memorial Day Special: Gene Evans in THE STEEL HELMET ('51)

"He got up on easy red beach,. and said 'there are only two types of men on this beach - those who are dead and those who are about to die, so let's get up off this beach and die inland' - and that officer I give my steel hat to any day."
There's few genius auteurs who are legitimate tough guys, survivors of war, genuine witnesses of fucked up shit like liberating concentration camps and Warsaw ghetto uprisings and whatnot. I can only think of two offhand, and both are, interestingly enough, Jewish: Roman Polanski and Samuel Fuller.

This is isn't a post about Jewishness, but more of a reference to Fuller's character's qualities, which are miles from the saintly self-righteous sheepishness of Spielberg's Jewish stand-ins in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and SCHINDLER'S LIST. In short, the real survivors of war and oppression are free from having to depict anything but their firsthand observances, while the Spielbergs can only nose amongst the wreckage and monuments like guilty bystanders. Fuller barely mentions his own Jewishness when addressing the horrors of the concentration camp he helped liberate - for him it's a crime against humanity... as a whole.


Think of RYAN for a minute, a film I used to love but is starting--with the passage of time--to seem ridiculous. I mean, Jeremy Davies character is horrific! Hiding back in the rear during combat then running up and complaining about shooting prisoners to Captain Hanks. What a little pisher! I would have shot him myself if I was there, and Ed Burns, who almost deserts because "this mission is FUBAR!" Dude, like any GI said that about any mission (what mission wasn't FUBAR?) without getting shot on the spot. RYAN was the movie that made FUBAR a household name. Well my buddy John's bar was called FUBAR and it was destroyed by a falling crane, Mr. Spielberg! Look at this picture I have in my hands, Mr. Spielberg!


I actually admire Spielberg's directorial skill and desire to tell an important story, but don't watch Spielberg's harrowing D-Day action set piece that opens RYAN unless you want the sickening trauma of actually landing at Omaha; Fuller's is the trauma of remembering being there, from the position of a survivor who never has to shrink in avoidance from a problem again. You see, Fuller was there: THE BIG RED ONE was based on his own D-Day experiences, zig-zagging along Omaha beach, ducking machine gun fire and hopping over the corpses of bodies washing in and back out in the tide. Fuller didn't feel the need to 'duplicate' the experience in our minds, as much as record it. His war films are chronicles of remembered anecdotes and observations. Like any good journalist he trusts this will be enough to garner the 'right' response from the audience: that war is more complex than mere conservative patriotism or liberal ashen dismay can encompass.

Then there's the issue of a character acting his biological age: these guys who died on the beach or survived were young and in Fuller's films they act their age: they talk trash while acting courageously, saintly in deed, foul in speech, not the reverse. You can see this in the voracious way Gene Evans devours a melon while debating whether to retrieve a set of dog tags from a fallen soldier in a minefield. That's how it has to be, if you are to survive. You can imagine Spielberg deciding Evans is the bad soldier for not crying and pounding the sides of the foxhole when he realizes his buddy is dead, dead dead! Instead, Evans just lights another cigar, and finishes his melon. But it's only because he knows pounding the sides of the foxhole will only draw the attention of the enemy.


Fuller's actual war experience makes his spirituality move far beyond religions or borders, or even life and death. When Sgt. Zack (Evans) watches his young war orphan guide Short Round (Spielberg used the name for Indy's sidekick in TEMPLE OF DOOM in Fuller's honor) turning a Buddhist prayer wheel for example, you can feel Zack's respect for even this simple gesture, his awareness of the power that little motions like this can have--butterfly wing tsunami-style--in the greater scheme of war. In a situation where every movement might be your last, everything is imbued with profound significance, and in this the American soldier of Zack's integrity begins to understand how the Asian Buddhist mentality works.

But none of this is enough to make Zack 'break' in the emotional, manner of Spielberg's "The Mission is the Man" heart-bleeders. I think there is a lot of great moments of emotional group acting in RYAN, especially in the scene when they're gathered around the dying medic played by Giovanni Ribisi, and Tom Sizemore's character seems inspired a bit by Sgt. Zack, though the idea of lugging around 'dirt' from different countries in an already heavy pack seems like something made up by a screenwriter.


For Fuller, though, humanity outflanks mere respect for each others' differences - especially around the varied reactions to the Buddha statue in the temple where the second half of the film plays out. Though eventually when Zack jumps on the the statue and uses at as cover during the climactic firefight, you realize that when  push comes to shove, it's just a statue. That's the difference, again, between Spielberg's queasy sentiment and Fuller's iron-clad compassion. 

I love the casual way these guys bump into each other, light matches off each others' helmets, using them as hand railings when climbing over each other like a litter of puppies, sticking cigars in each others' mouths, guiding their progress with hands on their chests, saying cool stuff like "I'd be crossing the army if I brought you luck." -  a whole code of issues about the best jobs to have and various companies are seamlessly integrated into daily talk. I noticed this when having lunch with a bunch of rangers headed for Iraq about five years ago. Their favorite word was 'jihad' -  "I'm putting a jihad on this waiter if she doesn't bring us more coffee" -- Zack has that same hard-won, hard-bit sense of humor too, as with his insistence on the splendor of infantry life. When a soldier in his ragtag outfit complains, "when I get out I'm gonna join the air force, no more beetle-crushing for me." Evans replies "in war there's nothing like infantry. You get hit and, dead or alive, at least you're on the ground." It's a good point that indicates knowledge of countless stories of drifting at sea on life rafts for weeks, or getting eaten by sharks, or burning to death in a plummeting B-17. To a soldier for whom every minute of life is a grace (the hole in his helmet a reminder he should be, and maybe is, already dead), the presence of the ground beneath his feet is a constant reassuring miracle.


In war normal boundaries are dissolved and physical contact between soldiers in the first thing to go, as when Zak comes tumbling down into a ravine with a bunch of pinned down soldiers, all clumsy and awkward, then pops up completely relaxed. The one bow to Christianity is the mock-solemn way Evans examines and blesses his crew, Short Round particularly, finally tapping their helmet in the third eye, like a benediction. This kind of hands-on camaraderie creates intimacy without weakness. Like a good 70s dad, Evans creates the space for the others to enjoy and relax; he takes pride in making some sense of safety possible, without bothering to participate in it directly. His natural grumpiness serves him well. His love is tough, and if it wasn't, he and his charges would already be long dead.


