Cinema Station

Picture of the Week: The Outsider (1980)

April 17, 2012
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This is a new series that we are inaugurating on a continuing basis here at Cinema Station… Now there are other movie blogs that already feature a recommended Movie of the Week so what makes us different?  Or are we just imitating something that has already been done? Hopefully not. We’re going to be different because the titles we select will not be from the generally accepted canon of worthwhile or critically acclaimed films. In other words our selections will not have any discernible pedigree of any kind. They are the runts of the litter, the orphans, the rude children that just won’t behave or conform, the mavericks and the outlaws.   So they will mostly be small, offbeat and often low budget works that caught our fancy or captivated our attention for one reason or another.  A different way of putting it is to say that these are films that got made, released but somehow slipped through the cracks somewhere along the way and now reside in the dark abyss of obscurity. But it doesn’t have to be that way forever. At least not here in the universe of Cinema Station. So hang with us, maybe you’ll find a gem or two among them.

The Outsider (1980)

When I watched The Outsider, I had no idea how obscure of a film it was. It is confused for and lost in a sea of similar titles. There has been no release on VHS or DVD (I found it on Netflix). There is no information on wikipedia or IMDb other than plot summaries. It is the only film ever directed by Tony Luraschi. And the only reviews I found were both from the New York Times around the film’s release which divulged that Luraschi (in 1980) was a 40 year old American who studied under Roger Vadim among others and had been a still photographer before working in film.

I’m on this quest to find out more about The Outsider and its director because it is a powerful piece of cinema. It tells the story of an American (played by Craig Wasson) and Vietnam veteran who joins the I.R.A. to fight the British, influenced by his prideful Irish-American grandfather. Thrown into a power play of soldiers and politicians on either side, Wasson’s character ends up being used by both ends, his ideals exploited for victory and publicity.

This is perhaps the best film I have seen about the Irish conflict. The “outsider” perspective allows the director to take an unbiased look at the situation. As he is quoted in the NY Times review, “It doesn’t have a point of view. It just tells what is happening.” The film is not looking for answers and for that reason, it is rough, less polished, and more honest than mainstream attempts to portray this material.

Luraschi portrays a bleak Belfast where bombs explode at any time of day and night for no apparent reason and with no one clearly responsible. Though the British are more the “bad guys” of the movie, there are bastards on both sides of the war and Luraschi makes no judgments on them. In many ways, this is a film as complex, disturbing and almost as brilliant as Jean-Pierre Melville’s French Resistance drama Army of Shadows. Both movies leave much for us to decide, their characters a mystery at times and the conclusion of the stories utterly haunting.

If there is one weak point in the film it is Craig Wasson, who tries to meet the film on its level but isn’t quite capable. Still, it is refreshing to see an unlikely lead in this film, which would have been completely ruined by a typical Hollywood male star. For this reason, Wasson is the kind of protagonist we can relate to and follow through the horror. As Spielberg wisely decided on Jaws, it is often more effective and unpredictable to cast an every-man hero. Roy Scheider instead of Charlton Heston, for instance.

Sterling Hayden gives one of his last performances as the grandfather who influenced Wasson to fight in Ireland. There is only one scene between the two actors but it carries the weight and tone of the whole picture. Luraschi has the guts afterwards to end the film with no resolution. How could he when the war that it concerns continues even today?

The Outsider is a semi-flawed masterwork and it is a shame that the director never made another film.

If you’re out there anywhere Tony, know that your film continues to awe and astound those who come upon it.

-TM

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John Huston Tests Sterling Hayden for Asphalt Jungle

October 6, 2011
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… I step on a butt, take several deep breaths, and advance toward no-man’s land. Huston intercepts me, throws an arm around my shoulder, and walks me around the stage. His voice is urgent, but I’m thinking about the scene. When we stop we’re next to the camera…

A girl named Jean Hagen sits on a high stool. She is a redhead with a glorious smile, pretty but not too pretty, fresh from Broadway, and set to play in the picture…

“Kid,” Huston says, “play it the way it feels best. Lie down, sit up, walk around, do any damn thing you please. Wherever you go, we’ll follow. Take your time. Let me know when you’re ready.” He drops in a canvas chair and starts to read a book. The girl smokes, not looking at me just yet. It is absolutely silent.

Have I got the words, I wonder. Just like old times. I mess around with my shirt, trying hard to concentrate. I sit on the edge of the cot and clutch at the cage of my ribs. A minute passes, maybe more. Huston has closed the book. Our eyes meet and I nod.”

