Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Conqueror (1956)

dir. Dick Powell

"Even were you right about Wang Khan, yet would I venture this unaided."
-Temujin (Ganghis Khan)

Considering all the reviews I have written here, it is astounding that the one that has inspired the most comments/geek arguments is my piece on Incubus. [Incidentally, the most read post on the ol' blizzity blog is my ode to "USA Up All Night". Curiously, no one has ever commented on it.] Although it would have been nice, the comments here were not directed at my thoughts on the movie, but rather at my flippant attitude toward the lame-o fakity fake language of Esperanto. Geek arguments--are there any more fun/pathetic ways to waste time. Being a movie geek, I take special pride in the useless movie geek-off discussions that my fellow nerds and I take part in. One particularly fun one that we have had, is the ol' Clint Eastwood, John Wayne relative awesomensess debate. Although I tend to lean in the Clint direction (mostly because of the fact that, like Luis Bunuel, he continues to make quality pictures in his old age), I definitely appreciate the Duke. Being the indecisive fence-sitter that I am (a very uncomfortable place to sit, by the way), I always find it hard to choose a side. Seeing as no one else chooses him, though, I like to play devil's advocate and argue for Wayne. This is always sure to start a heated argument.

"Are you fucking high? How can you compare anyone to Clint, let alone that war-mongering draft dodger. He's not fit to lick the cum off Clint's pecker."

"You're letting your hatred of his personal life and political views taint the awesomeness of his screen persona. The man fucking defined the West. Clint would be nowhere without the Duke laying the groundwork."

"Screen presence? Who gives a shit? That lumbering oaf had no versatility."

"Versatility? Oh yeah, Mr. Squint is a regular Dustin fucking Hoffman."

"Have you seen The Beguiled?"

"I have two words for you: Space Cowboys."

"John Wayne played Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan."

"Bridges of Madison County."

"Genghis fucking Khan."

"Every Which Way But Loose."


Yes, although The Duke has definitely had his fair share of shit pictures, the Dick Powell directed/Howard Hughes produced/nuclear testing grounds location filmed Genghis Khan picture The Conqueror has stood tall on top of his pile of film detritus. Although not the worst picture he ever acted in, it holds a special place in the why-the-fuck-did-they-make-this movie geek film canon. Most awful cult pictures have attained their positions due to one or two hilariously inept qualities. The Conqueror represents a perfect confluence of a multitude of movie cheese legend ingredients: horrible miscasting, notorious filming backstory, insane producer, beyond awful dialogue, etc...

Without doubt, the dialogue is truly where The Conqueror shines. It may be due the fact that I am a budding screenwriter (i.e. I haven't sold anything yet), but dialogue, good or bad, is usually the first thing that I notice about a movie. Whenever I write one of my little reviews, for instance, I end up spending an inordinate amount of time deciding which quote to use at the beginning of the piece. My goal is usually to find one line that really sums up the movie, be it in story, tone or characterization. When it came to this picture, it was quite hard to pick one line of dialogue that perfectly encapsulated the mind-fucking awfulness of Oscar Millard's dialogue work as a whole, when any number of lines would have sufficed. The Conqueror is full of the sort of stilted/forced/insipid pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue that stupid people tend to find smart. It is perhaps no surprise that Wayne instantly fell in love with the script, which he found sitting atop a pile of possible projects for actor turned director Dick Powell.

[See if you can spot the single Asian here.]

"Dick, I finished reading that Chinaman script. That's gonna be one helluva picture."

"The Genghis Khan picture? Really? I wasn't too keen on it. I thought about tossing it."

"And throw away gold? Are you mad?"

"Yeah, but the dialogue-"

"The best part about it. It's got enough fancy talk to keep the goddamn critics happy. I'll be a shoe in for the Oscar. The writer-" Wayne looks at the title page of the screenplay. "Hell, his name is Oscar. That's a sign right there. He's probably all kinds of queer, but that homo sure can write."

"I don't know. I'm new at this directing nonsense. I never made an epic. Plus, I never directed a movie about Orientals."

"Say what you want about those people, but that yellow bastard Khan had guts up the wazoo."

"Yeah, but I don't think we have enough of those people under contract. We won't be able to cast the rest of the picture."

"Who cares if you don't have Chinamen? Just throw in some Mexicans to fill up the background. Brown's close enough to yellow."

"That's not the only problem I- Also, Duke, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian American please."

"The hell you talking 'bout? This is the fifties. Political correctness hasn't been invented yet."