As Fuller notes in his autobiography, producers first wanted John Wayne and then Larry Parks for the Sgt. Zack role, with Fuller threatening to quit each time (Evans was a combat engineer in WW2). A decorated war veteran, Fuller even had business meetings with the army brass over elements like Zack shooting a Korean prisoner of war, shooting up a Buddha statue, and mentioning Jim Crow and Japanese internment camps in the soldier's dialogue. The North Korean officer they caught even has an American accent, and bad teeth. And Fuller fought his way through to having it all included.

Never try and fight with a veteran! No 20th Century Fox mogul can ever hope to be scary to a guy like Fuller unless he's got a fleet of Panzers or German 88 artillery. The end result of it all was worth the fight; there are things here about war you will learn nowhere else. Evans' relative anonymity helps his Sgt. Zack character resonate as 'real'- as does his no nonsense authentic veteran movements. Neither Evans nor Fuller needed military experts to tell them how it really was, and if, after all that gritty authenticity, Evans still emerges as a hero it's an honor due not just our medal-winners but every survivor of war.

At the end of RYAN, Matt Damon's elderly grandfather asks his wife "am I a good man?" While I never fail to cry at that moment, I still think it's not a question Sgt. Zack would ever ask himself. War is not a place where dying for a friend requires a pre-agreement to 'earn it.' War is just a fucking bloody mess, and the idea of 'earning it' implies a core sanity or rightness which is the death of true courage.

Friday, May 27, 2011

You Dirty Desert Rats: PLAY DIRTY, RAID ON ROMMEL


Late May, summer vacation, Memorial Day. a time to embrace the inner WW2 past life veteran. Where were you when you fell? If you had a past life in North Africa, running raids against Rommel's fuel dumps, and maybe died under the treads of Rommel's esteemed Afrika Corps, you will love Netflix streaming for desert warfare is amply represented.

Desert warfare has long captivated the cinematic imagination - a harsh, unforgiving playing field, where strategy is everything and both sides can get lost just trying to find the front. There are ample opportunities for stealth and skullduggery as front lines are hundreds of miles across. It's where scrappy outlaws and cunning commandos undertake missions where they wear any country's uniform but their own. 

 First: RAID ON ROMMEL (1971) with Richard Burton as a British commando taking out the shore guns of Tobruk. There's some icky misogyny with Danielle De Metz as an anachronistic jet set Saint Tropez Italian courtesan (see how she's sandwiched in the poster atop), as if the whole movie resents some producer's edict his girlfriend be included, and no one bothered to ask her to change into something from the period. There's even a nasty crack about white slavery when she's shot up with heroin, and hip early 70s rage at high gasoline prices, making a great show of exploding fuel dumps and unlucky Germans lit ablaze in the Tobruk night thanks to Burton with a flame thrower. It's such a mounting orgy of explosions by the end that it starts to resemble some surreal demolitions-porn video. Turns out it's all lifted from an earlier film, TOBRUK, in fact. 


PLAY DIRTY (1969) goes for the existential vibe where that's concerned: tire repair, hauling trucks up a mountain, weathering a sandstorm, and other SORCERER waiting for Godot-style existential tomfoolery. Michael Caine is the by-the-book officer, Nigel Davenport the hardened cynic, Nigel Green the dissolute, cynical and well-worn Colonel who plans the mission (another fuel dump, by Jove!) Together they shoot unarmed Red Cross workers, (nearly) rape a German nurse, kill innocent bystanders and otherwise commit egregious deeds in the name of the mission. And they listen to lots of blaring music on the jeep radio. The acting is all good but the existential vibe a bit souring. Part of my yen for war movies is that they provide a rare chance for male camaraderie in the service of a genuinely good cause and PLAY DIRTY denies that fantasy, trying to shoehorn post-1969 bitterness into pre-1945 history.

When I see a war movie I want more than the begrudging respect of a few salts and an innocent German nurse nearly raped and then stabbed for no discernible reason. I want more than WAGES OF FEAR-style men in trucks minutiae. Hitler and Japan were the be-all and end all of ruthless evil. We can try to fathom the depths of soullessness we are all capable of, but even the cynical air of the late 1960's-early 70's Vietnam era which infuses both these films can't argue with that level of horror. Why bother souring us on the last chance we ever had to be truly the good guys? There's a time and place where we actually won the war, and no amount of Vietnam disillusion should cloud that up. Only on the Military channel.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Long and Tall XXL in the Saddle

The way John Wayne rides a horse is the closest thing lazy big and tall men have to their own form of liquid poetry. Always bumping our heads going down basement steps, cramping our legs in ordinary airplane seats, dangling over edges, looking apish in hand-me-downs from normal size cousins; we're often light-headed from being head in the clouds all the time and John Wayne is all these things, but turns them upside down through sheer moral charisma. He's so tall he seems like he's outgrown the pony below him, even if its a roaring stallion. He forces us to re-examine the sheer surreal strangeness of a man riding a four legged animal like some strange Martian centaur. He's the father who is both fearsome, protective, loving, and just a wee bit of a jokester. All that adds up to perfection, so when Wayne goes rogue on us, like halfway through RED RIVER, we're traumatized in a way we're just not when the diminutive James Mason loses it along similar lines in BIGGER THAN LIFE.


I'd been avoiding John Ford's cavalry trilogy (FORT APACHE, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, RIO GRANDE) my whole life, smarting from the childhood terror of Henry Fonda's stern anti-Indian policies and the mix of honor, tradition and whiskey-besotted sentimental blarney that is life in Ford's patriarchal colonialist west, and instant tedium to any kid who doesn't yet know the sweet soul-stirring taste of the 'water of life.'

But I should have known better not to just glance at labels and mustaches. (Wayne's mustache spooked me away from SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON). The problem with assumption means you're always predicting the lowest result. Period westerns with frilly bonnets and well-meaning old matrons stirring pots and yelling at young Jeff Carson to come in from the fields for dinner can be dull, but that doesn't mean Ford's are dull. In fact every aspect of every Ford movie would be dull in the wrong hands. In Ford's hands, however, it's poetic. The iconography comes to life. As he probably invented most of it, I guess that makes sense

To me it's proof that the conservatives and liberals are all mixed up - the neo-cons should making more movies and the liberals saving their sermonizing for the senate floor. And for god's sake, more drinking. If you look at the films of the 1970s compared to the films of now, it's clear what made them cooler, earthier, more poetic, dirty, cool, and real: more Valium, cigarettes (indoor smoking), booze, casual sex, long hair, and whatever the hell else.

