Cinema Station

Jeff Chandler: Vanity will get you someplace

July 28, 2010
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Jeff Chandler: Vanity will get you someplace

In my last year of high school three movie companies came to the island to shoot scenes for big important pictures. Prior to this only two films had ever been shot there and both were war pictures where most of the action took place on the water. So we didn’t see any movie stars, any cameras, lights or other movie making paraphernalia around. We were just told by the local newspaper that they were there and then they were gone. But this time things were different. The companies not only shot many scenes on the streets and on the beaches but the stars themselves lived at our largest and most luxurious hotel and could been seen on days when they weren’t working, walking the sidewalks, shopping and looking at sights or at night in clubs drinking and laughing it up with friends.

The first company to arrive was Universal Pictures called in those days Universal International. Their film was Away All Boast, a naval war story based on a best selling novel. This being a war picture the entire cast that was brought to the island location was all men. There were scenes involving women in the finished film but they had all been shot in California. The principals around whom the main story revolved were Jeff Chandler and George Nader. The supporting cast included Lex Barker who played Tarzan in several films, Jock Mahoney a stunt man turned actor whom I had seen in many westerns and Charles McGraw another veteran actor who played both good and bad guys in a score of films. Another member of the cast was Richard Boone who later went on to TV fame as Paladin in Have Gun, Will Travel. As I said before they were all staying at the Hilton Hotel where a studio for the local radio station was located. I had a one hour movie program where among other things I would interview any celebrity who happened to be staying there. So naturally when the Away All Boats cast arrived I politely wrote them all a note requesting an interview. And everyone, stars and supporting players alike, said sure.

Now it should be explained that at the time I was sixteen years old and had no idea what I was doing. I was this socially backward kid who had seen every movie that came to the island, read every fan magazine that was available and was totally in awe of anyone who had a substantial role in a movie. So when it came to interviewing these people I would just babble and go on about how wonderful they were in the films I had seen. The actors would just sit there smiling pleasantly trying to make sense of all the stupid things I was saying and answer as best they could. I still have audio tapes of these interviews but I can’t listen to them because I’m so embarrassed by my own stupidity. And although it is now all a blurry memory from a very distant past some faces and personalities still remain vivid for a variety of reasons.

One of those was Jeff Chandler. He had been a leading player in several Universal releases, always playing men of power and authority. In this film he was playing the courageous captain of a battleship. I was very impressed by him. Not just by his looks but his presence as well.  The first time I saw him he was standing on the street with several other members of the cast. All were handsome young men I had seen in a number of films but somehow he seemed to stand out. There was something in the way he carried himself that told you he was not your garden variety movie star but something or someone special, unique and different. I don’t know what it was but it was something. Now I have heard critics and others talk about someone having “screen presence” all the time and sometimes it’s true. Other times they’re just reflecting their bias for a certain personality. In life I have met very few people who possesses this thing called “presence” but to me Jeff Chandler was one of them. I think it started with his head. He had this incredible face. It was deeply lined with strong features that projected a serious kind of masculine integrity you rarely see anywhere.  His hair was prematurely grey and it added to the gravity of his demeanor. Because of it he appeared to be both young and old at the same time. In other words, ageless. And with this agelessness came the suggestion of a wisdom that was universal. Added to this he had a body that was handsome and well muscled that he was clearly proud of and worked hard to maintain. In many films there was always a scene where he was required to appear without his shirt. Quite often this was the shot that they used as the advertising poster for the film.

Now I have heard it said and seen it written in a number of places that Cary Grant was the quintessential movie star and I have no reason to dispute that opinion. I never got to see Mr. Grant in person. But I did see Jeff Chandler so to me he remains the ultimate movie star in the old fashioned sense of the term. One, his face alone seemed to be a thing of iconic radiance. It looked like it was modeled from a bust found in ancient Greece or Rome. But it didn’t stop there, the body that supported it also looked like a classic statue from the past. And then there was that voice. It was well modulated and expressive and he used it to maximum effect. Chandler, whose real name was Ira Grossel, had been a radio personality prior to getting into movies so he was well versed in utilizing his vocal abilities.

