Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Somewhere


Both singers are dubbed and both are singularly limited as movie actors. (Yet who else could go from playing Tony in West Side Story (1961) to playing -- 30 years later -- Benjamin Horne[!] in Twin Peaks?) And yes we know that Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer hated each other on set. (Wood wanted her then-husband -- and future murderer -- Richard Wagner as Tony.) Plus the movie is not light and funny, not a showcase for star performers in their best routines. Still. . .

Where did all this go? What happened to it? This quiet and warmth. This full-bodied belief in transcendence, heartbreak, longing. This sense of doom coming not from covens of corporate vampires creating a world frozen in dread, cynicism, and corruption; rather, a tragic forboding arising from the nature of things, as if one is never in so much danger as when happy and/or alive -- that is when the devils seem to have their day; and hawks steal something living from the gambol on the field.

West Side Story can now be seen, almost 60 years on, as a bleeding-heart opera of the Kennedy Years, filled with a faith in endless possibility and joy, undercut by distant drums, it is a movie with a vanished New York City of movement, color, good humor, fellowship, and a loathing of pretension and power at the center of its tender heart. Let it bleed.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Why Not?


This is why not: Andrew Levine with the revolting answer; and Rob Urie on the leading proponent of political violence in the world today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Rose Hobart


This is what happened to Joseph Cornell: He got his hands on a print of East of Borneo (1931) and became so obsessed with its star that he began chopping away everything which wasn't a beauty shot of Rose Hobart. Left with about 15 minutes of footage, he added several pieces of an eclipse documentary, tinted everything, silenced the sound from both originals, added two Brazilian songs, then projected the work at silent movie speed.

What he accomplished is nothing less than the directorial ravishing of a screen star; and a seriously erotic capturing of her lust. The gaze that masters the movie is Rose Hobart's gleaming blue eyes, a gaze that can change atmospheres, eyes that seem to swim in sperm ~ she's always in a trance state of sexual longing, or perhaps remembering some great fuck. Her looks and body movement suggest nights of quiet landscapes, breasts between the moon, of love and wetness from night 'til dawn.

She is surrounded by pools of sucking water, volcanoes flowing lava, moonlight and rain clouds, bunches of bananas, torches, melting crème inside a cool chalice, erect palm trees, the wick of a flame in swollen close-up. And lots of men: natives, Poobahs, and the very lucky Charles Bickford.

And the ravishment at the center: Hobart's panther-like walk, over it a glaze of passion, promising a woman who would lash around her lover like a storm. Her sleek slenderness. Her beautiful neck, arms, shoulders, and back. Skin that photographs like flesh.

The beauty and lust of a woman immortalized. And Cornell's perfect proof that millions of people in the world will never meet each other.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Galant' Uomo


He was the first.

Mark Lane 1927 - 2016

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Spurs Without Tears


Matt Moore:
No tears.

There would be no emotional outbursts, no big scenes about what this failure feels like or what the future holds. The San Antonio Spurs didn't look inward or down after their Game 6 113-99 loss to the Thunder on Thursday. The Spurs were eliminated 4-2, failing to reach the conference finals for the second straight season since winning the title, and losing in the postseason for the second time in five seasons to this young, emotional, athletic team from Oklahoma City. The end comes with questions, and the weight of those questions was evident the entire night even as the Thunder ran away with the game.

Was this the last game Tim Duncan will ever play? What about Manu Ginobili? Is the era over? Do the Spurs finally need to get younger? Are changes necessary after 67 wins and a historic season that saw them lose only once at home in the regular season?

With 3:12 remaining, the Spurs had cut it to 11. From the other vantage point, the Thunder had let a 26-point lead slip, and the crowd was about to have a collective panic attack and crumble into the fetal position. One more big play and the panic was going to start to infect OKC. Kawhi Leonard ran the pick and roll, and Old Man Riverwalk, the Big Fundamental, caught the ball and drove the lane. Then this happened:

Duncan's face as he walked off the floor was a haunting reminder that eventually everyone has that moment where they just can't do what they used to.

After the game, when asked if this was Duncan's last game, Gregg Popovich was coy, jokingly asking the reporter if he knew something Popovich didn't know, and simply saying Duncan played well in Game 6. (He did.) Duncan did what you expected after the game. He said he would think about it after he left the arena.

We've thought this was the end of San Antonio before. The 2011 failure to get out of the first round. The 2013 Finals, maybe the toughest loss in NBA Finals history. This felt different, but so did those. Maybe Duncan will simply return, maybe Ginobili will, too. What's clear, though, is that as great as this Spurs team was in the regular season, it was not ready to face the elite teams.

The beautiful ball movement that has sent basketballphiles' heads spinning was gone, replaced by isolation grinds which the Thunder snuffed out and manhandled. The scoring balance was absent as the Spurs turned again and again to LaMarcus Aldridge, who had two great games and then returned to just being a mid-range shooting power forward, high in volume, low in efficiency.