In Ford's cavalry pictures we actually see (heaven forefend!) a situation where drinking, dancing, and killing are all socially condoned rituals. Most boys today find themselves stricken as social outcasts, hunted by the cops, the minute they sip their first beer or toke their first joint. Rather than an initiation into the social order with its laws, values, and common enemy (outlaws, Injuns), the first beer or toke casts us forever outside the social order - we become the outlaws.  Is it the drugs that are to blame, or the laws, those nanny state control freak tantrums that result when laws are passed but Americans don't instantly fall to their knees and renounce whatever it is the hysterical old people see fit to demonize? The sentences are lengthened, the fines stiffened, and still Americans cling to their freedom. Whether hurling tea into Boston Harbor, rising up against the whiskey tax, or growing dope in your parent's upstate New York basement, you're a true patriot! And you know who would agree with me? Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, you heard me, and John Ford, John Wayne and BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS star, John Agar, before, that is, the evil brain took over his body.


And especially if you're tall and heavy and don't move so well, let Wayne show you how it's done - and remind you that you don't have to do it. Summer's here, so soak it up the way the west was meant to be, in the dreams of a TV,  with Irish in your air conditioned blood finding itself warmed in every song The Sons of the Pioneers sing to their holy Shirley Temple.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gialli Ressegne II: SEVEN DEATHS IN A CAT'S EYE, SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK, FIVE DOLLS OF AN AUGUST MOON, SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS, CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS

SEVEN DEATHS IN A CAT'S EYE
1973 - ***1/2
This international-Italian/French co-production stars yeh-yeh girl Jane Birkin as a plucky ingenue possibly going mad in a mansion full of eccentrics, like Paulette Goddard in the 1939 CAT AND THE CANARY if the Bob Hope part was played by a brooding Byronic pretty boy. With photography lush enough that at times Birkin's luminous hair has the beauty of Sissy Spacek's in BADLANDS, this film  bumps up three stars now that it's not a panned, scanned, washed-out mess. The only remaining flaw is a truly ridiculous gorilla suit, which is anyway a nice souvenir from the age of the old dark house mystery, which someone in this film loved.


One of the stand-out elements here are the clothes, which 'nod' to an assumed setting of 1930's England, but just nod, keeping the high fashion edge rather than getting bogged down in stuffy details like bowler hats and woolen overcoats. For her mourning wear (above) Birkin is given a beautiful black fur collar and her nightgown's sexy without being tacky (Von Sternberg would have approved). The whole production, aside from lingering close-ups of rats eating the face of victim #1, is very tasteful. The music is the orchestral suspense-generating variety rather than the moody giallo electric guitars of the time, but that's not worth a demerit. Indeed, the only demerit is maybe dubbing Serge Gainsbourg (he's the detective) with a fake Scotch burr, and not letting Jane B. do her own voice in English (She was English, after all, despite singing in French for hubby Serge). I kept thinking, hey! She's Charlotte Gainsbourg's mom! and imagining Charlotte even being conceived during this shoot, though that's maybe a stretch. Still it would fit with Charlotte's career choices, and thus this would be a great double bill with ANTICHRIST! Meee-yow!

SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK
(AKA THE PSYCHIC)
1977 - ***1/2
Lucio Fulci may be a lot of things, but boring ain't one. Sure, he's a fan of cheap-ass gore, nightmare logic, and jarringly placed schlock pop ballads, but THE PSYCHIC proves he can deliver an elaborate mystery and all the giallo elements: there's some Poe motifs, and the very 70s trend for ESP and telekinesis made so swinging by the popularity of CARRIE and THE EXORCIST. The music will rattle the lamps off your table and the ending is incredibly tense. Great use of a musical pocket watch as a gimmick, ala the sing-song la-la-la tape in BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. You'll scream! You'll cry! You'll think Jennifer O'Neill is a goddess. Her facility with mental powers made her ideal to appear in Cronenberg's SCANNERS four years later.

FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON
1970 - **
Movies like this early Bava effort live and die by the score and the sleazy organ at work here makes you remember the old Shadow radio show, not in a good way... Who knows what Ennio might have done with a few electric guitars instead? The plot's a typical Ten little Indians thing (the number sliced in half) and occasionally the score gets much too jaunty as the bodies are stored in the freezer next to the freshly killed pheasants. Since the house is all modern and stark white there's little opportunity for Bava's deep red and purple gel color schemes. Luckily the women are hot, the clothes are foxy, and there's lines like "death makes you feel dirty." and "houseboys come and go but there's always the bottle." There sure is...


There's also the cast, led in spots by Edwige Fenech, looking more than ever like some strange kid sister to Tura Satana, and Ira Von Furstenberg (Diana's ex sister-in-law). If you're in the mood to fall asleep on the couch go for it. I'll stick with KILL BABY KILL! Still, this film has a fan in a woman who's opinion I trust over my own, Tenebrous Kate:
These jet-setting millionaires may be a generally oily and unlikable lot, but don't think for a minute that this means they're not incredibly well dressed.  The costumes are drool-worthy, from Edwige's scanty white petal bikini to the slim-cut hep-cat trousers favored by the gents of the cast.  Spangles, gauze, colorful lacey undergarments, and pop art fabrics abound.  The house where much of the action goes down is the seaside equivalent of the Frank-Lloyd-Wright-esque mansion at the end of "North  by Northwest," with its cliff-side perch and vast expanses of window.  Everything is circa-1970-sumptuous, right down to the rotating round bed and the ritzy glassware.  And yes, in case you were wondering--these folks ARE drinking J&B. (more here)
 Yep, can there be any doubt that J&B is the official scotch of the genre gialli?

SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS
1971 - **1/2
An ornate title with objectifying noun; Jean Sorel as a soft butch version of Franco Nero; the drab atmosphere of communist Prague; a sinister classical music club and elaborate conspiracies worthy of David Icke, it all adds up to a potentially interesting Eastern European giallo knock-off. Aside from a great last ten minutes, however, GLASS DOLLS puts the drag in draggy. Even Ennio Morricone's score lists at half-mast, limiting itself to some screechy panic attack drones, somewhere between Bernard Herrmann and an orchestra tuning up. I had the soundtrack on a Morricone CD long before seeing the film and used to love to listen while walking through Prospect Park at night with just a dog, a frisbee, and a Discman --every shadow on the stone bridge walls like death incarnate.