He was not an overwhelmingly powerful actor but he could hold his own with anyone on the screen, even a scenery chewer like Joan Crawford (Female on the Beach – 1955). His performances were straightforward and simple. He didn’t indulge in any of the so called “Method techniques” that were so popular at the time. He approached the dramatic demands of the script head on without subjecting the character and the audience with any kind of personal neurotic baggage.

Recently I spent a whole day and well into the night looking at Jeff Chandler movies. Turner Classic Movies (TCM) was running them on the anniversary of his birthday or some such thing. All the films were pretty ordinary but Chandler was good, sometimes very good in them. On looking at them and trying to decide what it was that made him so unique, I decided that it was his narcissism. Jeff Chandler might just be the most narcissistic actor I have ever seen on screen. He’s right up there with Yul Brynner but a lot more interesting. When he stands there just listening or talking you can’t help but think that he is aware of every part of himself. How he looks to the camera, and what effect he is having on not only the person he’s sharing the screen with but on the audience as well. He was obviously a vain man but he had a lot to be vain about. In life we are taught that vanity is a vice and most of us try as best we can to hide whatever aspect of it we may possess. And often we will go to great lengths to prove that just the opposite is true, that we are among the most humble of God’s creatures. And that if we are possessed of any quality that might be identified as handsome or beautiful, we are not at all aware of it. Jeff Chandler was just the opposite. He clearly knew he was handsome (and perhaps by some standards beautiful) and he gloried in it. He made vanity a virtue and it served him well. And that I think was the secret of his presence. He carried himself like an event. When he walked into a room you felt that something important was going to take place just because he was there. When he said something it took on weight and import just because he said it.

There are many vain people in the world, most display it too prominently and turn us off. Chandler wasn’t like that. His vanity was just a part of his whole persona like his handsome face and silver grey hair. In films it drew us to him right from the beginning when he played Cochise in the western Broken Arrow (1950). We wanted to know more about this proud, noble man. Not the character Cochise but the actor playing him. And he carried that special aura from film to film right to the end.

He was never a major box office draw or a major movie star for that matter, but he carried himself like one and was treated as such even in Hollywood where they surely knew that he wasn’t. That just goes to show how  far a healthy dose of vanity will get you.

He died in 1961 (age of 42) from blood poisoning after an operation for a slipped disc. Today Jeff Chandler is pretty much forgotten except for periodic reruns of his films which I said weren’t all that good. But in my little gallery of great stars he stands tall, not for the films he made, but for the aura he brought to each and every one of them.


Little Beaver/ Audie Murphy/ Grade C westerns

July 13, 2010
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Little Beaver/ Audie Murphy/ Grade C westerns

All kinds of films played in our small neighborhood movie theatre. So, according to your taste you went to see one kind or another. For example, my mother liked musicals, so she went to see every musical that played there. On the other hand, she didn’t like mysteries so she generally avoided them. In those days the kind of films most people in the place where I grew up liked were westerns, especially the grade B and C kind. Hollywood had its class A pictures, grade B, grade C and even grade Z.  This mostly had to do with the amount of money spent on the film (its budget) and the caliber of stars in the principal roles. We knew nothing about that and didn’t care. A movie was a movie was a movie so far as we were concerned.  If the plot held our attention and there were lots of action scenes, that’s all we wanted to know. And we could even distinguish the difference just based on the coming attractions.  For example there was a cowboy star named Bill Elliot. He made both kinds of westerns. If the trailers were in color and the voice over announcement said;”Starring William Elliot” we knew that the film would be dull, full of talk with very little violent action. In films like that he would be wearing a suit mostly and doing a lot of sitting in saloons smiling with women. Those were his class A pictures.