And then there was Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard's season was phenomenal. He was among the elite in efficiency in every type of play-set he interacted with, offensively or defensively. He was a great spot-up shooter, isolation scorer, pick-and-roll player, slasher, cutter, post-up player and he defended every man, woman, child, wildebeast, mountain lion and mythical creature he was tasked with on his way to Defensive Player of the Year.

However, if we're going to hold these elite players to high standards, Leonard's game has to be examined. Against the Clippers in 2015 he faded over the course of the series, taking less and less of a role before San Antonio was bounced in Game 7. He was solvable. Against the Warriors this season, he failed to assert himself.

Against the Thunder, he had his games, but over the course of the series his impact became less and less. On Thursday, Leonard finished with 22 points, on 23 shots, and really only started trying to exert his will when it was too late. He had just nine shots at the half as the Thunder ran up a 24-point lead. That can't happen if Leonard is going to be the best player on a title team, the guy they lean on. The Thunder, fittingly, took a very Spurs approach to guarding Leonard and Aldridge. No matter how much individual success they had early in the series, OKC kept throwing tough, physical defense at them with Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams on Aldridge and Andre Roberson and Kevin Durant on Leonard. It wore them down, it wore them out, and in the end, the cumulative effect was too much.

The team that always defined itself by its scoring balance and poetic flow found itself stuck in the mud, spinning its two-star wheels helplessly. This was Aldridge's first year in the system and though he was the marquee name of the summer, this team's future is built around Leonard. His early success came as a utility man on the 2014 title team. The jury is still out on his tenure as a star player. Leonard is still phenomenal, still growing, and with how many close games this series had, it's entirely possible that if Leonard did enough the series could have bounced their way.

But it didn't, and on some level, either the Spurs have to return to the balance they had before this season's revamped attack (which was designed to counter the Warriors) or Leonard has to rise above. He has improved every year, but this shows that even he will have to deal with the setbacks every young player -- he's only 24 -- has to go through.

Heavy is the crown.

As for the Spurs' longtime ruler, the greatest player in franchise history, Duncan said nothing Thursday night, as he has said nothing so many times. He is timeless, ageless, speechless, his only expressions coming in disbelief at a foul call he disagrees with. (And he was still making those faces in Game 6 all the way to the end.) Tony Parker sat at his locker and stared straight ahead. Duncan stared straight ahead as he answered the media's call on whether this was it for him. Manu Ginobili walked down the hall toward the bus, embracing Patty Mills as they walked side by side.

From Popovich to Duncan, and Danny Green in between, the Spurs were the same classy organization they've always been. They showered the Thunder with praise, answered their questions dutifully. Then they left.

When asked about his conversation with Popovich, after which Duncan returned for the fourth quarter, Duncan said: "He asked me if I wanted to play and I told him I wanted to play and I always want to play, so he said to go for it. That was the end of it, so I stayed out there the whole time."

Manu Ginobili on if he'll retire: "I'll take my time as always."

Kawhi Leonard on Duncan as a teammate: "He's been a great teammate to me. Helped me grow up a lot throughout my years. We'll see what happens."

So no. No farewell tours. No emotional goodbyes. No tears. If this is the end -- and as always, assuming that it is should be considered folly with this seemingly immortal squad -- it comes with the same quiet dignity that has brought them so many championships, so much success, so much respect.

However, no matter how long it takes, or how far away from the spotlight they'll go, the Spurs will face a process that Tim Duncan described when asked about his future.

"I'll get to that after I get out of here, and figure life out."

After such an amazing season, and with such high hopes dashed, the Spurs are left to do the same.

Friday, May 13, 2016

By Your Enemies Ye Shall Be Known


Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination and the younger brother of George W. Bush, posted a statement Friday on Facebook declaring, “Donald Trump has not demonstrated [the] temperament or strength of character” necessary in a president. He continued: “He has not displayed a respect for the Constitution. And, he is not a consistent conservative. These are all reasons why I cannot support his candidacy.”

Mitt Romney appeared Thursday night at a gala dinner in Washington DC to benefit the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. When asked if he would run as an independent candidate for president, he said he was not interested. He then added, “I don’t intend on supporting either of the major-party candidates at this point.” He continued: “I am dismayed at where we are now, I wish we had better choices, and I keep hoping that somehow things will get better, and I just don’t see an easy answer from where we are.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who like Jeb Bush was a candidate for the Republican nomination and signed a pledge last year to support the eventual nominee, said Friday that Trump was unfit to be commander in chief. “I don't think he’s a reliable Republican conservative,” he said. “I don’t believe that Donald Trump has the temperament and judgment to be commander in chief. I think Donald Trump is going to places where very few people have gone and I’m not going with him.”