But dude, where are the hot clothes? The hot girls? Barbara Bach's sexy lame' dress is left behind in the first ten minutes and there's seldom any swankiness after that. Only Ingrid Thulin (WILD STRAWBERRES) as a sex-hungry fellow journalist gets any color, and then only via headscarves that only make her look older than she already is.

Expertly summarizing the film's distinct old vs. young generational conflict as analogous to Eastern Europe politics is James from Behind the Couch:

The film also serves as a sly allegory addressing the destructive nature of totalitarian governments, like the one in power in Czechoslovakia at the time. The weird socially elitist members of the cult represent overpowering authoritarian systems in which the higher classes literally suck the life out of younger generations, those less well off and anyone else who opposes them. The older generation is depicted as inherently sinister in this film. The disdain and suspicion of the elderly middle class is exhibited clearly in the scene in which Gregory sneaks into the goldsmiths building and into a room full of elderly people in evening dress listening to a classical concert. They sit motionless and look uncannily like the undead ghouls in Carnival of Souls
That sounds creepy all right, but is it any fun? Without the pop art colors it's just dispiriting, man! There's not enough J&B in the world...


CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS
1971 - ***
When it comes to soundtracks, Bruno Nicolai is no Ennio Morricone, but he's literally awfully close (he conducted Ennio's early Argento scores), so what is the deal with the trite muzak in IRIS? Oh well. Star Edwige Fenech compensates as the heroine escaping a bad group marriage and moving into a high rise apartment with some models already in the midst of being knocked-off. Everyone's a suspect, including Fenech (or it all could be her imagination). The killer is the official giallo type: androgynous in black stocking mask, raincoat, fedora and gloves. In this instance, alas, the gloves are a sickly looking yellow rubber variety. A real turn-off!

I'm not giving anything away by mentioning the main culprit is Fenech's mysterioso architect boyfriend, or wait, is it her jealous ex-husband, the one who drew her into the Wildflower Group sex club from which the title 'perhaps' gets his name? An hour after watching you won't be able to remember who any of these people are, but is that really so bad?


The real stars of IRIS are the elevator and stairways of the old-school high rise where many a murder and moment of tension doth occur. Could this film have been seen by Brian De Palma? What's that? You don't care? You can't leave me, Carmen! I'm bound to you, do you hear? Body and soul. Yes, shit dubbed dialogue abounds but some parts are pretty kinky-creepy and Fenech is great as always, her soul battling her corrupt body like a one-man show reflecting Catholicism's whole trip wrapped up in a voluptuous wiggle.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fourteen or Fight!


In today's environ of political stagnancy we may no longer remember how it could even be possible, but between 1967 and '70, the establishment was seriously concerned about being overrun by its own children. The suits were scared, the politicians saw the size of the crowds at Woodstock, the small cities worth of people who would appear within a week of some rock star announcing a free concert, and they knew no army could stand in their way. And we have WILD IN THE STREETS to prove it. This is the film that made good on the ever-looming urban myth, that the hippies wanted to spike the water supply with LSD, lower the voting age (the age to vote didn't get lowered to 18 until 1971), and send everyone over 30 off to camps for 're-grooving' (1). The only old guy in the film is the original Ed Begley as a youth-hating politician advising California senator Hal Holbrook not to make a deal with the devil, or a young rock star, in this case Max Frost (Christopher Jones, who looks like James Dean's reincarnation times Martin Sheen).


Max is handsome and charismatic, and has a fine drummer in Richard Pryor; Kevin Coughlin is his 14 year-old queer super genius accountant and guitar player; Diane Varsi is the ex-child star resident free spirit. Shelly Winters is the broad comic mom and her schtick has not aged well. Songs include "Shape of Things to Come," which was a real-life hit. There's also "We're 52%"  and "Fourteen or Fight!" both encouraging youth to go on a rampage if the voting age isn't lowered. Eventually it is: Frost is elected prez, baby and the organized jihad against the older generation begins in earnest.

What's interesting is that this film came out a year before Woodstock and Altamont, but it's already prefigured in "the biggest block party in history" that narrator Paul Frees calls Frost's Sunset Strip demonstration. Frees also adds that the older "people die of shock just watching TV." Oh if only, man, if only.  The songs were written by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann who wrote songs in the following year's ANGEL ANGEL DOWN WE GO, which would have been more of a hit had the whole charismatic hippy cult leader thing not have suddenly gotten a terrible rap thanks to the Manson murders (WILD would probably have been pulled from release had it come out a year later).


But that was then, let's focus up on 1968, the year this film came out, hitting a nice little nerve during a very turbulent and hopeful time. Up until this point in history the youth had a pretty serious voice, especially on campus, where they regularly made local and even national news protesting and holding sit-ins. It was the year that battles against sexism, racism, censorship, and sexual taboos raged and groups like the Rolling Stones could gather hundreds of thousands at the drop of a hat, and no cop on earth could make them disperse. If they wanted, these bands could start a real revolution with their long hair and their rock music.

But the fear that they would has soon evaporated, overdoses and ennui saw to that. In the end it's really all about Altamont and the fearful way Melvin Belli and assorted city planners are forced to accommodate the crowds and not the other way around. You can feel the unease as the old powers bow to the whims of the young in GIMME SHELTER. And the way the wild anarchy of druggie California weirdness in turn overwhelms the music itself.

On that note, it's to the credit of TV director Barry Shear that he can depict Max's massive shows of youth revolt via tinted stock footage of the Sunset Strip, a bonfire, parked motorcycles, stalled traffic, random shots of crowds dancing, tinted windows, blinking signs, other rock concert and earlier love-in crowds, skylines, and the Capital Building. In other words, nary a farthing spent on crowd scenes. An assortment of faces from the counterculture come and go, as is their wont: Bobby Sherman, Peter Tork, Gary Busey. As with most AIPs, there's less than a dozen people in the whole movie but if you're drunk or ten years-old it can seem like the most dangerous, expensive movie in the world.