Now if the preview was in black and white and the announcer called him; “Wild Bill Elliot” we knew that was a film we wanted to see. In those films he almost never smiled. He would sneer at the bad guys or anyone else who crossed him then punch them in the face. He would also stop runaway stagecoaches by jumping between the two lead horses and pulling on the reins then go to see if the woman in the coach who got knocked unconscious during the frenzy was alright. In those movies he always wore two guns (even when he slept) and told the other characters that he felt naked without them

A frequent Bill Elliot role was Red Ryder and he had as his second or sidekick an Indian (Native American) boy called Little Beaver. This role was played by Robert Blake who grew up to act in such films as In Cold Blood (1967) and Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (1969) as well as the TV series Baretta. He starred in a rather well covered real life murder trial as well, but all that was to come later.  At the time that I’m talking about (the 1950s) he was Little Beaver to not one but two actors playing Red Ryder; Bill Elliot and Alan “Rocky” Lane. Lane was alright but Bill Elliot was our favorite. Still we went to see them both because of Little Beaver. He was absolutely our favorite character in those movies. On screen he did what we dreamed of doing. He would beat up adults all the time and we would jump out of our seats with joy yelling “Yeah!”

In those films there was always a situation where Red Ryder would be fighting five or six guys at the same time. Seeing this Little Beaver would rush in to help. Now you have to realize that he was only about ten so one of the bad guys would grab him by the back of his neck and throw him into a haystack.  Little Beaver would get up mad, shake himself off and go back after the guy.. He would kick his shin and when the guy reached down to get him Little Beaver would run between his legs, grab his foot and trip him. The guy would hit his head on the floor and get knocked unconscious. Then he would go after another guy. This guy (a real meanie) would punch at Little Beaver with all his might. Beaver would easily avoid it and the punch would smash into a post or wall. The guy would cry out in pain. While he was doing that Beaver would pick up an ax handle that was close by and hit him over the head with it “Bong!”. The villain would stagger comically for a moment before hitting the deck. Red Ryder by this time was polishing off the four remaining guys. After he did he would turn and say; “Thanks Little Beaver. “And we would cheer because we knew that without Little Beaver he couldn’t have done it and he did too.

(Image of Little Beaver from a comic book)

We also knew that in a similar situation we could do the same thing. Our problem was that in our little part of the world there weren’t any cowboys, especially the villainous kind, so we really couldn’t show what we could do. And that was frustrating. But Little Beaver did it for us and you could only find him in grade C films.

Now our favorite western hero wasn’t Randolph Scott, Gary Cooper or John Wayne. Those guys were okay but the man we all looked up to was Audie Murphy, the kid from Texas. He had been a war hero. America’s greatest war hero. Reportedly he killed 240 Germans. He had won more medals for heroism in World War Two than any other American soldier in history. And they told you so in the coming attractions of every film he made. “Starring America’s greatest and most beloved war hero Audie Murphy”.

He wasn’t much of an actor but he wasn’t awful either. He could deliver a line of dialogue convincingly enough and the emotional demands of the scripts were never out of his range. On screen he projected a kind of humility that spoke volumes when contrasted with his real life background. But the thing that made him such a favorite in our eyes is the fact that in real life he had actually killed people. The others were actors just playing at that stuff but Murphy had really done it. So when he shot a bad guy in his movies it was always more convincing to us because we knew that he knew how. The man was a killer. We had all seen the movie of his war exploits (To Hell and Back – 1955) with him in the lead showing us how he did it.

Murphy had a baby face which was deceptive, of course. He didn’t look tough and the bad guys were always underestimating him or his abilities.  He also had a disarming grin which told them that he was a pushover. Added to which he seemed to have a face that villains always wanted to slap. Of course when they tried it would turn out to be the mistake of their lives. I remember in one film some town bully said to him;”Why don’t you take that gun off your side.” To which Murphy replied; “Why don’t you take them off for me.” Of course the guy tried and it was “Bye-bye” Mr. Bully.

I really don’t know how many westerns he made but it seems like a lot. He played both Billy the Kid and Jesse James. And when he did we found out that they weren’t the thieves and killers that history and legend makes them out to be. They were just misunderstood kids who were either framed or manipulated into doing what they did by unscrupulous people in search of gold or political power. Other times he played fast guns, determined sheriffs, Indian scouts, Government agents, Bounty hunters or humble farmers. All were men of quiet dignity and unblinking courage who could fight with their fists as much as they could draw and shoot.

