"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
To all of you lovers out there, my sincerest wishes for a most romantic and memorable Valentine's Day Sunday, February 14.
There are 8 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
The caper film first laid its roots in The Asphalt Jungle previously reviewed here. The depth of its characters and their fascinating interactions as the drama builds to a cathartic resolution, is why this film has become one of America's finest cinematic achievements. The 'planning' will start on TCM the morning of Sunday, February 7 at 3am PST.
Then there's Gold Diggers of 1933, a brilliant extravaganza of romance, comedy, catchy tunes, and outrageous pre-code show numbers, especially 'Pettin' in the Park' with its strange, sexual undertones that even Freud would have struggled to explain. This was also previously recommended here. The fun will begin Thursday, February 11 at 7pm PST.
Next is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart portraying perhaps his darkest and most psychologically troubled character. Watching his slow transformation from an honest and idealistic adventurer to a haunted, paranoid psychotic is one of the art's most stunning, dramatically forceful experiences perfectly matched to a magnificent and fatalistically ironic conclusion. My previous thoughts on this film are here. This treasure can be discovered Monday, February 15 at 9:15pm PST.
Perfectly appropriate for the romantically inclined is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Its sublime depiction of supernatural romance is enhanced by the intelligence and maturity of the artists who guide us through a profound exploration of love's true nature and spiritual acceptance. It has previously been recommended here. The romance will commence Tuesday, February 16 at 9:15pm PST.
The gangster drama Bonnie and Clyde was a watershed depiction of rebellious conflict reflecting on America's turbulent times in both its 1934 Great Depression setting, and 1967 release during the country’s prolonged and escalating war in Vietnam. That campaign, combined with civil unrest at home, made for a distressingly dismal state of affairs.
In 1967, Americans, in what they probably thought were the relatively safe “make-believe” confines of their movie theatres, were ambushed by a couple of impossibly beautiful, youthfully glamourised lovers in crime, shooting their way out of the bloodiest, messiest, and most brutal physical conflicts not only heretofore unseen at the movies but previously unimagined. The Production Code Administration’s days of influence were just about over. The courts had already applied the country's First Amendment (free speech) entitlements to cinema, and many Americans were getting pretty tired of some privileged few deciding what they could and could not see. Films like Some Like it Hot (1959) broke barriers of sexual mores. The Pawnbroker (1964) portrayed female nudity, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1967) skirted rules of acceptable language. Bonnie and Clyde, and even more so The Wild Bunch (1969), confronted the Code’s restrictions on violence in a manner as aggressive as the on screen actions they presented and in the process, effectively shot the PCA "all to Hell."
The devastating physical and mental effects of a life of crime, the unraveling of the "Barrow Gang" and their later complete demise are shockingly visceral but also strangely hypnotic. This is due to a mythologically revisionist, but meticulously planned approach to the pair's “matter-of-fact” history by director Arthur Penn and the dramatically potent performances of his cast including Warren Beatty (as Clyde Barrow and producer of this landmark film), Faye Dunaway (as Bonnie Parker), Gene Hackman (as Clyde’s brother Buck), Estelle Parsons (as Buck’s wife Blanche), and Michael J. Pollard (as C.W. Moss, the gang’s traveling mechanic and getaway driver). Also deserving of high praise is the sassy and smart screenplay by David Newman, Robert Benton, and an uncredited Robert Towne, not to mention the technical artistry of Penn’s crew including cinematographer Burnett Guffey, editor Dede Allen and art director Dean Tavoularis.
The film’s quieter moments, such as Bonnie visiting her mother, or composing a poem for the newspapers, effectively convey a lyrical poignancy. Bonnie and Clyde further impresses with an ability to seamlessly shift to deadpan humour as when our bank robbers steal a car from the middle-class couple Eugene (Gene Wilder) and Velma (Evans Evans), or heartfelt tragedy as Blanche’s hysterical outbursts occur when seeing her husband Buck succumb to a devastatingly lethal gunshot wound. The increasingly engaging relationship between Clyde and Bonnie from its inception to an astonishingly intense, bullet-riddled, but stylised conclusion, is dealt with in a refreshingly open and intimate fashion more befitting of the French New Wave than most of the past American gangster genre. Neither are the rest of the narrative developments delivered in a purely straightforward fashion. This is the story of Bonnie and Clyde, creatively reimagined as an incredibly attractive and stylishly impulsive duo, who rob banks with a naive passion for the thrill of control over what would otherwise be their unforgivingly harsh, dull and dreary depression-era lives.
