In retrospect, a seminal film. John Milius‘s first directorial effort (1973) set the mythopoeic form for much 70s action cinema, balancing a romantic reverence for past heroes with a revisionist approach to character. Milius’s Dillinger (Warren Oates) is a self-conscious mythmaker (he consoles his holdup victims with the promise, “Someday you’ll tell your grandchildren about this”); his FBI nemesis, Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson), is less interested in justice than in headlines, though his obsession with Dillinger is tinged with a strange Freudian intensity. As the mulish, arrogant Baby Face Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss has one of his best screen roles. The cheap AIP production doesn’t allow for period detail, but the vagueness of the settings contributes to the film’s subtle stylization.
This 1934 Boris Karloff–Bela Lugosi vehicle became a classic of Hollywood expressionism under the direction of Edgar G. Ulmer, a German emigre who once worked as an assistant to F.W. Murnau. Ulmer never again had the budgetary resources granted him by Universal (at the time, Karloff and Lugosi were two of the studio’s biggest stars), and he makes the most of them. The sets, designed mostly by Ulmer himself, combine Bauhaus stylings with the bottomless shadows of the German silents, providing a studiously unreal background for a bizarre power struggle between the two stars. Karloff, a tremendously underrated film actor, has one of his best, most extravagant roles; Lugosi has one of his last good ones. With David Manners and Jacqueline Wells cringing in the corners.
Through its first half, Roman Polanski‘s 1976 film is a cruel and painfully funny black comedy, following a timorous Polish expatriate (played by Polanski himself) as he tries, overpolitely, to negotiate the intricacies of social contact in his adopted Paris. But the second part tapers off into a routine psychological thriller, riddled with overwrought shock effects. The end result is somewhere between Franz Kafka and William Castle, but still worth seeing. With Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, Jo Van Fleet, and Shelley Winters.
The principal source of the humor, it seems, is the usually unacknowledged fact that Schwarzenegger’s appearance and usual screen persona already has certain feminine and even maternal qualities, which this movie literalizes. In manner (i.e., voice and gesture) as well as appearance, Schwarzenegger, like Sylvester Stallone, has more in common with Jane Russell, Esther Williams, Jayne Mansfield, Anita Ekberg, and Dolly Parton than with the principal (and principally lean and mean) macho movie icons of the past — Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood. (Perhaps only Elvis Presley qualifies as a male star who encompassed both physical types over the course of a single career, at least if one gives precedence to sheer mass over muscles.)
It already has, says Frank Tashlin in his brilliant 1957 satire on the age of Eisenhower—even before Rockwell Hunter (Tony Randall) becomes the hottest ad executive in town by signing up a bosomy movie star (Jayne Mansfield) to promote Stay-Put Lipstick (“For those oh-so-kissable lips!”). As Ernst Lubitsch was to the 30s and Preston Sturges to the 40s, so was Tashlin to the 50s: a filmmaker gifted with an uncanny insight into the ruling delusions of his day. Loud and beautifully vulgar in DeLuxe Color and CinemaScope, Rock Hunter is hilarious literally from the first frame.
The Three Stooges started in 1925 as part of a raucous vaudeville act called “Ted Healy and His Stooges” (also known as “Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen”, “Ted Healy and His Three Lost Souls”, “Ted Healy and His Racketeers”, and “Ted Healy and His Three Stooges”). Moe (Moses Harry Horwitz) joined Healy’s act in 1921, and his brother Shemp came aboard in 1923. In 1925, violinist-comedian Larry Fine and xylophonist-comedian Fred Sanborn also joined the group. In the act, lead comedian Healy would attempt to sing or tell jokes while his noisy assistants would keep “interrupting” him, causing Healy to retaliate with verbal and physical abuse.
Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman (Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles) made this 1983 independent work from a work-in-progress known as The Golden Eighties (the English title of which is Window Shopping). Forty minutes of videotaped auditions and rehearsals for Akerman’s shopping center musical are followed by three production numbers—in radiant 35-millimeter—from the film. The subject is first and foremost Akerman’s love of actors and the filmmaking process, and second the process itself—the intermediary steps between conception and perfection, from physical materials to cinematic illusions. If you don’t know Akerman’s work, this is an excellent place to start: it’s a very funny, very idiosyncratic piece from one of the most sympathetic of modernist filmmakers.