The Cinema Cafe

Serving Cinema's Tastiest Treasures

Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 4

In this series I would like to provide my readers with a more critical perspective to consider, one that hopefully will not detract from a person's appreciation for the films under review. At the same time, I'd question whether these motion pictures really deserve the high accolades bestowed upon them by the critical community in general. (For a further introduction on this subject please see: Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 1.)
These notices are meant for viewers familiar with the following motion pictures.

(They will be addressed in alphabetical order.)


Chinatown (1974, U.S.A.)

Director: Roman Polanski

I know what you're thinking: "Forget it Arthur, it's Chinatown." How can anyone look disfavourably upon Roman Polanski's assured direction of Robert Towne's extraordinary script? Then there are the expert production values including John Alonzo's stunningly gorgeous photography and Jerry Goldsmith's evocative and sultry score, which help recreate a time and place so immersive and authentic, one completely forgets their own. Effectively criticizing this accomplished film will require some careful consideration especially when one realizes its limited audience: Only those paying the utmost attention to how its carefully juxtaposed characters are woven throughout an intricate tapestry of clever plot machinations will be impressed with its grand design and dark overview of defeatism. The film's increasingly labyrinthine plot, branching out like Starbucks on steroids, does however, come at a costly price.   


Chinatown's central murder mystery will not get underway until we're introduced to one of the most highly distinctive and engaging cinematic detectives since Bogart filled the shoes of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. Like butter on toast, Jack Nicholson absorbs right into our central character, private detective J.J. Gittes. He's handsome, resourceful, cynical, alternately tough and compassionate but always a joy to behold. Gittes is more multifaceted than many of the other fictional detectives from this time period because of his many personable but varied reactions to the fascinating people and events encountered as he guides us through an ever deepening conspiratorial chasm of deceit and corruption, both personal and institutional. 

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As the plots thicken (and yes there's more than one despite their clever convergence with one another) our attention becomes focused on putting together these narrative pieces that start to look like one of those giant jigsaw puzzles from Citizen Kane. We play "catch up" with the storytellers and stay busy sorting out the ever growing number of mysteries, their participants duplicitous natures, figuring out who did what and why. As the narrative complications mount, little chance remains for observing character development. That's probably a good thing since a closer examination of their behaviour will in some cases reveal inconsistencies, strain credibility, adding even more questions to the mix, i.e. Noah Cross hiring Gittes (twice no less) to find a girl who turns up with the most likely persons imaginable. Evelyn Mulwray employs Gittes to find her husband's killer but she seems so emotionally aloof he might as well have been told to look for her car keys. Evelyn withholds her personal relationship information from Gittes which only causes friction between them at a time when he might have been of some real assistance. Gittes meets with Noah Cross and then confronts him with the evidence of Cross' crime (far more sensibly turned over to the police) or how about Lt. Escobar who seemingly forgets about arresting anyone for the unsolved murder of Ida Sessions (the woman who first impersonates Evelyn Mulwray)?


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Too often we are only given indications as to what's happened which cannot help but make a dramatically weaker impression compared to those events we witness ourselves. Polanski does attempt to make up for the dramatic short changing at the film's conclusion. The director rightfully imposed a much more sombre and tragic ending than the one Towne wrote, befitting of the film's noir sensibilities of fatalistic doom and despair. The problem lies in its poor staging, making the haphazard proceedings look awkward and unconvincing. For one thing, the police are in Chinatown to arrest Evelyn for the murder of her husband Hollis Mulwray. They ignore pleas by Gittes to arrest Cross, who we know by now is the real culprit. Wouldn't they at least want to hold him for questioning? Apparently not as they do nothing while Evelyn and her father argue. Gittes yells to Evelyn "Let the police handle it"...really? (All he did was try to keep her from being arrested). Evelyn responds with: "He owns the police" which for her is an unprecedented statement. Why didn't she tell Gittes that earlier? The threats between Evelyn and her father continue which result in a gun being fired by Evelyn wounding Cross. The cops might as well be in the audience with us, for allowing all of this to take place without intervention. Only after she gets in her car and drives away do the police call out "halt" and then even more inexplicably, fire on the moving vehicle, a shot which easily could have killed her daughter/sister, but which kills Evelyn. Cross comes over to comfort his hysterical "granddaughter", the one he's supposedly been trying to find, but it's the same girl the police thought Evelyn killed her husband over. Don't they at least want to question her? No, everybody's free to go.