An even more scathing denunciation came from former US senator Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire, who will be a delegate to the Republican National Convention pledged to Ohio Governor John Kasich. “Unequivocally, I am not supporting Donald Trump,” he told the press. “I think he is a sociopath.”

While saying he would vote for Trump in November, Arizona Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, said he would not attend the July convention in Cleveland. This is the increasingly common choice of those who won’t oppose Trump publicly but don’t want to be associated with his coronation as the nominee.

The executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Ward Baker, told a briefing for lobbyists and donors Thursday that Republican candidates should skip the convention if they felt it was to their advantage in November.

Some of the most right-wing members of the House Republican caucus have declared their opposition to Trump, including Justin Amash of Michigan, who bills himself a libertarian, and Steve King of Iowa, a ferocious anti-immigrant bigot who supported Texas Senator Ted Cruz and is aligned with the most extreme Christian fundamentalists.

Trump often sounds remarkably populist in ways that white working class voters appreciate. He has been critical of things that elite Republicans (and elite corporate Democrats) hold dear, including corporate globalization, “free trade’ (investor rights) deals, global capital mobility, cheap labor immigration. He questions imperialist adventures like the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the destabilization of Syria, and the provocation of Russia. He’s a largely self-funded lone wolf and wild card who cannot be counted to reliably make policy in accord with the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire. And he’s seizing the nomination of a political organization that may have ceased to be a functioning national political party.

Things are different with Hillary. She’s a tried and true operative on behalf of both the nation’s capitalist and imperialist ruling class who sits atop the United States’ only remaining fully effective national and major party – the Democrats. She’s a deeply conservative right-winger on both the domestic and the foreign policy fronts, consistent with the rightward drift of the Democratic Party (and the entire U.S. party system) – a drift that she and her husband helped trail-blaze back in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1964, when Mrs. Clinton was 18, she worked for the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Asked about that high school episode on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1996, then First Lady Hillary said “That’s right. And I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.”

It was a telling reflection. The First Lady acknowledged that her ideological world view was still rooted in conservatism of her family of origin. Her problem with the reactionary Republicanism afoot in the U.S. during the middle 1990s was that it was “not conservative in many respects.” She spoke the language not of a liberal Democrat but of a moderate Republican in the mode of Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon.

The language was a perfect match for Hillary and Bill Clinton’s politico-ideological history and trajectory. After graduating from the venerable ruling class training ground Yale Law School, the Clintons went to Bill’s home state of Arkansas. There they helped “lay…the groundwork for what would eventually hit the national stage as the New Democrat movement, which took institutional form as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)” (Doug Henwood). The essence of the DLC was dismal, dollar-drenched “neoliberal” abandonment of the Democratic Party’s last lingering commitments to labor unions, social justice, civil rights, racial equality, the poor, and environmental protection and abject service to the “competitive” bottom-line concerns of Big Business.

The Clintons helped launch the New (neoliberal corporatist) Democrat juggernaut by assaulting Arkansas’ teacher unions (Hillary led the attack) and refusing to back the repeal of the state’s anti-union “right to work” law – this while Hillary began working for the Rose Law firm, which “represented the moneyed interests of Arkansas” (Henwood). When the Arkansas-based community-organizing group ACORN passed a ballot measure lowering electrical rates residential users and raising them for commercial businesses in Little Rock, Rose deployed Hillary to shoot down the new rate schedule as an unconstitutional “taking of property.” Hillary joined the board of directors at the low wage retail giant Wal-Mart.

During the Clintons’ time in the White House, Bill advanced the neoliberal agenda beneath fake-progressive cover, in ways that no Republican president could have pulled off. Channeling Ronald Reagan by declaring that “the era of big government is over,” Clinton collaborated with the right wing Congress of his time to end poor families’ entitlement to basic minimal family cash assistance. Hillary backed this vicious welfare “reform” (elimination), which has proved disastrous for millions of disadvantaged Americans. Mr. Clinton earned the gratitude of Wall Street and corporate America by passing the arch-global-corporatist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which had mandated a necessary separation between commercial deposit and investment banking), and by de-regulating the burgeoning super-risky and high-stakes financial derivatives sector. Hillary took the lead role in the White House’s efforts to pass a corporate-friendly version of “health reform.” Along with the big insurance companies the Clintons deceptively railed against, the “co-presidents” decided from the start to exclude the popular health care alternative – single payer – from the national health care “discussion.” (Barack Obama would do the same thing in 2009.)

The Clinton White House’s hostility to “big government” did not extend to the United States’ giant and globally unmatched mass incarceration state or to its vast global military empire. Clinton’s 1994 crime bill helped expand the chilling expansion of the nation’s mostly Black and Latino prison population. Clinton kept the nation’s “defense” (Empire) budget (a giant welfare program for high-tech military corporations) at Cold War levels despite the disappearance of the United States’ Cold War rival the Soviet Union.