We would sometimes sit around for hours talking and trying to analyze what made Audie Murphy so good and why we loved him so.  Some said it was because he was tough, others said that it was because he came from Texas and was a real cowboy. But the real reason that captivated us and made us so devoted to him was told to us by an adult. He was a cab driver that was a huge Audie Murphy fan like we were. “You see” he told us one day, “the difference between Audie Murphy and the other cowboy actors in the movies is that Audie Murphy does kill them people we see him shoot.”

We didn’t believe it and told him so.

“I’m serious” he said by way of explanation. “You see what they do in Hollywood when they making his movies  is they get all these men from jail who is supposed to die in the electric chair from committing murder and all kinds of things. They put them in cowboy clothes and give them guns. Only their guns ain’t got real bullets in them, they got blanks.  Now Audie Murphy guns have the real thing, so when they shoot at him he can’t get hurt, but when he shoot back; “Bam! Bam!” they dead.

“Wow!” We looked at each other and were really convinced. We were really impressed as well. After that we looked at every Audie Murphy film with awe because he was not only taming the west he was clearing out America’s death row prisons as well.

Some months after I asked my father about this. He frowned and asked: “ Where did you hear that nonsense?” I told him my source. “That man is an idiot and a jackass, don’t ever listen to anything he tells you. In fact don’t even speak to him. For one thing he’s too old for you, for another, you’re more intelligent than he is.”

After that Audie Murphy stopped being a special favorite. I mean we still liked him and all but when we found out that he wasn’t really killing people on screen there was nothing to distinguish him from the other cowboy stars. We couldn’t understand the point of being a genuine war hero if you had to fake it in movies just like everybody else.

Audie Murphy died in a plane crash in 1971 but his movies live on. Sometimes late at night I see one of his films and I’m filled with some of the same excitement I had when I first saw him. I think it’s because somewhere in the corner of my mind I still believe that he’s really shooting all those bad guys. And at those times no one can tell me different. Sorry Dad.


A Personal Note: Movie Love by Gus Edwards

July 13, 2010
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I like movies. No, let me amend that, I love movies and have ever since I was a kid. On the island where I grew up we had one movie theatre and they changed the bill almost daily. What that meant is that you had to catch a film when it was showing or you missed it forever. Or so it seemed. Remember we’re talking about a time before TV or movies on TV were commonplace, and before videos or DVD’s were even a gleam in anyone’s eye. In other words we’re talking about the Dark Ages, the nineteen fifties. The mid nineteen fifties.

So due to the speed with which they changed films I went to the movies daily, or almost every day. At first my mother used to take me. She was a big movie fan. She read the fan magazines, listened to radio reports on their lives and identified with the lives of the characters that they played on the screen. Particularly the female stars. Women like Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Marie Windsor and of course Joan Crawford. Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn were alright but she preferred the low income bad girls.  The ones without education who had to do menial jobs like waitressing and hat checking and fight their way up the social ladder. She also liked the femme fatales. I suspect that she thought of herself as a femme fatale of sorts. And why not? My father thought himself a sort of Caribbean Bogart although he wouldn’t admit it. So why shouldn’t she think of herself as Gilda? And she wasn’t the only one. Everyone in our neighborhood went to the movies all the time and identified with the various characters they saw on the screen.

When I got older and started earning my own money I went to the movies sometimes twice a day. I’d see the film once in the afternoon and if I liked it I’d go back to see it again that night. A lot of my friends did the same thing too but curiously enough I was the one who got the reputation of being “movie crazy”. Perhaps it was because I talked more about the films that we’d seen than anyone else. I read all the fan magazines too and was eager to discuss what I’d read with anyone who would listen. Once I even wrote an anecdote about meeting Sidney Poitier and sent it to Modern Screen magazine. They printed it and sent me a check for twenty five dollars. It was the first money I ever earned for my literary endeavors.