One thing that must have pleased the outgoing PCA was the film’s familiar and morally upright message that “crime doesn’t pay," despite being uniquely and timely delivered with all the shattering force of a Thompson machine gun. The crime spree will begin on TCM (updated) Saturday, November 4 at 5pm PST.
*(Added October 17, 2017) Our CC contributor Bob DiMucci was kind enough to provide some of the critical reaction concerning Bonnie and Clyde that the film received around the time it was released theatrically. (Below, I've added my own personal experience, seeing the film for the first time way back in 1967):
BONNIE AND CLYDE, which opened the 1967 Montreal Film Festival, became one of the most hotly debated films of its time. Following Bosley Crowther’s two negative reviews in The New York Times (Montreal and N.Y.C.), the next three Sunday editions of the Times printed numerous pro and con reactions from its readers, plus two additional pieces by Crowther. Variety devoted two full pages to the “brouhaha” (August 30, 1967). Hollis Alpert discussed both the picture and Mr. Crowther in a full page Saturday Review article (September 23rd), and Newsweek critic Joseph Morgenstern reappraised the film and changed his initial pan to a highly favorable review (August 28th).
Some review excerpts:
“[BONNIE AND CLYDE] is a cheap piece of baldfaced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of the sleazy moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic as the jazz age cut-ups in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. … Such ridiculous, camp-tinctured travesties of the kind of people these desperados were and of the way people lived in the dusty Southwest back in those barren years might be passed off as candidly commercial movie comedy, nothing more, if the film weren't reddened with blotches of violence of the most grisly sort. … The blending of farce and brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste, since it makes no valid commentary upon the already travestied truth. And it leaves an astonished critic wondering just what purpose Mr. Penn and Mr. Beatty think they serve with this strangely antique, sentimental claptrap.”
Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, (8/14/67)
“With BONNIE AND CYDE, Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn firmly establish themselves as one of the most excitingly creative teams in American moviemaking. In their second joint effort (their first, MICKEY ONE, is still a bit ahead of its audience), the young producer-actor and his director have dealt with an American folk legend in almost ballad form and triumphed. … Naturalism—in characters and background—is the mark of this film in its technical perfections. Saturated in time and place, we are left with the universality of the theme and its particular contemporary relevance. And this is the triumph of BONNIE AND CLYDE.”
Judith Crist, Vogue, (9/15/67)
“BONNIE AND CLYDE incongruously couples comedy with crime. Conceptually, the film leaves much to be desired, because killings and the backdrop of the Depression are scarcely material for a bundle of laughs. … It’s a picture with conflicting moods, racing from crime to comedy, and intermingling genuinely moving love scenes between Faye Dunaway as Bonnie and Warren Beatty as Clyde. These are sensitive and well executed scenes, yet made all the more incongruous against the almost slapstick approach of much of the picture. … This inconsistency of direction is the most obvious fault of BONNIE AND CLUDE, which has some good ingredients, although they are not meshed together well. … Arthur Penn’s direction is uneven, at times catching a brooding, arresting quality, but often changing pace at a tempo that is jarring.”
“Daku”, Variety, (8/9/67)
“Producer Beatty and director Arthur Penn have elected to tell their tale of bullets and blood in a strange and purposeless mingling of fact and claptrap that teeters uneasily on the brink of burlesque. Like Bonnie and Clyde themselves, the film rides off in all directions and ends up full of holes. … The real fault with BONNIE AND CLYDE is its sheer, tasteless aimlessness. … Repeated bursts of country-style music punctuating the bandits’ grisly ventures and a sentimental interlude with Bonnie’s old Maw photographed through a hazy filter, aim at irony and miss by a mile. And this, if you please, was the U.S. entry in this year’s Montreal Film Festival.”