A growing number of Republican party leaders are already coming to believe that Hillary is not all that bad an option for them. More Republican billionaires are considering the same. For example, the notorious Koch brothers, ultra-conservative multi-billionaires in the US, have already signaled publicly they could support Hillary if Trump becomes the Republican nominee. And Hillary’s husband, Bill, is reported to be aggressively courting with some success-other billionaire Republicans, seeking money and support for Hillary in exchange for what in return one can only guess.

Not long ago this guy would've been carrying our bags.
-- Bill Clinton on Barack Obama, 2008


Monday, May 9, 2016

Requiem


Noam Chomsky and the 21st-century American Nightmare.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ride


"I dwell in possibility
A fairer house than prose
More numerous of windows
Superior of doors
Of chambers as the cedars
Impregnable of eye"

- Emily Dickinson

Bounty hunter Ben Brigade (Randolph Scott) catches up with his prey -- young shoot-`em-in-the-back outlaw Billy John (James Best). On their return toward Santa Cruz, Brigade and Billy run into Brigade acquaintance Boone (Pernell Roberts) and Boone's sidekick (James Coburn), two men also planning on taking in Billy John – in Boone’s case for the promised amnesty. Also met with is a lovely, slender, recently widowed blonde woman (Karen Steele), who becomes an object of love for the four men. Toward Santa Cruz, being pursued by five killers led by Billy John’s older brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef), Brigade’s route becomes the slowest, most open and circuitous possible, as it becomes clear Brigade’s real motive is not grabbing the bounty on Billy John’s head, but the inevitable confrontation with brother Frank -– the man who hanged Ben Brigade’s young wife.

Gruesome as the story can sound, Boetticher and Scott’s Ride Lonesome (1959) is one of the warmest, gentlest, most intimate and tender of great genre movies. And one of the strangest. It is built on seven sequences, alternating day-and-night: a very wide, always outdoors (there are no interiors) chamber piece. Charles Lawton Jr. and Henri Jaffa's color scheme flips from a faded daylight of sun, bone, silver, scarlet, smoke, rust to a Tintoretto darkness of vibrant chestnut, deep blacks and browns, fire. The movie is 72-minutes long. Yet what other movie takes its time as intensely and deeply as does this one?

Here, in a 3-and-a-half minute shot, Ride Lonesome breaks all bounds.



Roberts as Boone and the sweet, gangly Coburn move together in a loving and kind friendship. All the night scenes are luminous, as if in secret: very dark with still camera, forcing us to become part of words, tone, gestures. The characters in Brigade's group have their one-on-one with each other, usually at night. (Opposed to brother Frank's four horsemen who run away at first sight of their boss's blood.) The most likeable character in the story is the shackled young outlaw. And we want Billy John to be taken in by Boone: we want Boone and young Witt to have their place and their chance to begin again.

Director Boetticher's intimate chain has smaller links, reminiscent of Ozu pillow-shots, brief pauses where nothing happens except the beauty and tenderness of the pauses themselves. (Embraced by Heinz Roemheld's delicate, Sketches of Spain-like score.)



Randolph Scott, in his calm focus on the coming meeting with Frank, acts as the tender germ in the living plasma of the picture. We realize his love for Karen Steele by his choice to tear himself open and tell her of his kidnapped, raped, and hanged young wife. It sets us up for a fully satisfying and realized emotional and thematic closure -- one of the best endings we'll ever see.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Never Saw It Coming

Even the greatest of television shows give us too much information -- sound and visual; and certainly story. Strange, considering we do not require background for most characters going in. The locations are normally familiar to us. So is what might be called the "moral architecture" of the show: we grasp in terms of style and meaning where it will go, and where it will not. The best episodes in the best series, usually by miracle, seem to contain these presumptions almost as distraction, using them to deepen and complicate the mysteries already at the heart of the matter.

For the first 20 minutes of its 48-minute length, "Counter Gambit" (an episode of The Rockford Files from the middle of its initial season) gives us nothing but false information. Two ex-cons with sudden new freedom hire private investigator (and ex-con) Jim Rockford to find a missing girl and her $250,000 of missing pearls. They expect Rockford to locate the girl, soften her up, get the lay of her apartment, then grab the loot. The only question seems to be whether the P.I. will return honor among thieves, or turn the necklace over to the cops.

Not exactly. The story begins way past middle and only after wrap-up can we understand what's really happened. "Counter Gambit" -- originally premiering for NBC on January 24, 1975, written by Howard Berk and Juanita Bartlett, directed by the fine actor Jackie Cooper -- is one of the great con episodes in TV history. Secretly dense and complicated, it feels like it was set up by the Rockford crew that week in about six seconds, the story was shot out of the trees, and no one ever saw it coming. It is perfect.

