Sunday, December 30, 2012

Film Review: CAUGHT (1949, Max Ophüls)

Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Tag-line: "The story of a desperate girl."
Best one-liner:  "Look at me!  LOOK AT WHAT YOU BOUGHT!!"

A hard-to-come by 40s melodrama that occasionally masquerades as a film noir, CAUGHT had been on my 'to-see' list for years, so I decided to take the plunge when I saw that it was expiring from Netflix instant at the end of the year.  A thickly-veiled portrait of Howard Hughes' love life (Ophüls was once fired from a Hughes picture, VENDETTA) and one of Martin Scorsese's favorite films (possibly the reason why he made THE AVIATOR?), the film walks that thin line between high art and low camp (or perhaps between low art and high camp?), and we all know that that's the sort of thing I enjoy.

Ophüls was a German arthouse filmmaker best known for making expressive, French romantic melodramas, packed with exquisite tracking shots.  He's at the height of his powers when he's presenting life as a lurid carnival– an endless dance rotating amongst different social milieus, like in LA RONDE or LOLA MONTÉS.  He's at his weakest when his carousel remains stuck in a single stuffy mode (i.e., THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE..., a much-loved film that I happen to dislike).  In a film like CAUGHT, he's socially responsible, capturing the moments of life that exist between the stations of life.  However, his wings are rather clipped by the studio– he does get some nice tracking shots in there, but visual flair is few and far between.  As James Mason later wrote in a poem, "A shot that does not call for tracks/ is agony for poor old Max,/ who, separated from his dolly,/ is wrapped in deepest melancholy./ Once, when they took away his crane/ I thought he'd never smile again."

Basically, the plot follows Barbara Bel Geddes as she tries to further herself by saving up for an education.  Don't worry, it's 1949– she's not going to college:

I nearly did a spit-take when she pulls out this brochure after going on about educating and furthering herself.  Anyway, after gaining the necessary skill set for obtaining a husband, she marries an oddly named ("Smith Ohlrig") big shot played by noir-standby Robert Ryan, who seems to marry her only to vex his psychiatrist (!?).  He turns out to be a raging psychopath, á la Howard Hughes, who must destroy everyone whom he cannot own outright.

Robert Ryan, on the warpath.

Psychological abuse and boredom and melodramatic slapping take their toll

and Bel Geddes' character decides to reject this abusive life of Riley for a more emotionally fulfilling existence in a tenement house, working as a receptionist for a young doctor played by James Mason.  It's fun to see him as a caring pediatrician when in retrospect, he carries the cultural baggage of famous roles like "nymphet molester" (LOLITA) and "child murderer" (SALEM'S LOT).  At one point he says he'd like to "cut off of the curls" of an irritating, hypochrondriac little girl patient of his.  Stay classy, 1949!
 James Mason, incredulous.

It sort of turns into stock, well-acted melodrama at this point as she falls for dreamy 'doc Mason while still married to crazytown Ryan, but there were a few happenings that really set it apart:

#1.  Robert Ryan's benders that end in bouts of "angry pinball."  It seems like the sort of detail that was probably culled straight from Hughes' life.  I couldn't verify this in cursory Internet research, but I'm still going with it.
 Robert Ryan staves off sexual frustration and sociopathic tendencies with another angry pinball session.

#2.  This close-up from a gossip column montage about Ryan and Bel Geddes' declining love life.
Look at the story at the bottom, the one we're supposed to ignore during the course of the scene, because it's not highlighted and has nothing to do with our plot.  It appears to involve criminals, a radio show, a former circus clown named "Jebbo," and a volley of bullets.  I kind of wanted to be watching this movie!

 #3.  The finale, which involves shouting, the revelation of secrets, the destruction of the aforementioned pinball machine, and a happy ending featuring Dr. James Mason force-feeding liquor to a near-comatose pregnant woman (Bel Geddes).
 Though I'm still holding out hope it was Thunderbird!

 Not Ophüls' finest hour, but a pleasant enough and head-shakingly misogynistic melodrama with some noir elements.  Nearly four stars.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... HOME ALONE 2

Well, in addition to being a soulless, self-plagiaristic complete retread of the first installment, even down to geometric patterns that become imprinted upon Daniel Stern's forehead, only now does it occur to me... that the finest and most sincere moment in HOME ALONE 2 may very well be Tim Curry's intense and wholly spectacular shit-eating grin:

The shit-eating grin that saved Christmas

Also, it gets a few extra points for John Hughes-veteran Ally Sheedy's cameo:

And I must say that the levels of family-friendly sadism reach cruel and excruciating heights perhaps even worthy of the master himself, Lucio Fulci:
 Daniel Stern is agonizingly staple-gunned through a doorway in HOME ALONE 2... a similar manner to Olga Karlatos' agonizing run-in with a splinter in ZOMBIE 2.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... INDECENT PROPOSAL

Only now does it occur to me... that my favorite part of INDECENT PROPOSAL may very well be the brief, incredibly ill-advised flashback whereupon the thirty-one year old Demi Moore and the thirty-two year old Woody Harrelson are depicted as high school students.

Please bear in mind that this film is in no way intended to be a comedy.  
Adrian Lyne films generally fall into two camps:  Camp A:  slick, well-acted, extremely sincere fare (FLASHDANCE, INDECENT PROPOSAL, 9 1/2 WEEKS, FATAL ATTRACTION) that's designed as erotica Oscar bait but ends up in hindsight possessing uncommonly well-crafted unintentional hilarity.  Camp B:  JACOB'S LADDER.  And don't get me wrong: I love Adrian Lyne, just occasionally for the wrong reasons.  He's sort of an unsung 80s/90s commercial auteur, perhaps comparable to a Philip Noyce or an Alan Parker or, on his best days, a Philip Kaufman.  I'm also kind of excited to see that Lyne has his first film in a decade coming out next year, BACK ROADS.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... URBAN COWBOY

Only now does it occur to me...   that Scott Glenn steals the show in URBAN COWBOY right from beneath John Travolta's nose (and weirdy-beard).

 Scott Glenn flips pouty Travolta the bird!

Donning a black fishnet shirt (was the costumer's intent to make Travolta look manlier by comparison?- it didn't work),

 grinning up a storm, and chomping the shit out of the tequila worm (in a bit of improv),

Glenn ensures that his slimy character-actin' country-western bizarre-itude will be remembered for all time.  See, Hollywood?  That's what you get for burying him in a bit part in APOCALYPSE NOW the year prior.  This is full-force Glenn unleashed, and there's no stoppin' him!

As for the film itself?  Imagine if Cannon Films, during its dance-craze phase (BREAKIN', RAPPIN' SALSA, LAMBADA), made a country-fried remake of ROCKY, except instead of boxing in Philly it was about mechanical bull-riding in Houston.  Also, imagine if the film I've just described was engineered with the sort of corporate sincerity designed to win Oscars in a cheap, sleazy, kinda proto-FLASHDANCE/OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN way.

Also, prepare yourself to hear "Lookin' for Love in All the Wrong Places" at least fifty-seven times.  Yee-haw!