Writer Robert Thom based the script on his short story, "The Day it all Happened, Baby." Thom wrote a lot of films about overbearing moms and their beautiful Apollonian sons, like CULT OF THE DAMNED (the mom sleeps with the rock star boyfriend of her heavy daughter), BLOODY MAMA (Mama sleeps with her son's gay lover, Bruce Dern), DEATHRACE 2000 (son runs over old lady), LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE (snide old lady gossip columnist hounds Byronic filmmaker) etc. Thom was born in 1929, so you do the math, he was old, daddy, old. Pushin' 40 when this film was made, this film with its groovy finger on the supple ribs of beautiful youth. In other words it's got Sebastian Venable fingerprints all over its subtexts. Come to think of it, has Robert Thom ever written a straight love scene? Like a genuine no-nonsense straight people being genuinely romantic kind of trip? Oh wow... no, there's no sex in WILD IN THE STREETS, and the one moment of intimacy comes with Jones and another boy. Oh Thom. As Diane Varsi notes with a smile, "methinks you boys are fags."


That's all good though, and awesome. There's also plenty of psychedelic light show madness and teeny bopper blonde hair. That said, the music still has traces of AIP's patented corniness; lazy horn sections remind you that the older generation making the film harbor unconscious resentment for their drive-in demographic. Shelly Winters eventually has to bow and gurgle to please them, and methinks we're meant to feel bad for her, or America. But America has always thrived on dissent. Sometimes the greatest patriots are those who would elect a mentally unstable sociopath "just to see what would happen." (you know who I mean).


After WILD was over, I turned cable back on and there was this show on History Channel about '69 - The Sexual Revolution' and Hugh Hefner talking about how he and Shel Silverstein appreciated the free love movement more than the youth because they--he and Shel--had grown up in a more conservative time. And I thought, like wow, dig, my generation is living the exact reverse!! I saw enough of it growing up in the 1970s that I've come to feel I'll never--no matter how debauched I become--ever live that free again, and the younger kids are threatened not by my moral rigidity, but my lack thereof; my preaching of a time before safety, health, environmentalism, and antidepressants (which are a lot like the daily LSD supplements in the re-grooving camps set up by Max). WILD IN THE STREETS reflects a time when the idea of freedom and the banners of sex, drugs, and rock and roll had permanently (we thought) done away with the nanny state Safety First Clydes and Anita Bryants, or at least reduced them to powerless Shelly Winters caricatures. But our nation is nothing if not bi-polar, half terrified family man, half crazed druggie biker.

That's the beauty of America - when you're always fighting yourself, you just can't lose.

NOTES
1) Firesign Theater - Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lashes by Covergirl...and Centurions: THE TOURIST, MASQUERADE and THE SEVENTH SIGN

Where o where hath my Angelina gone? The one who burned a whole through GIRL, INTERRUPTED, or even the one who dazzled with her mix of mature romanticism and aerodynamic toughness in MR. AND MRS. SMITH?

Like Natalie said in THE BLACK SWAN: "She's gone!!"

In SALT (2010 - see my review," From Russia with Adamantium Cheekbones") we saw the once mighty Jolie beginning to look a little frail. We winced when she fell from high bridges onto highway traffic, for her bones seemed brittle like a bird.  The only wincing in THE TOURIST (recently arrived on DVD) comes from the contrived situations and dialogue, barely audible as Jolie's manipulative narcissist triple financial double-crosser never speaks above a posh British purr she must have borrowed from Eva Green in CASINO ROYALE.


Jolie was only around 35 when she made THE TOURIST but she seems much older thanks to a Joan Collins-level makeover: botox frozen smile, cheeks glossy, deep black layers of smudgy eye liner, and the endless cutaways to rich beautiful younger men looking up from their Rolexes and Cristal flutes, enraptured, parting before her at the ubiquitous ball like a black and white formal sea, nodding in admiration as this old-before-her time diva passes in the latest expensive couture, walking like she's holding a vial of nitro in a place where no lover has ever trespassed; all that's missing is a tag for Godiva chocolate bars, or rejuvenating night creme. If it was 1984 and this was a TV movie called Jacqueline Susann's Venice Nights and Jolie was pushing 50, it would make sense.

Even in her seventies and drunk beyond measure, Marlene Dietrich, for example, could still pull off the trick of shining through such airless luxury and making mass adoration believable. And you might say you can't compare Jolie with Dietrich, to which I'd say, yeah, duh! Jolie could act circles around Dietrich, and is just as hot if not hotter, so why is Dietrich at 70 sexier than Jolie at 35? The truth is, these handsome moneyed guys on these euro-trains wouldn't give the Jolie in this film more passing glance if it wasn't her movie and the script required them to. Her vibe is dour; she seems to expect adoration too much --it's all that keeps her from crumbling into mummy dust. She's a black hole of compliments, and I've known girls like this--drop dead gorgeous but frozen solid in their personae like victims of their own mirror Medusa-- and any man who can afford a Rolex has already learned not to even make eye contact with this type of pretty woman ("it's so expensive!" as Mischa Auer noted in MR. ARKADIN), unless, of course, the director insists


When Bette Davis made herself the object of every man's desire in her films, for another contrast, it was fascinating because 1) she wasn't remotely hot (post, say, 1935) and b) she didn't try to hide her psychotic intensity. If she dreaded getting old, she'd just scream at the mirror in full Baby Jane make-up until the madness passed. Bette was so cool she even made films like THE STAR (above, with Oscar and Jim), which spoke to the tragic absurdity of actresses clinging onto juvenile roles long past their prime. In short, Davis embraced her own ridiculousness like a champ, like a boxer who doesn't even flinch when enduring a flutter of sharp jabs to the face.

THE TOURIST screams for a Davis! Lacking one, it insists we believe its phony emotional catharses and triple crosses; it prefers we swoon at Jolie's perfume ad acting while it itself remaining steadfastly cynical about its own ambition$ (the final line is as shameless a piece of subtextual vanity as I've ever heard). When the climax of a film involves the heroic self sacrifice of actually paying back taxes, you know you're watching a film made by people who've never flown coach or cooked their own food, or been chased by the cops, or slept on a floor, or drank Piels, a beer so bad you can only drink it ice cold via funnel; but who nonetheless think they know plenty about life.

Maybe that's the alchemical transubstantiatory rub, this is a film where rich people fool each other into thinking they're poor - like internet dating in reverse. But the film itself hasn't fooled anyone (it bombed), least of all the Cult d'Jolie. Our baby is a dinosaur now, with an array of war orphan leeches draining her charisma daily. Will we ever get her back? All signs point to no.We're stuck with the waxwork substitute.