So many nice turns. Ford Raines as Manny Tolan. The wonderful Noah Berry Jr. twice briefly. M. Emmet Walsh as a particularly sweaty "insurance investigator." Garner throughout. Mary Frann luscious and seven years away from becoming Newhart's Joanna Loudon. And Stuart Margolin's first meaningful appearance as Angel Martin. (Margolin had directed a previous Rockford episode.) Not yet the corrupt and sniveling Angel we all know, "Counter Gambit"'s Angel is more endearing and smarter. (The scene inside the 1970s porn house is one of the funniest in the series.)

Eddie Fontaine steals it as Moss Williams.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Killjoy


I've bled Laker Purple-and-Gold since before they traded for Shaquille O'Neal, since before they drafted Magic Johnson, since before they traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabber, since Jerry West was the head coach and not the general manager. And I know I say this for all true members of Laker Nation: good friggin' riddance to Kobe Bean Bryant. Just as Kobe Bean -- the Almighty One -- hung a "good riddance" sign on the backs of Shaquille, Phil Jackson, Glen Rice, Rudy T, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Robert Horry, Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Horace Grant, Andrew Bynum, Trevor Ariza, Jordan Hill, Josh McRoberts, Jodie Meeks, Ed Davis and Jeremy Lin as he shoved them all out the door. (Not to mention all the great and good free agents who would never consider playing in L.A. if it meant sharing the same space as Bryant.) He was a tight-ass, a bore, and he sucked all the joy from what was the most joyous franchise in American sports history.

Now let's open the windows.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Blood-dimmed Tide


First, the New York Times article.

                                             + + + +

And Joseph Kishore.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Ode to Joy


Do you know the game Smoke? It's sort of a Twenty Questions only with no limit to the questions and with more verve and flavor. There's one: If Grace Kelly were a flavor, which flavor would she be? (The taste of an over-ripe pear?) If JFK were a car, which one? If Obama a city? (Gotta be someplace bland, smug, predictable, middle-brow, and entirely safe. Portland. No wonder Robert Kennedy lost Oregon.) If Oliver Hardy were a building? The Chrysler Building a person? Cary Grant a drink? (The 50s Cary Grant. The screwball Grant?) The movie Vertigo a flower? A wonderful game. It brings you closer to the heart of the answer and of the question.

Here's an easy one. If my daughter Saya were a movie. . . .

*

Bringing Up Baby (1938) is silly, sweet, smart, stylish, serious, and interested in only one thing: having fun from dawn 'til dawn. As the song says, the picture can't give you anything but love (baby). Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) takes all things very seriously within his very narrow world, a world within which he can barely move without falling down or speak without stammering. Over the course of a miraculous day-and-night, Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) steals his golf ball, steals his car, rips his tail coat, nearly causes him to be mauled by a leopard, steals another car with David as accomplice, knocks a chicken truck off the road also with David as accomplice, steals his clothes, gets him arrested, and loses his Intercostal Clavicle (plus a million-dollar grant and the fiancée that came with it). By the end of the night, David wouldn't have it any other way. . .

As in all the best works of Howard Hawks -- The Big Sleep, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, To Have and Have Not, Rio Bravo, El Dorado, Scarface, Twentieth Century, Red River, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Man's Favorite Sport? -- the atmosphere thrown around us is the atmosphere in which life and death are equal, the movement is the movement that speeds on its way beyond good and evil, toward elation and transcendence.

Happiness and, I guess, all those things you've always pined for. . . .

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fear

Perhaps the most renowned and surely one of the funniest episodes of The Bob Newhart Show:  "Death Be My Destiny" from February '77.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Starlight


An hour into They Drive by Night (1940), we begin to wonder what could be distracting director Raoul Walsh ~ from his material and from his players. This classic prole story of two trucker brothers trying to survive has much more power and guts in Archie Mayo's 1935 Bordertown. (Then again, prole-wise, 1940 wasn't 1935. . .) Humphrey Bogart as the younger brother and the great Ann Sheridan are both handled as filler. George Raft is allowed to be George Raft. The background characters go through the motions, with the only standout being the lovely and dark Gale Page.

Then Lupino arrives. She plays the dissatisfied wife of a trucking tycoon (Alan Hale) and has the hots for George Raft (!). For the last third of the movie, Walsh just stays out of her way.



Ida Lupino was born in London in 1918 to a comedian father and stage actress mother. After a handful of ingénue roles in British films, she was brought to Hollywood at the age of 16. Mostly decor for a couple dozen pictures throughout the 1930s, she began to breakthrough as the decade turned.