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Gittes' last words "as little as possible" perfectly sum up the best and weakest characteristics this formidable film has to offer. As unbelievable as these final moments are, life is sometimes like that and there's no denying the deeply bitter emotional toll the proceeding events take on Gittes. He's made some horrible mistakes in trying to help someone in need and been paid off with life's cruelest, most devastating results. These final words, reminiscent of one of the film's greatest attributes, its memorable dialogue, also reflect on the film's message that "absolute power corrupts absolutely" so one's better off not fighting it and are in keeping with the monstrous Cross being the last victor standing. Gittes' last admonition is also reflective of a previously touched upon incident that similarly took place in Chinatown. That prior event like so many others in the film is not shown. It's barely explained either and so ambiguous that it adds little substance to the words spoken and even less meaning to the title's location and what the film is all about.





Chinatown [Blu-ray]
Starring Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicholson, John Hillerman, John Huston, Perry Lopez

Chinatown can best be appreciated on Blu-ray and purchased here:

Starring Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicholson, John Hillerman, John Huston, Perry Lopez

It is also available on DVD here:

There is a very limited edition soundtrack issued by Varese Sarabande of Jerry Goldsmith's fabulous score but there are currently less than 300 still remaining. Any available copies left can be ordered by clicking on the soundtrack's image.

"Now Listen To Me..."

Just some thoughts on current happenings:

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This month’s video recommendation is 1981’s True Confessions. The filmmakers do misguide us into believing their story is primarily about a murder investigation. The film can therefore become dramatically disappointing in its resolution, at least compared to other, more exciting examples of this genre. They do this by sensationalizing the case’s central victim and the heinous crime perpetrated against her, specifically by basing the event loosely on L.A.’s notorious Black Dahlia murder of 1947.

What it's really about are conflicting relationships, institutional corruption reaching out to individuals, loss and sacrifice. If one approaches the film from that perspective and lowers their expectations on the suspense and mystery elements they can find this to be a very emotionally satisfying and unique character study, starkly realistic not only in its period look and character interactions, but in delineating the details of the two brothers’ diverse livelihoods. Robert DeNiro plays an ambitious priest, Robert Duvall portrays his brother, a caustic police investigator in charge of finding the killer. The film boasts a stellar supporting cast as well, with the most amazingly natural performances secured from all by director Ulu Grosbard. There is some highly intelligent screenwriting here from John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion along with some astringent, choice dialogue of the most cynical kind, so cynical in fact it’s often humorous. Production elements are all top shelf and enhance our engagement, including Owen Roizman’s brilliant photography and Georges Delerue’s haunting score. The complex characters are fascinatingly interconnected to one another, the murder case, and as the story unravels, form the penetratingly insightful truer mystery at its core. The Blu-Ray is available from Kino-Lorber and can be ordered from Amazon by clicking on the image below.












The following are my recommendations for those enjoying Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this October:


The first is Nicholas Ray's fascinatingly disturbed character study In a Lonely Place, with Humphrey Bogart perfectly cast as Dixon Steele, whose unpredictable explosions of anger help to make him a prime suspect for the murder of a young ingenue. The plot thickens and intensifies when his attractive neighbour (a smart and sassy Gloria Grahame as Laurel Gray) provides an alibi and the two become romantically involved. Steele is a Hollywood screenwriter with an intelligent, cynical and magnetic personality, although his escalating outbursts of rage, prone to physical violence, wreak havoc on his professional life. They seriously threaten his new found personal relationship as well, even causing Laurel to consider Steele a possible murderer. His incredibly complex character, highly volatile and vulnerable, is thoroughly examined to its roots in this vibrant cross-genre mix of film noir, troubled romance, suspense and murder mystery. This mystery, masterfully blended with the other elements throughout, takes center stage at the story's conclusion, because we're repeatedly shown he's capable of the murder in question. Another dramatic punch is delivered after the murderer is revealed, when the cumulative effects of Steele's red hot temper take their tragically profound final toll on his relationship with Laurel. This emotional tornado is scheduled to hit TCM Sunday October 26 at 7am PST.