"BONNIE AND CLYDE is a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance. It is also pitilessly cruel, filled with sympathy, nauseating, funny, heartbreaking, and astonishingly beautiful. If it does not seem that those words should be strung together, perhaps that is because movies do not very often reflect the full range of human life. … This is pretty clearly the best American film of the year. It is also a landmark. Years from now it is quite possible that BONNIE AND CLYDE will be seen as the definitive film of the 1960s, showing with sadness, humor and unforgiving detail what one society had come to. The fact that the story is set 35 years ago doesn't mean a thing. It had to be set sometime. But it was made now and it's about us.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, (9/25/67)
On a personal note, I saw Bonnie and Clyde when it was first released theatrically (I was 12 years old), and was exhilarated. Subsequently, I returned several times to that same theatre in Hollywood and was again unaccompanied by an adult, surprised to be able to see it repeatedly on my own. Even though my prior film viewing experience was extremely limited, I could tell even then that this was a whole new, more personal approach to cinematic storytelling. And not just for the film's violent content and shifts of tone, but for its radically unconventional cinematic narrative. Those older films I was feverishly consuming on television normally emphasised their moral boundaries even if their characters acted outside them. These earlier movies took pains to explain why their characters behaved the way they did, even the gangster films made earlier whose stories shared the same time period. Bonnie and Clyde threw away all that exposition. This was about the "here and now", a bold re-invention of, and focus on, what was happening, rather than "why". Those cinema enthusiasts there to witness the change, were thunderstruck by its filmmakers' new "devil may care" language, even those who, unlike myself, "didn't approve". I only found out later how influenced by Godard's cinéma-vérité style the film was, but I suspected even as a kid, this rebellious and visceral type of storytelling was as "breathless" as anything (including Godard's film), that had come before, or would later for a long time.
Next is Top Ten Western # 6 Howard Hawks' 1948 Red River reviewed here. This is one acutely observed, character-driven western you don't want to miss. The drive will begin on TCM Thursday, February 25 at 8:15pm PST.
The more psychologically disturbing, (than monstrously horrifying) 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has Spencer Tracy in the title role. This was previously analysed here. The Dr. will begin his transformation in the early morning of Saturday, February 27 at 3am PST.
Lastly, there's Double Indemnity, film noir's diabolical answer on how to cash in an insurance policy and previously reviewed here. The planning and execution will start on TCM Sunday, February 28 at 12:45pm PST.
TCM's current schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above images. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right hand corner of TCM's programme.
A Happy Birthday shout-out to French-born actress Michele Morgan who turns 96 on February 29th.
For over 30 years she was a leading lady, remarkably enhancing a diverse range of films, many of them famous and noteworthy like 1938's Le quai des brumes (Port of Shadows), 1944's Passage to Marseille, 1946's film noir cult favourite The Chase, and 1948's The Fallen Idol.
This month's recommended Soundtrack, is a 3 CD definitive set and the last to be produced by the label Film Score Monthly. It is the monumental score to Top Ten Western #1 The Wild Bunch (a review is linked below), with music composed by a one-time blacklist victim of McCarthyism, the incredibly versatile and talented Jerry Fielding.
Being a limited edition, I'm frankly surprised this electrifying score is still available from its exclusive distributor Screen Archives Entertainment but there are some left as of this writing, so be sure and get one quick before it goes out of print. Screen Archives ships internationally. More information including ordering and score samples are available by clicking on the image.
Along with Bonnie and Clyde there was a soon to follow film, also from Warner Bros., that continued to set a precedent for on-screen violence, February's Blu-ray recommendation and Top Ten Western #1. My previous review was an attempt to capture and explore its many attributes and is presented again here in Opening Up A Treasure: The Wild Bunch. This Blu-ray is available from Amazon U.S. and can be purchased by clicking on the image.