Anyway, my reputation for being movie crazy grew and all through my High School years people said that about me, often to my face and definitely behind my back. And when they did they weren’t being flattering. Being movie crazy by their value standards meant that I was silly, not serious, out of touch with reality and maybe a little stupid. All of which was probably true when I think back on it today. But what I had trouble understanding then and now is why did the term apply only to me and not any of my friends? Still that didn’t stop or even modify my movie going habit. I made it my mission to go and see every motion picture that came to town. The only time I didn’t go was when I was ill or had some school or job related project that conflicted with the time of the showing. Friends, teachers and family began to worry about me. I was dealing too much with the world projected up on that silver screen and not enough with the world around me. Then foolishly I said something about wanting to go out to Hollywood and maybe becoming a movie star myself. My home room teacher, one Sister Agnes Theresa, took me aside and asked me if this was true.  Because of the way she asked the question and the worried expression on her face, I didn’t deny nor confirm what she’d heard. I just stood there looking at her as though she had spoken a foreign language.

After waiting for awhile and getting no response she went into a monologue about the evils of a life in films especially in Hollywood, the place where they made those movies. She said that it was a sinful place where all sorts of disgusting activities took place. That it was hardly the sort of environment that a good Catholic boy like myself should aspire to becoming a part of or try to emulate.

My mother without warning one day took me aside and queried me seriously about what I wanted to do with my life. I was sixteen at the time. “I don’t know” I told her. By this time I knew enough to keep my movie ambitions to myself. But she must’ve heard something or just sensed that I wasn’t being totally candid with her. “Hollywood” she said is nonsense. “The movie business is for good looking white people and Americans. You are neither, so get those foolish thoughts out of your head.” I told her “Yes, Mama.” And when I did I guess I meant it, but of course I didn’t.

It got so that I became a sort of a joke in my area. Not in a harsh or cruel way. It was more benign. The way we view someone with a pronounced eccentricity or one who was slightly crazy, but harmlessly so. Any question anyone had about the plot of a film or who the actors were in it were directed to me if I was close by. “Ask Gus, he knows about all that stuff.” And it was true. For some reason I seemed to be possessed of a photographic memory concerning the details of every movie that I saw. I could match the faces with the names of nearly all the actors in the various roles. Not just the stars but the featured players as well. I was deferred to as the ultimate authority in such matters. And this wasn’t just among my peers but by the adult population as well. Yet when the phrase “Ask Gus” was spoken it was done with an edge of mockery because the unspoken part of that sentence was: “He has time for that kind of nonsense, I don’t. I’ve got serious things to think about. And movie trivia isn’t one of them.”

I sometimes would wonder why I loved movies so much and why I was so obsessed with them. It was true, I was obsessed, but why? I lived on an island in the Caribbean that was about as far away from Hollywood and the movies as one could get. So what was this obsession all about?  Was there something wrong with me as everyone was implying?  Why couldn’t I be more like my friends and school mates who talked about going off to college, joining the army or just getting a good government job. Some even talked about buying a boat and sailing around the world. But me, all I could think about was Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures, Universal International, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures and MGM.

To cure myself of this habit I tried to stop going to the movies, but that didn’t work. I also tried to stop buying the fan magazines as well but failed at that too. But what I did manage to succeed at doing was talking so publicly about movies and displaying my knowledge about them. I’d see the films, think about them, and sometimes write out my opinions in a little book I had where I kept a record of every film I saw. But when anyone asked me anything about any film that was shown my standard response was: “Beats me.” Or I would just simply lie and say: “I haven’t seen it.”  See, I might’ve been movie crazy but I wasn’t going to be everyone’s movie information center. After awhile people stopped asking me questions and all was well.

I left the island and went to New York where I had the opportunity of seeing more movies than ever before. They came and went, the old ones and the new, the images piled up and yet I was dealing with the world around me in a fairly healthy fashion. I was reading books (and in the process learning to write as well), going to plays, visiting museums and galleries, listening to music, studying a variety of things that interested me, holding down a job and going out with girls etc. So whatever fear I or anyone else had about movies completely absorbing my life was completely unfounded. It was possible to be involved with movies but not absorbed by them.

