Film Diary, Jan. 15-30, 2017


What I watched in the past few weeks…

I’ll start off with this month’s Mad Movie Challenge from Mike’s Take on the Movies: Tender Mercies. This movie fit right in with my recent viewing, with its country-western music theme and bittersweet, unvarnished look at a flawed character just trying to survive failures and tragedies, and rebuild in mid-life. Very good understated performances from Robert Duvall as a has-been singer and Tess Harper as his young, sweet and patient new wife, with whom he faces troubles once his famous ex (Betty Buckley) and estranged daughter (Ellen Barkin) return. Bruce Beresford gets emotional suspense out of Duvall’s urge to run or a possible alcoholic relapse, without overdoing it with dramatics or sentimentality, and shows that there’s always hope and goodness in any situation. Now click here to see the Jacques Tourneur movie I suggested for Mike.

My Clint Eastwood binge (see last post) rolls on, thanks to many recommendations here and on Twitter–since last time I saw:

  • Joe Kidd. Duvall again, as a villainous landowner, and Clint gets caught between him and Mexican Revolutionaries cheated out of their land claim. Gritty with memorable scenes involving a steaming pot of beans, a train crashing into a saloon and a Mission shootout.
  • The Beguiled was new to me, Don Siegel’s wonderfully dark, twisted, hallucinatory story of the shady Civil War soldier recuperating at a girls’ school. Fantastic performances all around (especially from Clint after his character loses his leg), working with rich material about jealousy, repression, male fantasy and the limits of women’s tolerance. Very curious to see what Sofia Coppola will do with her version.
  • The Eiger Sanction, hybrid of Bond and Indiana Jones in this fun macho espionage mountain-climbing adventure.
  • High Plains Drifter, loved this supernatural western, in the memorable lakeside town of Lago, renamed Hell and painted blood red to pay for its sins against a nameless Stranger they think is there to help them.
  • Bronco Billy, a sweet light-hearted travelling western show becomes a refuge for a snooty heiress. So heartfelt and screwball you could imagine a Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne or Loretta Young 40s version.
  • Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Jeff Bridges is fantastic, bringing a childlike glee to the chase, the search for hidden loot and the do-over caper with his new friends, three seasoned bank robbers. Loved the bro-mance, the comedy and the way the plot threads tied back together before that sad ending.

One of the great things about this Clint binge has been seeing so much of Geoffrey Lewis, Gregory Walcott (usually getting punched), George Kennedy and sometimes Bill McKinney–like the Clint stock company.


The rest of the viewing:

  • The Ladykillers was my “blind spot”movie for January.
  • Earthquake. Wish San Andreas had this kind of all-star cast getting trapped and squashed.
  • Von Ryan’s Express, seen this several times, exciting war adventure.
  • Homicidal was a fabulous find, William Castle’s slightly Psycho-ish tale of an abusive childhood and dark family secret that comes back (in heels) for bloody retribution. Figured out the twist but that didn’t take a thing away from the scares or tension. Love Joan Marshall’s work in this, credited as Jean Arless who only made this one film, which adds to the mystique. A pause and countdown make up the movie’s “fright break” before the big reveal, which in theatres gave any chickens in the audience a chance to flee and demand their refund (not fair since by that point they were treated to almost all the fun).


  • Blood and Black Lace (finally– took me a few months to get back to giallo). Lavish, vivid, visually overloaded record of a masked killer’s fixation on the “fashion house of death” (a Letterboxd user calls this The Devil Wears Bava). And here I always thought Scream was so original with the dual killer reveal. After watching this and The Neon Demon, modelling seems way too dangerous.
  • The Gun Runners, good action but a weak twist on the Hemingway material that was also made into To Have and Have Not and The Breaking Point. In this version it’s reluctant but financially desperate Audie Murphy who’s roped into into Cuban Revolution arms trading by colourful villain Eddie Albert. Watched this with…
  • Riot in Cell Block 11, for an action-packed Don Siegel double feature. Love to see Neville Brand, Emile Meyer and Leo Gordon get such juicy roles. Raw, compassionate look at poor prison conditions and the high cost of getting attention and reform.
  • The Nice Guys was nasty, violent self-aware fun, but I didn’t like it as much as expected given all the hype, or compared to other Shane Black work I enjoy. Lots of slapstick, predictable mugging (Gosling does a Lou Abbott reaction next to a dead body), overlong. This kind of odd-buddy pulp romp would have been great in the actual 70s with, say, Donald Sutherland and Robert Forster? George Segal and George Kennedy? Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges.
  • The Mend. Josh Lucas is good and you can spend lots of time with excruciatingly self-absorbed, pretentious and immature Bohemians.
  • 3 episodes into Taboo, a grungy mini-series starring and created by Tom Hardy. He’s the prodigal son returned to England 1814 after years abroad, armed with deadly and apparently supernatural skills, to protect the land he’s inherited on the disputed border around Vancouver. So far, moving slowly and I’d like more focus on other characters (Oona Chaplin plays his sister), but I’ll stick with it.

24 thoughts on “Film Diary, Jan. 15-30, 2017”

  1. A fine Duvall film and so low key. When it came out I always used to think it was a movie that my fave George Jones needed to see as a form of intervention from his many booze and drug problems. plenty of other nice titles in there as well. Von Ryan always a favorite and of course we’ve discussed The Ladykillers. Pure classic!