 


Speaking of back taxes and fooling each other with false personae, there's a forgotten, similar film called MASQUERADE (1965) on Netflix Streaming, which is marginally better than the very similar THE TOURIST, if only for its droll William Goldman script and wry performances from British spy movie regulars like Jack Hawkins and Charles Gray (Blofeldt in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER). The plot involves the 'kidnapping' of a young heir to an Arab kingdom who is about to turn old enough to depose the acting emir who's in league with the communists (the heir is pro-British). A coup is feared, and the kidnapping prevents it. Only who hired bungling playa Cliff Robertson to guard the chicken coop?

 Soon the kid is kidnapped from the kidnappers, Cliff finally realizes he's the fall guy and a traveling circus/smuggler troupe led by Michel Piccoli that includes femme fatale Marissa Mell (both were in DANGER: DIABOLIK!) and a knife-throwing dwarf are running the show. Double crosses galore, mes amis! No one is who they seem! Robertson owes back taxes to the British!

At least MASQUERADE has the self-awareness to regard its own facile nature with the same witty acumen it regards espionage and if there is no difference at least they're British enough to admit it. In MASQUERADE if you're not a triple agent with golden parachutes from here to Madrid, then you're worse than a fool, you're a patriot. THE TOURIST would probably smile at the notion of actual patriotism if it could (too much botox).

Luckily THE TOURIST's bombing at the box office showed we don't praise the golden mummy; we sell it on ebay. THE TOURIST will soon reside in the $5.99 rack next to THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE and SHANGHAI SURPRISE... and one day re-emerge from the rubble, like MASQUERADE did, half a century from now, like a memo from a presumed long ago melted-down-and-sold as-black-market-ingots golden calf.


Another Netflix streaming pick for this week is THE SEVENTH SIGN (1988), which as you may have heard is about 'the end of days,' set to happen this week or, failing that, 12/21/12. Excited? It stars Demi Moore as a pregnant Yenta busybody who--while snooping through her tenants' mail--discovers an ancient document: it seems Demi's child is the harbinger of the end of the world and Jurgen Prochnow (la tenant) is the looming 'Lamb,' opening seals and bringing down plagues, rivers of blood, snow in the desert, dogs and cats living together. Michael "I came back in time for you, Sarah." Biehn is the dad, which lets you know their kid is going to save the world from SKYNET or the Antichrist, maybe - that's called associative casting!

A low budget film of the kind that rarely get theatrical releases anymore, SIGN at least has the courage of its bizarro convictions: it's played stone-cold straight, all the while casting some doubt--not too much--as to Demi's sanity, making it the dead opposite of THE TOURIST. In fact, watching both in a period of days was enough to make me realize that Angelina Jolie is the lamb of God;  THE TOURIST a cinematic equivalent of morally bankrupt Sodom; Johnny Depp the hapless lamb led to slaughter at the altar of Jolie's martyr complex. Gone are notions of good guys and bad in all three films. What's left is just the soulless and bejeweled zombies that still walk slowly across the Saks Fifth avenues of the Earth, their souls half-devoured by invisible demons from the Orion constellation, and abetted by personal shoppers. But then of course there's always the mothers like Demi who won't let humanity just die for once. No one, but no one, is allowed to die on their watch. As GODSEND taught (if you never saw it, read my piece from 2004 here), even dying is no escape from their righteous clinging!

 

Semi-SPOILER ALERT--the possible pro-life associations in THE SEVENTH SIGN made me root, as I'm sure many have, for the end of the world, rather than this STEEL MAGNOLIAS / LIFE BEFORE HER EYES/ SWITCH/ soapy martyrish ending. Is Demi serving mankind or just the moral 'majority' by dying for her child? How can you tell if a woman's sacrifice is noble or just a symbolic subjugation? Well, either way, those Christians are gone in just a few more days and maybe Angelina Jolie will be able to resume undermining the status quo of feminine oppression like she did in FOXFIRE and GIRL, INTERRUPTED and stop pandering to rich materialistic women of a certain age on behalf of high-end make-up sponsors. After all, Demi Moore's dating Ashton, and that's ballsy. Why can't Jolie do something ballsy? Adopting endless amounts of orphans is not ballsy. I mean, am I the only one who's jealous of those little bastards? I get the impression they are responsible for both her terrible project choices and her weariness.

Maybe in the future the good guys and the bad will once again be distinguishable based on something other than who's offering who the most money to stab their own unborn grandchildren in the back, and who oppressed the third world first (the British) vs. who wants to do it now (the Russian mafia, the CIA).  THE SEVENTH SIGN at least lets you contemplate your own ambivalence about humanity's inherent goodness and whether your soul's old enough that the end of days seems an impossibly sweet 'get out of eternal reincarnation jail' free card or young enough that all you care about is who will look after the children. Either way you can't help but thrill at the prospect of things changing and all those idiots (whomever they are for you) finally rotting in hell like they deserve. Those (your choice here) bastards!  In the words of Malcolm McDowell as CALIGULA, "If only all of Rome had just one neck!"

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Girl who Fingered the Frenchman


Ah  France, the big scandal erupting with Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a reminder that where there's liberty et fraternite' there are also sleazebag rapists in high places. The attack (ED NOTE: It's since been downgraded to prostitute-blackmail scam) happened in a New York hotel, and maybe its my city pride that makes this story resonate as a great David and Goliath style upset, something the Millennium Trilogy could be proud of, and might even be a little bit indirectly responsible for: the word of a rattled immigrant hotel maid was enough for our cops to pull this high roller Frenchman off a first class plane and throw him in the clink. Word is finally out: clergymen and politicians are the sex maniacs of our age - believing the word of the victim is the new black!


To see more? Cinema, naturalmente. The above attack sounds very plausible, in fact I've seen it in at least two films, and recently: Asia Argneto's SCARLET DIVA (with a crazy producer played by artist Joe Coleman chasing Asia down the hotel hallway in Paris, naked but for cowboy boots, ah, Cannes! - my in-depth discussion here) and Vince Gallo attacking a Paris hotel maid in TROUBLE EVERY DAY (above, here). The evil men of power in GIRL WITH A DRAGON TATTOO and the Millennium Trilogy are apparently in France now that said girl made it too hot for them in Sweden (see my piece on Bright Lights, 'The New Lurid: Cinema's Rape Disavowal Fantasy').