High Sierra (1941) was Humphrey Bogart's breakthrough, yet the film isn't much, with director Raoul Walsh again undershooting the target. While uniquely fierce and frightening throughout, we never get the sense of what Bogart's greatness would be born of: his overwhelming intelligence. The Maltese Falcon is also from '41, To Have and Have Not three years later, The Big Sleep two years after that. High Sierra has none of the playfulness, relaxation, control or wit of that Bogart. His obsession here with the lame (in all ways) Joan Leslie seems ridiculous, a mere device, as if our Bogart could possibly be crushed by this girl. And just as Bogart and Ann Sheridan are tossed aside in They Drive By Night, so here are the very young Arthur Kennedy and Cornel Wilde. (Far more attention is given to "Pard," an obnoxious mutt.) Even with top billing, Lupino herself is underused. She's still the best thing in the movie, trying to open up new doors and directions along the way, doors Walsh this time keeps shut.



The Man I Love (1947) is Walsh again. And great. And Ida Lupino, fully born.

Musicians and singers musically quote and pay tribute to other musicians we never see on screen, a regular daily occurrence but one rarely glimpsed in movies. The cadre we meet at the working-class Long Beach apartment house is so connected, the relationships so well done and dazzling, it takes us awhile to understand who is related to whom, who is dating or married to whom: three sisters and two brothers, a brother-in-law and sister-in-law, twin infants and a little boy with a perpetual black-eye. There's a heavy: a nightclub owner played by the cartoonish Robert Alda who trips over himself throughout in pursuit of Lupino, the eldest sister.

This is noir? Indeed, in a world of its own. Cinematographer Sid Hickox puts the Renoir material inside a diamond while Walsh uses the loveliest torch music of the time. All the women, those whose names we get and those we don't, are 10s -- some of them drifting over from the Hawks set: The Big Sleep's little poison Martha Vickers here playing a different kind of baby sister; the bemused yet loyal (and eventually fainting) wife of the Resistance hero from To Have and Have Not Dolores Moran, as the wayward sister-in-law. At one moment, we swear one of the nightclub chorus beauties will let her lovely small breasts fall from her top (49:00). In The Man I Love, no one is shot, beaten up, or imprisoned; no money or jewels are stolen. When the movie dips into straight noir, Walsh immediately (and beautifully) restores his tone with the return of a sister's shell-shocked husband. And Lupino is the ballast: the future director holds the movie in the palms of her hands, causing it to flow from her complex ardency. We believe in the three sisters, in John Lund as the tortured ex-pianist, in his playing, in Lupino's adoration of him.

In the years since High Sierra, Lupino's power and confidence have exploded. She is the magnet pulling Walsh fully into the material, leading him -- as did Cagney -- toward the seething (yet less unique) White Heat of two years later. There is no distraction or lack of attention here by Walsh, no undershooting the target.

(Overshooting, of course, can be worse. Much worse. The Man I Love is the "source material" for New York, New York (1977). Familiarity with both can lead to amazement at just how much Martin "Reichsmarschall of Our Collective Movie Past" Scorsese flat-out stole from the immensely superior earlier work: Alda's character "fleshed-out" for De Niro, the jam sessions, Lupino interrupting a set to sing a number, the way the title song itself is handled, even the damn titles and end-credits. And the thievery is less in homage than an excuse to stick his ever-present directorial finger into everyone's eyeball -- perfectly matched in NY, NY with star Liza Minnelli, another coked-out attention-eater.)

The Lupino/Walsh film is one of the most beautiful works of the post-war period, endlessly re-seeable. There are flaws. The ending is rather conventional. Lupino turning on Lund in the wake of his sorrowful confession is a false note. Worse is Walsh's direction of her lip-synching and the bad choice of original singer (Peg La Centra).

A problem Lupino would not have in Road House. . .



In Road House, she gives us the best voice (and look?) of the American late-40s. Her sound is described in the movie, by Celeste Holm, as great "If you like the sound of gravel" and "She does more without a voice than anybody I've ever heard." Here, Ida Lupino uses her own voice -- not to sing exactly, more a heightened form of her daily conversation set to music. Yet her versions of "Again" and "One for My Baby" are among the best ever recorded.

Lily Stevens (Lupino) is The Man I Love's Petey Brown sans family and friends. When she arrives at the nightclub / bowling alley called Jefty's -- named after the owner -- she enters a world made from the most likable group of people one can find, so detailed and grounded by director Jean Negulesco (for Road House's first-half) it is impossible not to long to be part of it. In particular the relationship between friends and partners Cornel Wilde (coming a long way from High Sierra's poop-a-doop stooly) and the young Richard Widmark as Jefty. We enter their world without explanation or background and believe in it immediately. Both men love Lily, who becomes a complete distraction from what had mattered most at Jefty's: bowling leagues with team names like the Pin Crushers and the 7-10 Splitters. In spite of the extreme style of Lupino's look and performance, from The Man I Love to Road House we move from major to minor key. The movie is very relaxed, and after years of struggle and loneliness, one could not find a better place to land than Jefty's.