    1. There are so many places where that movie could have gone for the emotional, predictable moment and didn’t, which makes it so sensitive, real, adult. There’s not even courtship or a wedding between Duvall and Harper, just: “hey wanna get married?” Also, that scene where he lies about not remembering the song Barkin says he sang to her as a kid… really good work.

      Von Ryan I like a lot, Sinatra is good, Trevor Howard and Edward Mulhare are super too.

  2. That’s a lot of stuff, and a great variety too! Love that we’ve got stuff like The Gun Runners mentioned in the same breath as Blood and Black Lace and Homicidal.

    1. All good too, even with quibbles I can’t say I disliked anything. Homicidal was a blast, and not a rip-off of Psycho as I’d seen some describe it. Lots of similarities but its own weird mystery.

      1. I agree, that articular criticism.observation of the movie never cut it with me either. Castle was such a fun and interesting director when he was on form.

  3. You and I have some parallels this time around! I’m getting ready to review ‘Joe Kidd’ (yeah, that beans moment was awesome!), I have an ‘Earthquake’ review that’s due, and like you I watched ‘The Nice Guys’, which I also had high hopes for, but thought was awful…what a waste! And I loved Shane Black’s ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’, so how he could foul this one up so badly is beyond me.

    1. Looking forward to your thoughts on those! You were one of the folks who suggested Joe Kidd, thanks for that. I love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang too and really enjoy most of Black’s writing, this was less than expected, hollow. I like what Inherent Vice did with the 70s P.I./seedy case better.

  4. Loving this continued “Clint Fest”
    So agree about the Scott,Dunne,Young teaming for
    a 40’s BRONCO BILLY that would have been fab!
    Nice you mention Greg Walcott-a wonderful addition to
    any Clint movie-his creepy CIA goon in Eiger has a truly
    dreadful dress sense to match…it gives a whole new meaning to
    “fashion victim”
    Loved HOMICIDAL wasn’t Richard Rust (Comanche Station)
    great..pity his career never really took off.

    1. That bit when Clint was telling the kids, “you should be in school,” and they say “but it’s Saturday Bronco Billy!” I just had a vision of Randolph Scott’s reaction in such a scene 🙂
      Yes Walcott was good in EIGER, nice twitch he added to that character. Homicidal was lots of fun, poor Richard Rust never expected that kind of wedding: “Do you take this woman…”/ “I guess so,” he says.

  5. I agree re: Tender Mercies. Duvall really does a swell job here. A low-key but memorable performance.

    It’s been YEARS since I’ve seen Bronco Billy. I’d forgotten about it until you mentioned it, and I agree that Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne/Loretta Young would be good casting choices for this. Must see it again.

    1. I have a weird habit of doing fantasy casting, would be so fun to see what the classic era would do with some of these movies. Everyone in Tender Mercies, right down to the kid, is so natural, it’s nice to watch low-key work like that.

        1. HA! oh gosh, never thought of that.. you have to play too! Let’s see, from the “Don’t I wish” dept: Sandra Bullock now, Irene Dunne back when.

  6. The “Fright Break” story gets more interesting, as you may already know if you saw the DVD with all of the special features. In those days, you could sit through multiple screenings with a single ticket, so at first, Castle was in real trouble. People would watch the whole movie, then watch until the “fright break” came up on the second screening, and go get their money back. This was fixed by the invention of the “Coward’s Corner.” You could ask for your money back, BUT before you got it, you had to sit on a stool with a sign that said you were too scared to watch the whole film, and wait while the audience filed out past you. Not too many takers on that deal.

    1. I read up on some of that after watching, and glad you went more into it–fun solution to the problem! I got a kick out of that break in the movie, it ratchets up the tension a bit too, with that slow walk up to the house afterwards…

  7. Love the journey through the Siegel films! I need to revisit some of those myself. I also need to revisit TENDER MERCIES, which I saw when it first came out. In his final Great Movies volume, Roger Ebert discusses how less is more in the film and how remarkable not only was Duvall’s performance, but also the risk taken on casting Tess Harper in her first non-TV film. Certainly time for a re-visit!

    1. She did a fine job, he character was mature and understanding depspite being so young. More Siegel to come, as you know from twitter! 🙂

  8. Backtracking……I’ve been off line for a couple of days.

    PLAY MISTY FOR ME has become a kind of
    Feminist “classic” a must see.
    Circa 1984 Clint did a Q & A session at London’s
    National Film Theatre.
    A couple of hip young Feminists sitting in front of me
    asked Clint how he felt about playing the “imperiled male”
    Clint was somewhat bemused by the question but said
    basically that he likes women-he didn’t really answer this
    interesting question.
    THE GAUNTLET is trash but done to a turn Chris Petit of
    Time Out at the time called it “Eastwood’s ANNIE HALL”-
    how very true.
    THE GAUNTLET scores with its OTT action scenes-a
    must see for any Clint fan.

    1. Oh good, I can’t pass those up then, thanks for that. I’m re-watching Escape from Alcatraz tonight, always liked that one.

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