But what of other locales in France, outside Paris, ala the French countryside? This seems to be a pretty terrible place, where vast stretches of emptiness allow slavering mutant sexuality to flourish. A group of normally upstanding males commit a horrific gang rape when they realize a woman is living alone in a stone house by a remote stretch of French country road in ONE DEADLY SUMMER (1983), with the victim's daughter (Isabelle Adjani) enacting an elaborate revenge. One of the most infamous onscreen rapes ever occurs in the French film IRREVERSIBLE, though that's in the city, and for the purposes here, let's focus on the countryside and its role as a space outside normal societal norms. Indeed, in this array of films, the French countryside is a place where no one can hear you scream, and no law can come to your rescue with any quickness. Men must stand on their own good conscience, and many do not. Remote areas are a creep's power source as much as above-the-law titles like politician and priest, but the ambiguity and self-reliance goes both ways. All is not always what it seems.

Take the 1970 British film about two birds cycling on holiday through rural France, AND SOON THE DARKNESS. Over at Britmovie, Drew Shimon cogently discusses the film's ability to create suspense without much overt violence or even actual dark:
Ironic, really, for a film bearing the title And Soon The Darkness, that practically no darkness is actually seen throughout, but such things are part of the strange fascination of British horror: in Die Screaming, Marianne for instance, Marianne neither dies nor screams, and in Whoever Slew Auntie Roo, the identity of the slayers is in no way a mystery to the audience. What it doesn’t deliver in honour of its title, though, it makes up for by exceeding every other possible expectation.

I was led to expect this film would be really disturbing, ala THE VANISHING, which is why I steered clear for so long, but it's actually just suspenseful, sexy and awesome. Also, if you know any French at all, you get an inkling of the identity of the rapist-killer early on, and the savagery of rape as depicted in GIRL or something like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (see my 'Towards a New Cinema of Castration: I Spit on Your Grave and Only Angels Have Wings') is absent, replaced by the gross caricatures of lust you get in Japanese pinku films: the eyes of the rapist bugging, lips snarling in deformed adolescent exaggeration, tongue wagging obscenely... what's to get traumatized by? Especially as these are more symbolic renderings, you never get the sense these guys getting very far, mostly humping air like a dog-- but it leaves one confused. If it's not meant to be harsh and repulsive ala SPIT or GIRL than what? A chance for a woodsman to ride to the rescue? A moment of kinky objectification? Or a moment to have the ugliness of base id-lust rubbed in our face as a cautionary tale? I muse on this at length in my cogent 2010 celebration of FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41, Stung by the Belle. 

DARKNESS gets a lot of mileage out of short skirts and dried patches of grass, a spooky bunch of woods (hedgerows?) in the middle of vast empty fields, the gradual setting of the sun (it all occurs over the matter of a few hours), the onset of clouds and rain, and the vast language barrier between a holidaying Brit girl and old French gas station workers. In such a tranquil setting, the sexual violence seems almost quaint, a mere flaring up of an old forgotten splotch of vile repressed desires left too long untended in the fields. Because the film works, as Shimon says, without the darkness promised (and soon, like CCR's someday, never comes), it escapes our condemnation, but there's an aftertaste of sleaze that lingers on. But hey, it's on Netflix streaming! So is the remake! Avoid the latter!


Also on Netflix streaming, all of a sudden!-- is a bunch of Jean Rollin films, including REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (1973) Read Ethan Spigland's essay on the film in Acidemic #6, here to get the lowdown on the film's use of the uncanny and Georges Bataille. Using what looks a lot like the same road from DARKNESS, this film follows to young naifs in clown costumes who wind up lost in the wilderness, eventually abducted by a castle full of old debauched vampires and their slavering rapist underlings. The girls are sexually attacked, briefly, and then forced to watch, hypnotized, as various girls chained in the dungeon are raped in the usual slavering, grotesque but bloodless, bruiseless, Sadean, in a very abstract and philosophically relevant... way.

Intellectual S/M still boils down to the most sleazy of crimes against empathy, and if anti-pornography advocates are right, there's nowhere else left to go but to that wretched basement. Once the consumer of the image has let himself become dehumanized via the suffocating access to so many images, the image suffocates as much as the proximity of the other. Rape fantasies are actually common in both sexes, but as I noted in my BL piece defending the Twilight films from anti-feminism charges, "Someone to Fight Over Me,"
Rape is not called rape when it's in romantic fiction; it's "ravishment" and shouldn't be compared with actual physical rape, which is by definition not "desired" by the victim. The erotic charge of setting a romance in a past era lies with the straitjacket moral code: the only way a woman can keep her honor is by resisting both the man and her own desire. She indirectly invites the overpowering on herself as a means of sidestepping issues of her feminine integrity and honor, and the uncertainty of responsibility over one's actions. This is not weakness on her part, but an intrinsic understanding of what's truly erotic about societal loopholes. She has the strength it takes to surrender and go limp in a man's overpowering arms, and she gets exactly what she wants out of it and nothing more.(more)
Another interesting French film dealing with slavering maniac males in the countryside is DON'T DELIVER US FROM EVIL (1971), loosely based around the same real life case as HEAVENLY CREATURES, but with a lot more teasing of leering male strangers. where the two lead girls are having a holiday. The pair delight in flirting with and teasing passing travelers, but every man they lure into the brush has only two speeds: sexual assault and lusty looking. The men never try to tease back or engage in the girls' weird head games. Instead they remain still, let themselves be teased to a certain point and then snap, becoming insane slavering rapists in a flash. As Kim Morgan notes on her Sunset Gun:
 On Summer break, the girls stick together, staying at Anne's parents home while her family is conveniently away. They ride bikes and flit around in those short cotton summer dresses every guy wishes for when the sun comes out and they laugh -- they laugh a lot. Considering that they're Satanists, the girls are a lovely pair of Beelzebub buddies. Thank goodness they lived in the early 1970s. No manic panic hair, no PVC mini-skirts, no cheap fetish boots and tired, sullen expressions for these best friends. These girls are enjoying their evil. So much that they put together a crafty, dainty black mass in an abandoned chapel (you can feel fellow bad girl Martha Stewart heartily nodding her head in approval). With the dim groundskeeper serving as "Priest," they seal their Satanic deal and drive the man nuts while sitting in the rowboat in the thick of night -- he can see through their cotton Communion gear. (more) 

The key thread I'm fumbling for through all this is the ultimate emptiness of sexual gratification as the be all and end all of power. All that smoke and perfume and grinding strip show razzle dazzle leads to nothing more than an expensive feeling of emptiness behind the wizard's peepshow curtain. It's culture's job to make you forget that post-orgasmic depression, but just as rich women like Winona Ryder may shoplift for a weird thrill, trying to recapture a time when acquiring possessions brought them joy, so the oversexed rich French politician may accost a hotel maid because all else has failed him, and he figures himself above the law, and maybe still thinks he's in some role-play brothel from the night before. Who knows? His world is akin to the one Kim Morgan describes, of "tired, sullen expressions, cheap fetish boots and PVC mini-skirts." But rather than be hypnotized into the world of surfaces and possessions like the men who want to consume them, the girls in the equation are coming from a different place, trying to harness real power--to master their own chthonic sexuality-- to surf rather than dutifully drown, to dare live beyond social roles, mores and the tedious fumblings that pass for modern rebellion. Rather than settle for the $500 they want to try for curtain number trois.