For the first-half. Then the atmosphere is lost, and the story takes over, a story small and thin: two friends -- one rich, one working-class -- love the same girl. She doesn't choose the rich man so he uses his powers to frame his ex-friend for theft. Pushed aside is Lupino's singing (and her way of sounding half-exasperated/half-humored at the end of her sentences). Wilde becomes a mere hunk. The four main characters -- including the wonderful Celeste Holme as the spunky gal who gets no attention from men (!) -- begin to move through their paces in wholly expected ways. The biggest loss is the awesome Widmark: the subtle and extremely likable man of the first-half devolves into a cackling maniac. And we never see Jefty's again.

Still -- that first half. One could use it and all The Man I Love (and so much else from the late-1940s) to argue that here is where movies peaked, as popular art. And that once it fully flowered, should have been put to rest. The movies' post-Romantic period was not the end-of-the-20th Century. It was the 1950s. Ever since, we have been picking the bones.



On Dangerous Ground (1952) is Nicholas Ray at his most tender. L.A. police detective Robert Ryan is punished for excessive brutality by being sent to the snows of mountainous California. His assignment is to help capture a disturbed young man accused of murder. The detective meets the fugitive's sister, a blind girl played by Lupino. She knows she must give up her brother. Can she trust the detective? The fearsome (and fearful) Ryan warms and comforts himself in the beautiful light of her nature.



Ida Lupino's first chance to direct came as a result of tragedy. In 1949 she and her then husband Collier Young formed a production company called "The Filmmakers." Not Wanted -- a movie about a working-class girl forced to give up her out-of-wedlock baby -- was the company's opening project and when director Elmer Clifton suffered a major heart attack on set (he would die soon after), co-producer/writer Lupino took over. It would be the first of what wags of the time (and since) would dismiss as her string of "issue pictures for women": Not Wanted (1949) (out-of-wedlock pregnancies); Never Fear (1949) (polio victims); Outrage (1950) (rape); Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951) (stage mothers); The Bigamist (1953) (adoption). Not so, for each film is highly individual and goes beyond any theme or category. (They would never be considered for Lifetime or Hallmark.) Each can be uniquely felt as a Lupino experience: take the measure of everything and still give your cheer because you are there; be fiercely independent, but only if it leads toward communion. The Bigamist would be the penultimate feature she would be allowed to direct. (The Trouble with Angels, 13 years later, would be the last.) 1953's The Hitch-Hiker is her lone non-"woman's picture" and her masterpiece.

There is no story, no arc. Just 70 minutes of William Tallman holding a gun on Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy. Lupino's atmosphere is a moonscape, by day and by night. For a good part of the film we are inside O'Brien's beat-up '51 Plymouth, and when it ends the three main characters return to where they were before it began: the hitch-hiker to jail, the two kidnapped husbands to their jobs and families. Everything is stripped to essentials. One could mistake the film for some meta-noir con job by the likes of Jim Jarmusch or the Coen Boys©.

It is the opposite. Lupino as director and co-writer believes so strongly and sincerely in the material and genre she goes straight to the heart of the matter. No layers of interpretation or camp, no audience winks. She directs as if there is no audience -- completely in service to the story and the actors before her. The director as bride.



Two years later, Lupino again directed William Tallman for a segment of Screen Directors Playhouse: a lovely noir in which Tallman, and the story, beat to the rhythm of Teresa Wright's heart. (And a very funny Peter Lorre.)



The Big Knife is the minor half of Robert Aldrich's 1955 film blanc set. (Kiss Me Deadly being the decidedly major half.) It is one of the most important American movies of the middle-50s -- and a corrupt failure. (Because it is a corrupt failure.) Both director Aldrich and Ida Lupino (playing the separated stay-at-home wife of a major Hollywood star) wind up buried beneath the concrete of Clifford Odets's gutless psychobabbling avoidance of the Blacklist, the takeover of Hollywood by Eisenhower's national security state, and the gigantism caused by television culture.

The magnificent Jack Palance isn't buried at all. In one of the most passionate performances of the post-classical period, he plays Charlie Castle (née Cass) -- ex-prizefighter, ex-New York theater bum, ex-1930s radical (typically reduced by Odets to support for the New Deal/Fair Deal. Yeah, right) -- a movie star under the boot of studio head Stanley Hoff. As performed by Rod Steiger, Hoff is the third Dulles brother, or perhaps a sort of Ariel Sharon in dark glasses (or is it the other way 'round?): a fascist gargoyle part of nothing but his own power and conspiracies. (Carried out by Wendell Corey as the ultimate fixer.)