-Sterling Hayden, excerpt from Wanderer

-TM


The Hawkins Brothers: Crime Storytellers

October 28, 2010
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For a moviegoer, sometimes unfamiliar names become familiar. During the credits of the Andre De Toth directed Hidden Fear, the name John Hawkins struck a bell but I ignored it. I didn’t think about the name until I started Budd Boetticher’s The Killer is Loose and there it was again in the opening credits.

The very first time I saw the name was months ago: another De Toth picture, Crime Wave. The link the between the three movies isn’t only a name; it’s a consistency in craft, in the tiny character details that elevate these three crime pictures above most others.

John Hawkins, of whom I can find little about, was a writer and producer. He produced Bonanza and other than the movies, wrote for such television shows as The Fugitive and The 87th Precinct series. Alongside his name is his brother’s: Ward Hawkins. They each collaborated on Crime Wave and The Killer is Loose. From what I can gather, both of these films where based on stories by the brothers (they were frequently published in the Saturday Evening Post).

Both films had a screenwriter other than the Hawkins (Harold Medford for The Killer is Loose and three writers for Crime Wave). Although sometimes it’s hard to pick out the parties responsible for the exceptional qualities in good work (perhaps it was the director with an idea on set, or the actor), the name Hawkins keeps repeating itself at the beginning and end of good crime pictures.

The Killer is Loose is an odd cop story. The lead, played by Joseph Cotten, accidentaly shoots the wife of a bank robber played by Wendell Correy. He’s no ordinary bank robber, and no ordinary killer as the poster suggests. He’s timid, introverted; in the army we learn that he was constantly made fun of. Still, he involves himself in crime and the punishment is not his own but his wife’s.


Wendell Corey

The outcome of the innocent murder: Cotten made a mistake and Correy goes to jail. But before he goes, he swears to take the life of Cotten’s wife and when he escapes sometime later, the picture really takes off. That’s all I’ll say about the plot. The picture, like many in the gallery of second-run crime movies, is fast, sharp, and much smarter than most A-pictures. The characters’ actions are fresh, unpredictable, and downright complex. Budd Boetticher was a great director, not only of Westerns. Whatever his strengths, I can’t help but credit the “story” men behind this one: the Hawkins brothers.


Timothy Carey, front and center

Crime Wave, which I focused on before in an article about its director, is a little crime gem too. A tale of the burden of being an ex-crook at its core, the movie comprises police-procedural, heist, and kidnapping in a killer plot. The cast highlights are Sterling Hayden and Timothy Carey. Hayden plays a tough cop about as good as anyone could and Carey plays the ultimate scene-stealing psycho (he may have been the best scene-stealer ever). Again, De Toth was a terrific director but it’s not only the starkness of the pace and lighting that make Crime Wave a great picture; it’s the root of the movie, the core, where it came from.

Unlike the previous two, the movie Hidden Fear was not based on a story by Ward Hawkins. From the available information, it seems the screenplay was written by both Andre De Toth and John Hawkins. Like the other two, this is a tight little crime movie. The basic plot involves an American cop (John Payne) trying to clear his sister’s name after she gets mixed up with a murder in Denmark. Somewhere along the way, counterfeit and other such crimes become involved.


John Payne, a Pulp machine in my mind, here with two broads in Western mode

On one level, Hidden Fear feels like an early entry in the French New Wave. The lighting is almost all natural, the cutting abrupt and ragged but effectively so, the whole thing stripped of Hollywood exaggerations. It is a lean, mean picture but what really gives it guts are the characters and dialog. Payne’s American cop is Mickey-Spillane tough. In one great scene from Hawkins and De Toth, he slaps his sister around to find out the truth. The Danish cop enters the interrogation room and tells him, “This isn’t the way we do things here.” Payne, lacking all emotion, responds, “Sometimes it’s the only way.” He parades through the picture as a tall, strong statue, a perfect machine of pulp and Hawkins’ script is his backbone. Outlined with tons of great characters: a sultry blonde played by Anne Neyland and a backstabbing ruthless villain played by Alexander Knox. Hidden Fear climaxes with a great, minimal car chase and a harsh ending that conveys the same bizarre since of victory and tragedy as Hawkins’ ending for The Killer is Loose.


Alexander Knox

I’ll keep an eye out for John and Ward Hawkins from now on. And because their names were once unfamiliar to me and have now become synonymous with great crime writing, I’ll look for others like the Hawkins, buried in the credits of great forgotten cinema.