For these sleazy rural Frenchmen, however, all the curtains have long since been open, and they have no more control over their desires than a diabetic smashing his fist through a candy shop window.  It's fascinating to contemplate how a man with so much to lose as Strauss-Kahn would be so careless and crazed. Of course it could be a set-up, created to depose him by his enemies. On the other hand, even if it's true, isn't it still a set up, a trick of desire, of the devil, who rewards the debauched with all the riches of the world at the cost of their ability to enjoy them? Aren't those creepy noblemen in Sade, Huysmans, and Bataille really just depressed from having to constantly up the ante of sadomasochistic sensation, just to feel any thrill at all? Pity them...  jail them and denounce them and even castrate them but pity them, for they are dumb enough to believe the lies of their own dictator hard-ons. They have become dupes of the genetic con and are destined for incarcération... ou paternité. And for what? The sociopath, the narcissist, the sexaholic... who made them what they are? The answer is just the soft sound of French countryside crickets... and the flutter of pages from an old, discarded Maxim. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Red is the color of my true love's helmet: QUEEN OF BLOOD, JET PILOT

Top: Queen of Blood (Florence Marley) / B: Jet Pilot (Janet Leigh)
On Netflix Streaming comes a film that--were it not so beautifully restored--would be much harder to watch: QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966). As it is, the colors have been freshened up and the footage fairly glows. And what footage! recycled from a bunch of Russian science fiction films like 1965's MESTRE NASTRESHU, it's almost Bava-esque in its deep reds and eerie gel lighting, and the AIP-shot material is directed by Curtis DEVIL DOG Harrington!

Dennis Hopper and John Saxon are the recognizable faces amidst the astronauts, who in the ALIEN-prefiguring plot are sent to Mars where a delegate from another galaxy has crash landed. Get the picture? Do I need to draw you a map to Mars' orbiting moon, the Island of Phobos? Why not ask the ancient remains of Basil Rathbone, still sharp as a tack and nutty as an heir of Frankenstein, as the lead scientist of earth?

 

Acting as a fine mirror to issues of gender as well as Soviet-American relations of the era, the footage is matched brilliantly to its respective sides - the Dionysian and ornate deep red Russian footage for the female vampire martian - while the Earth scenes and space ship interiors are re-shot on threadbare Apollonian sets by Harrington (with some Russian film crowd scenes spliced in). The result is a perfect metaphor for the repulsion/attraction between the US and Russia...one side an ornate red samovar, the other an institutional gray cafeteria. Together it's like an unholy union written in the stars and read by lovers holding hands across the Berlin wall. When the astronauts of both planets get together for the flight home, the hypnosis starts and the blood drinking and the orders from on high not to harm the specimen follow. This time however, everyone but John Saxon agrees: save the queen! If she wants to drink Dennis Hopper's blood, fine, just warn her: the thorazine is long gone!


The point is, if if you ever watch Mario Bava with the sound off just for those great lighting schemes and purple gel spots, you'll love QUEEN OF BLOOD. All the metatextual Russia/Dionysian/Female/Plant/foreign-shot exteriors vs. US/Apollonian/Male/Us interior-shot/mammal dichotomies are just gravy on the train... the GHOST OF MARS train! And Judi Meredith as Laura James. She's got enough black eyeliner to darken the sun, and a sexy smoker's voice. In short, the film would be a great double bill with Josef Von Sternberg's JET PILOT (1957) and is clearly meant for a double bill anyway since it's so short (78 minutes).


 JET PILOT comes directed (mostly) by Josef Von Sternberg and produced by Howard Hughes, so you can imagine the arguments. Apparently Sternberg walked off at some point, objecting to Hughes' Russ Meyers-esque mammarian American obviousness, so like QUEEN, JET has a split identity which works meta with the Red meets White and Blue in bed scenario. The film has its flaws, but Wayne as the gruff Yank pilot ain't one, and neither is Janet Leigh as the hot, defecting Soviet pilot. They cram as much lust into their restricted gazes as the censor will allow while the cold freeze of the empty gray sky makes a great metaphor for the general iciness that is the post-code American perennial stalemate battle of the sexes.

 
 
It's a suitable metaphor not just for sex, but for bad sex… cold sex, post-children (no privacy) sex; Hughes’ sex, in short; the most unsexy of sex. Like an early version of Roger Vadim or John Derek, Howard Hughes was notorious for seducing pretty girls and making them stars via inert films with awesome posters (like THE OUTLAW), and usually firing the original director along the way in order to ensure no scrap of fun or originality survived. But in this case, Von Sternberg at least got in some good subtextual masochism in depicting the attempt of a pair of red star-crossed lovers to escape their respective ideologies and just get it on, alone, for a few hours. And in doing so, JVS mirrored perhaps his own problems trying to make a good movie with Hughes sending him a zillion contradictory memos. The Russia/US divide angle also illuminates the disparate polarities’ lack of ultimate difference: when her Soviet relations cockblock it’s because of proletarian group living conditions; when Wayne's US relations cockblock it’s because of a temporary housing shortage. Either way, it's enough to send a pervy masochist like Von Sternberg into paroxysms of ecstasy and Lenny Maltin to award it a scant two stars as if begging to be punished. Find it hidden deep in an old John Wayne set that includes--Lenin preserve us, THE CONQUEROR: John Wayne - An American Icon Collection (Seven Sinners/ The Shepherd of the Hills/ Pittsburgh/ The Conqueror/ Jet Pilot)

Thanks to Another Film Blog for some of the above stills!