My second recommendation, in keeping with the Halloween spirit is France's Eyes Without a Face, one of the Top Ten Horror films of all time. This genre's prerequisite of unpleasantness is present and accounted for, satisfying the most adamant gore seeker, while providing a refined depth, and emotionally engaging motive to its


characters. This lifts it far above the enormous dross of "slasher flicks." Following the devastating results of an automobile accident, a doctor promises his emotionally fragile daughter hiding behind a mask: “You will have a real face.” When we realise the enormity of what he means, the true horror begins. Directed with style by Georges Franju it can be seen in all of its horrific glory on TCM, the Halloween evening of October 31 at 2:15 am PST.


TCM's present month's schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above images.       



The soundtrack recommendation for the month of October is Conan the Barbarian, a definitive 3 CD set issued by Intrada Records. This highly complex and sensational score was created by the masterful composer Basil Poledouris at his full throttle energetic and creative best. It can be ordered from Intrada by clicking on the image where one will also find an in-depth description of this must have musical treasure.





In October of 2012 I had the good fortune to attend a special screening of The Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring with a live orchestral and choral performance that was truly astounding and can be read about by clicking on: Treasured Appearances #2. At the end of the review I wrote about a dream I had for other cinematic achievements with outstanding orchestral scores being shown in a similar fashion. Now it looks like that dream is about to become a reality, even more amazingly it's one of the films I mentioned, Vertigo. The San Francisco Symphony is scheduled to perform Bernard Herrmann's score to the film's presentation on November 1, 2014. Unfortunately for yours truly, I cannot attend. Additionally it is sold out, however there may be some tickets left available by phone. This will hopefully be a very successful endeavour and prompt at least a few other orchestras across the world to follow suit. The concert can be read about, and a contact phone number for further information can be found, by clicking on the image. 



Sterling Silver Dialogue #15

Sterling Silver Dialogue From The Movies:  

Do you know where they're from? Answers coming soon.



"You wanna be worshiped? Go to India and moo."



"You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word."


"Welcome to Chicago. This town stinks like a whorehouse at low tide."



"In the world of advertising, there's no such thing as a lie. There's only expedient exaggeration."


(Referring to the drinks they've already had) "We've gotten a head start here, Mr. Thornhill."

Roger Thornhill: (Just arriving) "That won't last long."


(singing) "I've grown accustom to my bourbon."


(on the telephone) "No. No, Mother, I have not been drinking. No. No. These two men, they poured a whole bottle of bourbon into me... No, they didn't give me a chaser."


"We'll get them. We'll throw the book at them. Assault and kidnapping. Assault with a gun and a bourbon and a sports car. We'll get them."



"You're marking time is what you are. You're backing off. You're hiding out. You're waiting for a bus that you hope never comes because you don't wanna get on it anyway because you don't wanna go anywhere."



"Two people dead, just so we can live without working!"


"We go together, Annie. I don't know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together."



"I didn't want a house. I didn't want all those pots and pans. I didn't want anything but you. It's God's own blessing I didn't get you."

(reply) "Why?"

(response) "Cause I'm a loner clear down deep to my guts. Know what a loner is? He's a born cripple. He's a cripple because the only person he can live with is himself. It's his life, the way he wants to live. It's all for him. A guy like that, he'd kill a woman like you. Because he couldn't love you, not the way you are loved."



"I've had hangovers before, but this time, even my hair hurts."


"If there's anything worse than a woman living alone, it's a woman saying she likes it."



"You're told that the girl you were with last night was found in Benedict Canyon, murdered. Dumped from a moving car. What's your reaction? Shock? Horror? Sympathy? No... just petulance at being questioned. A couple of feeble jokes. You puzzle me, Mr. Steele."

Dixon Steele: "Well, I grant you, the jokes could've been better, but I don't see why the rest should worry you... that is, unless you plan to arrest me on lack of emotion."


"You know, Ms. Gray, you're one up on me - you can see into my apartment but I can't see into yours."

(reply) "I promise you, I won't take advantage of it."

(response) "I would, if it were the other way around."


"I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."




Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 5 (#41 - 50)

I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the previous selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #41 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected. 

Read More

Close Encounters of the Treasured Kind #6

I am honoured to introduce noted author Preston Neal Jones making his first contribution here.