I watch a lot of movies still; in fact even though I retired I still sometimes teach and do work shops about movies, movie history, genres etc. Quite often I sometimes get into heated discussions with peers and aficionados and enjoy them tremendously. When I taught classes regularly I used to tell my students from time to time “Make your passion your profession.” I did and I never regretted it. Movies were my passion, are my passion and will remain my passion for the rest of my life. Duke Ellington, the great American composer, once said “Music is my mistress”, I guess I could say the same thing about films.

This blog was created by me and Travis Mills as a repository of our various filmic enthusiasms. Hope you enjoy it.


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Conquest of the Useless III

July 13, 2010
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From Herzog’s journals during the making of Fitzcarraldo:

Munich-London, 8 October 1979

Big organizational and financing problems.  Jack Nicholson wanted me to meet him on the set of The Shining; he said he would like to do something with me, but does not want to go to the jungle and wonders whether we could not shoot the whole thing at home in a studio. Kubrick heard that I was on the set, and because it happened to be the midday break, invited me to lunch. A bucket brigade of assistants with walkie-talkies passed me along to him. We were very respectful, but did not have much to say to each other…

In Los Angeles, Sandy Liebersohn confided to me that he was going to resign as president of Fox; no one else had been told, and I should keep it to myself. But insider news like this does not mean a thing to me because I am going to be on my own as a producer. For a moment the feeling crept over me that my work, my vision, is going to destroy me, and for a fleeting moment I let myself take a long, hard look at myself, something I would not otherwise do–out of instinct, on principle, out of self-preservation–look at myself with objective curiosity to see whether my vision has not destroyed me already. I found it comforting to note that I was still breathing.


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A Forgotten Masterpiece

July 13, 2010
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Eye of the Needle

Through conversation, Gus and I stumbled on Eye of the Needle, a 1981 movie starring Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan.  He’d seen it; I hadn’t. He said it was Donald Sutherland’s best performance. He wasn’t wrong.

Eye of the Needle is a masterpiece, a forgotten brilliant piece of work.  It’s about a German spy nicknamed the Needle, played by Sutherland.  He’s hiding out, doing his job in England, when he gathers some crucial information, crucial enough to decide the fate of World War II.

Meanwhile, a British woman played by Nelligan gets into a reckless car crash with her new husband, an RAF pilot played by Christopher Cazenove.  The movie picks up on Storm Island, a small, desolate rock off the coast of Britain where Nelligan lives with her handicapped husband and child.  He is a bitter drunk, negligent of her love and needs.

Through a series of events, Sutherland’s spy is shipwrecked on Storm Island in his attempt to return to Germany.  That is where I will leave the plot.

The first part of the film sets up Sutherland as such a villain, stabbing people with no remorse, a cold killing Nazi. His humanity seems inconceivable and then through a combo effort from the actor, director Richard Marquand, and the screenwriters, he transforms into something else altogether.

It is this transformation that marks the movie’s brilliance, that and Nelligan’s sincere performance.  Marquand, as Gus said it best a “Hollywood professional”, directs the movie into a thriller not complicated through twists but emotions.

Funny how fresh it is to see a story where characters act in ways you might not predict, where our feelings about them conflict, where the story and the characters shine above the movie itself.


Guilty Pleasures: Paul Verhoeven’s Career

July 11, 2010
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I thought about The Fourth Man, a thriller Verhoeven made in his Dutch period filled with bizarre religious images, sex triangles, and sudden gore, and knew this was one of my guilty pleasures.  And then I started to think of the director’s other films and found myself lost in a sea of guilt.

Paul Verhoeven, in both Holland and the U.S., has made an entire career of guilty pleasures.  Of the early pictures, there is the sex melodrama Turkish Delight, the closest to masterpiece he’s ever come with the spy drama Soldier of Orange, like I mentioned before The Fourth Man (a sort of early, better Basic Instinct), and the motorcycle soap opera Spetters.

These pictures are not refined.  They are crude, abrupt, unhinged; they explode in unpredictable ways.