-TM


Authentic American Primitives: Andre De Toth

May 4, 2010
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Andre De Toth

He called himself “a Hungarian born, one-eyed American cowboy from Texas.”  He supposedly lost the eye in an anti-Nazi demonstration before he moved to America.  He had seven wives and nineteen children.

His most famous directing gig might be the horror film House of Wax, starring Vincent Price: an amazing 3D achievement because of his handicap.  He also made a ton of Westerns with Randolph Scott.  The film of his we highlight this time is from 1954; it is called Crime Wave.

Crime Wave

Not unadulterated Noir by our definition, but a police-procedural mixed with a heist film, Crime Wave, directed by De Toth is lean and mean.  It was shot almost in its entirety on locations.  He was offered a big budget and thirty days, but declined and said he could do it both faster and cheaper.  So they gave him fifteen days; he finished it in thirteen.

Here is the opening scene from the film:

De Toth fought to cast Sterling Hayden as Detective Sims, the ruthless cop who pushes nice guy Steve Lacey (Gene Nelson) to help him track down a trio of escaped convicts.  The studio wanted Humphrey Bogart.  They said, “Sterling can’t act.”  De Toth said he didn’t have to, he was the genuine article.

Sterling quit smoking for the part just like his character Sims.  The detective explains, “You know, it isn’t what a man wants to do, Lacey, but what he has to do.  Now you take me, I love to smoke cigarettes, but the doctor says I can’t have them.  So what do I do?  I chew tooth picks, tons of them.”  James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential, calls Hayden the “the film noir poet brute”.  He’s spot on.

The picture plays out with not many surprises in terms of plot; it holds together through Hayden’s character.  It’s not clear how far he will go to get what he wants.  In many ways, he is scarier than the three ex-cons.  He knows Lacey is a reformed criminal with a sweet wife who means no harm, but he has no problem putting both their lives in danger to catch the bad guys.

At the end, when we see a side of him we didn’t know was there, he leans against a wall on a street corner and pulls a cigarette out of his pocket.  It’s bent, crooked like he’s had it there waiting for months, years maybe.  He puts it in his mouth, lights it, realizes something and throws it away.  He slides the toothpick back in his mouth.  It’s the last shot of the picture and boy is it a beauty.

More on De Toth later.

-Most information scavenged from disreputable sources such as Wikipedia and the word of James Ellroy and Eddie Muller.

-TM


Authentic American Primitives: Joseph H. Lewis

April 14, 2010
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Authentic American Primitives

The term “authentic American primitives” was coined by French New Wave filmmakers in admiration for their Hollywood heroes.  Here we revive it and will occasionally write about American directors who paved a tradition in a country’s pictures.  These films are not perfect in the typically sophisticated way of looking at art and literature.  They are sophisticated in their own manner, by their own rules.  When I think of the American tradition established by these directors, some of these words come to mind: crude, unfinished, cheap, robust, and like the French said, not only authentic but primitive.

Joseph H. Lewis

Nickname:  Wagon Wheel Joe

“I carried a box filled with different wagon wheels. Whenever I’d come to a scene which was just disgraceful in dialogue and all, I’d place a wagon wheel in one portion of the frame, and make an artistic shot out of it, so by the time the scene was over you only saw the artistic value and couldn’t analyze what the scene was about.”
-from Imdb.com

Terror in a Texas Town



OPENING: A Norwegian whaler, come West to see his father, stomps the streets of the small town, its inhabitants follow timidly behind. He has nothing but a harpoon on his shoulder.

The camera picks up at the waist of a man in black clothes with two black guns.  We follow him into the street where he and the whaler stand off.  He asks the whaler if he’s close enough to throw the harpoon.  The whaler says nothing.  The gunfighter tells him to come closer.

The titles come up: TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN

After previews of the film he directed, My Name is Julia Ross, on being called into the top producer’s office:

He said, “Please, sit down, sit down.”  He had a huge office, and I can’t tell you why, but I sat on the floor.  So he came around from his desk–his associate producer was with him–and they sat on the floor with me and crossed their legs as I did.  He said, “Tell me, Joe.  What kind of technique do you have?  I’m bamboozled by your technique… You have celluloid running through your veins, not blood.  Every foot of film has your name on it, every frame your signature… How do you approach a film? Tell me about it.”  I said, “I don’t know.  I really don’t know.”

-From Peter Bogdanovich’s book, “Who The Devil Made It”

-TM