What I Did With JOAN RIVERS On My Summer Vacation

The passing of Joan Rivers inevitably calls to mind the summer of 1966, my first college-age vacation, which I filled by serving (and I do mean serving) as a production assistant, AKA "go-fer," on the Burt Lancaster movie, The Swimmer.  Based on the John Cheever short story, The Swimmer was a Sam Spiegel production, written and directed respectively by Eleanor Perry and her husband Frank, and filmed on location at the swimming pools of Cheever country in Fairfield County, Connecticut.  This was the briar patch where I was born, and when I offered my services (and the use of our family car) to the production team they hired me on the spot. The Production Manager was Joe Manduke, (later a director), and on the morning of my first assignment he sat me down in his office and gave me what is still the best piece of film-making advice I ever received.  "Preston," he said, "This is a serious business.  If we send you out for a cup of coffee, don't come back with a trombone."


Burt Lancaster and Joan Rivers in 'The Swimmer'

Burt Lancaster and Joan Rivers in 'The Swimmer'

Several hundred coffee cups later, filming was well underway, mostly intimate two-character dialogue scenes between Lancaster's middle-aging suburban stud Ned Merrill and the various neighbors he encounters on his allegorical journey homeward via various swimming pools. Came the day, however, for a real mob scene, the pool party of a wealthy married couple and their friends.  One face in the crowd was a character named "Joan," played by Joan Rivers, the young and quickly-becoming-famous comedienne (as they used to  be called in those pre-P.C. days before actresses became actors).  The Perrys had befriended Miss Rivers, (who had been an actress well before  venturing into stand-up), and had written into the script this little vignette -- a fleeting flirtation -- especially for her.  If you've seen the film, perhaps you'll agree with me that Miss Rivers acquitted herself very well in the part, making the most of her brief moment to portray a touching portrait of a cute but wistful party-goer.


When not on camera, you won't be surprised to hear, Miss Rivers reverted to her comic persona, joking and riffing with the crew.  Amid her laugh-getting, self-deprecating autobiographical reminiscences, the one bit I still remember is in retrospect not a little ironic.  She told of sitting in an airplane seat next to the legendary Marlene Dietrich.  "She never said a word to me the whole flight," said Joan, then added in a throwaway, "Probably afraid of breaking the stitches."


How often I've thought of that moment watching Miss Rivers in later years, never more so than during the recent TV obituaries with many a split screen showing, on one side, the young Joan Rivers I remember fondly, and on the other, someone wearing a mask, resembling neither Joan Rivers nor any other human being.  The voice behind the mask, however, remained identical and inimitably hers.  But this is not the moment to dwell on such things as the sadness of a clown who titled her last book, "I Hate everyone... Starting With Me."  In the wake of her sudden exit from the scene, I'd rather remember the attractive young lady on location who acted with distinction on camera, and off camera, in the words of Joni Mitchell, "played real good for free."



Time Out

For those who love creative, outrageously inspired silent cinema, this little gem with Snub Pollard called 'It's a Gift' is hilarious. It's only 14 minutes long and worth every charming second.

Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 3

In this series I would like to provide my readers with a more critical perspective to consider, one that hopefully will not detract from a person's appreciation for the films under review. At the same time, I'd question whether these motion pictures really deserve the high accolades bestowed upon them by the critical community in general. (For a further introduction on this subject please see: Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Over Rated Part 1.)
These notices are meant for viewers familiar with the following motion pictures.

(They will be addressed in alphabetical order.)

Read More

Capturing a Golden Moment #10

In this series I'd like to present some exceptional scenes inspired by cinema's most gifted artists of yesteryear.


A Night at the Opera (1935)

Director: Sam Wood

Scene: "The Stateroom"

(Many writers contributed to this epic farce, including its two principals: George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. Even an uncredited Buster Keaton worked on developing this famous scene, however it was nearly scrapped because it wasn't getting any laughs. Once the Marx Brothers ignored the script and started ad-libbing the whole thing, it was transformed into one of the all-time comedy classics.)

A Night at the Opera is available on DVD here:

A Night at the Opera
Starring Chico Marx, Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Margaret Dumont

It is also available in the box set along with 6 other Marx Brothers comedies here:

Top Ten: Cinema's Most Treasured Images Part 4 (#31 - 40)

I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the previous selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #31 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected. 

Read More

End Credits #21: Cinema's 2013 Lost Treasures Montage Part 5

Some of Cinema's 2013 Lost Treasures. The music by Stanley Myers is from the film Cold Heaven.