It has been a while since I saw Turkish Delight. The first half of the picture plays out with bizarre car crash and several scenes of nudity and sex.  This clip from one of those scenes displays the kind of sudden, odd directions Verhoeven takes his story.   The choices have the freshness of the best student filmmaking, not yet aligned with a bored set of standards.

Soldier of Orange starts with an initiation.  Rutger Hauer enters a sort of Dutch version of the fraternity-hazing where he and other rookies are thrown into a room of madness.  They are beaten, thrown around, clutched in pseudo-homosexual grasps and later Hauer is forced to sing while an established member pours soup on his head and finally crashes the entire bowl over him.  Verhoeven, with his camera that feels like it can float anywhere, tilt anyway, rush forward or away, creates a world so strange in only a few minutes that the rest of the film, a battle against Nazis, seems sort of normal.  Here is the scene:

In The Fourth Man, Verhoeven begins with a spider.  It crawls through the dusty apartment of our main character and lingers on a crucifix.  The lead, played by Jeroen Krabbe of Fugitive-villain-fame, gets out of bed.  He coughs a lot, hears music from somewhere in the house.  He comes out and strangles his male lover.  Stop.  No, he didn’t strangle him.  It was just a hallucination. Next we go to the train station where Krabbe is traveling to a writer’s conference.  He sees a woman.  She reminds him of something.  He stares at a painting above her head of the Last Supper.  The painting starts to bleed. Blood drips all over her and her baby.  Stop.  It’s really a busted tomato in the luggage compartment above.  Somehow, though Verhoeven seems to have made these choices for pure shock value, they don’t come across as merely tricks.  The images, however ridiculous in nature, build and build throughout the film into a realm of sex and violence, where the world doesn’t make sense but I don’t care because it’s so sensational.  Here are two clips: the opening credit sequence and then one of his flashes of gore (a moment where supposed “art” film dives into “B-movie” cinema)

In Spetters, a friendly motorcycle event turns ugly when a girl splashes hot grease on a man’s chest over a couple of dollars.  This sudden action arrives and departs, the movie returns to its agenda but somehow this scene, strangely honest, lingers in my mind far after it’s over.  At another point, one of the three racers the plot follows runs from a gang into a subway station.  It is abandoned.  He is caught and the gang decides to rape him.  Afterwards, he is friends with the guy who raped him.  This extreme event has somehow connected with him and allowed him knowledge of his self.  Here and in The Fourth Man, Verhoeven explores homosexuality but there is no fluidity to his study.  At points, his characters chase and beat homosexuals with no remorse, and at other points they discover their own sexuality is not what they thought.  It all funnels into the giant mess that is a Verhoeven picture.

Perhaps I cannot communicate my affection for these movies fully.  They capture my attention, drag me through a gutter of guilt, and leave me fulfilled.

Here is the trailer for Spetters.  Next I will explore some of Verhoeven’s Hollywood creations.


This Gun for Hire: Opening

July 6, 2010
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I love the way this movie begins.

An alarm clocks sounds, loud and annoying.  I wouldn’t say that it wakes Alan Ladd up, because it doesn’t look like he’s asleep or that he ever really does, maybe this professional killer can never rest. Anyway, I’ll say that the alarm alerts him.  He checks a letter with an address.  He grabs a gun.  He gets ready to go, then he hears something at the window.  It’s a kitten.  He lets it in.

He pours some condensed milk out of a can and the kitten drinks.  Moments later, a woman enters.  She’s attractive and from her dress I can gather that she is a maid.  She sees the kitten.  She calls it a filthy animal and knocks it away from the milk.  Ladd appears.  His hand goes to her blouse and tears a sleeve off.

“Keep your dirty hands off me,” she says.  So he slaps her.

“Go on, beat it,” he says.  She does.  He pets the cat and leaves.

This Gun for Hire isn’t a great movie.  It’s a decent one with some good scenes.  Later in the movie, Ladd has to strangle a cat to keep it quiet while he’s hiding out with Veronica Lake.  He puts the cat’s corpse down and says that he wishes he could be like that: asleep.