The movie is at war with itself, with Aldrich and Lupino, and Corey and Everett Sloane against the Method-Trumpeting of everyone else. The trumpets win out. At one point, Lupino hectors Palance -- whose performance is above the war -- about Stanley Hoff not being one of those filmmakers with guts and integrity like "Stevens, Mankiewicz, Huston, Kramer, Wyler, Wilder, and Kazan." Kazan! This in a movie about standing up to power and being true to your friends. Aldrich and Lupino must have thrown up afterwards.

The director tries his best. The story is almost entirely placed in Charlie Castle's livingroom -- and there we can see Aldrich as the anti-Dreyer. Where Carl Dreyer stripped all sets to their spiritual essentials, Aldrich drapes them with as much contemporary decoration and sound as he can, pinning the work to its time. Echt 1955.

In the Odets straight-jacket, all the women are wasted. Lupino is dulled-out. The magical Jean Hagen is thrown away. And Shelley Winters seems to be playing Rod Steiger's twin sister. Yet there is Aldrich's design. And the heroic Palance. In material better left to finks like Odets and Elia Kazan.



The best western series of all time: eight HGWT episodes directed by Lupino. This one was the first, and was the first American western story -- movies or TV -- directed by a woman. Much like Hitch-Hiker's Baja hills and deserts, here atmosphere is everything -- as our Knight (Richard Boone) tries to separate the innocent from the guilty. "The Man Who Lost" from April 1959.



Also that year, she appeared as an aging star in episode 4 of the new Twilight Zone. Trivially tarnished, per usual, by Rod Serling's narration ("struck down by hit-and-run years and lying on the pavement, trying desperately to get the license number of fleeting fame" -- no joke!), Lupino brings devotion and commitment to the overall silliness, Martin Balsam is very good as her agent -- and the story is directed by Mitchell Leisen! In 1959, American film was already mourning its own death.



Here, Lupino's camera is very close. The Fugitive was born during Assassination Autumn, and no other American television series has ever been as drenched in sorrow and loss. This episode, called "Fatso," would premiere three days before Dallas. A broken family, on a Kentucky horse farm. Two brothers who hate. The story's healing is Lupino's, and Janssen's. The star's warmth and honor (and melancholy) is fully embraced by the director. (And by Glenda Farrell as the mother.)



Even with all of Pauline Kael's orgasms, Sam Peckinpah remains the greatest American filmmaker of his generation. (And has any major U.S. critic dated more than Miss Cruet?) Much like Nick Ray and Takeshi Kitano, Peckinpah is a deep mixture of tenderness and extreme violence -- and like Ray and Kitano, both extremes are in service to honor, dignity, and comradeship. Junior Bonner (1972) -- one of the great movies of the Kael era -- occupies a middle ground. All of Peckinpah's form here (and does anyone have greater range?) is an attempt to embrace and express a single consciousness: Steve McQueen's as Junior. The trance rhythms caused by exhaustion and confusion; the stillness and longueurs caused by separation; the terror of what may lie just ahead, and the occasional hatred felt by a busted older brother for a younger, more "successful" one (the editing, sound, speed and size changes of the brother's [Joe Don Baker's] demolition of Ace Bonner's [Robert Preston's] home, seen in a movie theater, is one of the most frightening sequences in all movies); what Junior loves and notices; what he turns away from; and most beautifully, his overall acceptance of the way things are: Peckinpah's form gives us all of this. The middle ground is Bonner and his people, the rodeo horses and clowns, the spectators, the bar fighters and musicians, Barbara Leigh as the hottest girl who ever lived, the trailers and gusto with which folks enjoy their food. (Has biscuits and gravy ever seemed so delicious?)

Lupino, as Junior's mom, is heartbreaking. The director uses our memories of her past beauty, slenderness and style to deepen her son's acceptance. For she is very beautiful here: the beauty of fresh coloring, smooth complexion, well-ordered features is commonplace. Here Lupino is lit up, by turns, with love, and grief, and a ravage of sorrow -- a woman for whom life is real only through feeling.

From the heart of McQueen's consciousness, everyone is lit up this way. Preston as the father, Ben Johnson as a rodeo tycoon, Bill McKinney as "Red," Junior's main rival, even Baker as Curly. And the good people of Prescott, Arizona -- who went about their lives as Peckinpah created this great humanist work.



Ida Lupino infused all she did with her life. Performing or directing, she seems to always have her fingers on the strings of her heart, and of ours. Her glow is that of a woman who has suppressed her soul in a kind of mechanical despair, doing her duty and enduring all the rest. The look of her eyes and the sound of her voice feels as if she has torn free some promise of her soul and has paid for it ten times over in ransom. Yet there is always that music around her, enticing her soul from its bondage, a promise that it may break free altogether, to have at last a brief time purely for its own joy. And ours.