[That's right, Susan Hayward is seen here playing an Asian princess.]

Bowled over by the power of the Duke, Powell had no choice but to relent and film this picture. Such an epic folly of an undertaking would require someone to bankroll it whose wealth was matched in girth only by his insanity. Enter Howard Hughes. Powell and Wayne soon visited the billionaire at an undisclosed desert location. The naked Hughes paced the darkened room while Wayne and Powell worked to convince him that producing this movie would be in his best interest.

"It's gonna be a helluva picture, Howie. Genghis Khan's rise to power. I'm gonna play Khan, so you got a goddamn star right there. Plus, it's got action, drama, suspense, me, and a love story to pull in the skirts. "

"Technically, it's a rape story, but the Duke's right. Everyone will want to see this, including the skirts."

Hughes stopped pacing and replied, "Love story, huh, who's gonna play the dame?"

"Susan Hayward."

Hughes pondered this decision. "I haven't bedded her yet. I must have her."

Powell pulled out some notes. "As far as a filming location, obviously we don't have to go all the way to the Orient to make this picture. We can make it on the backlot. Even better, though, would be-"

"Nuclear testing grounds. That's where you're going. Radiation kills germs. Germs aren't clean. Everything must be clean, must be clean, must be clean. We're going to Nuclear land. No germs, no germs, can't have germs." Hughes then pissed in a bottle.

Filming in the Nevada Nuke grounds went rather smoothly. As is the case with most movies, however, when location shooting completed, Powell et al discovered that retakes would be necessary for a few crucial scenes. Rather than fly everyone back to Nevada (in a wooden airplane fueled by Hughes' psychosis, of course), they opted instead to reshoot these scenes in California. To ensure that as many of the cast and crew got cancer as possible, Hughes, crazy fucker that he was, shipped 60 tons of radioactive dirt back to California in order to reshoot these scenes.

After completion of this movie, Hughes, in a rare moment of lucidity, realized the folly of his undertaking and paid $12 million to buy every existing print of this picture. It would not be until the mid seventies, when Hughes finally allowed the film to be shown on television, that many viewers were finally able to watch the movie and stand in awe of its wrongheaded glory.

Truth be told, once you get past all the racism and wrongness of this film, The Conqueror is a standard entertaining piece of classic Hollywood spectacle. One thing that the old factory studio system had going for it, was the insurance that each movie was at least least well crafted. Although I had much disdain for this movie, I actually found myself getting caught up in the battle sequences and sometimes engaging story. Powell and company were actually making a rather conventional Western/historical epic. This time, instead of offending Native Americans, they were offending Asians. The Conqueror definitely gets the action sequences right, even if it fails in many other respects. I found this unfortunate. Were the action sequences to have been equally inept and hoky, the badness would have been overwhelmingly awesome. It would have attained a transcendent level of shittiness. Take away the shitty dialogue and miscasting, and the movie is interchangeable with the rest of Hollywood's output. It fails to stand out. The Conqueror even fails at failing.

By the way, I am probably going to write most of my reviews in the backstory dialogue manner that I wrote this and my previous post. Not that enough people read this for it to matter, but in case it isn't obvious, my little back-story dialogue pieces are only tangentially based on reality. They are meant solely as satire and should not be considered factual. Libelousness is not intended. Also, the racism/homophobia/misogyny laced dialogue does not represent my views. Wow, look at me putting disclaimers on my blog. What a fucking pussy I am. [Side note: Esperanto can suck a bag of dicks.]

[Here are a few choice clips from the movie (i.e. the only ones I found on youtube). One of these days I'll figure out how to capture video clips and post them:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Roller Boogie (1979)

dir. Mark L. Lester

"If I teach you to skate it's because I want to. You get it? I'll call the shots. Whatever I say goes."
-Bobby James

I often wonder which pieces of art will live on long after our species dies out. When our civilization ends via nuclear war, environmental apocalypse, or other such meshugga, most cultural artifacts will likely perish. A few, however, will survive. Although we would prefer that future civilizations unearthed The Beatles' Revolver, James Joyce's Ulysses, and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane; more likely than not, works such as Tiny Tim's discography, Jose Canseco's Juiced and Mark Lester's disco cash in picture Roller Boogie will be the sole remnants of our culture.

Were a future civilization or alien culture to unearth Lester's movie they would rightly surmise that our species advanced to the point where we no longer needed our outdated feet. Although our feet had not evolved into superior wheels, we had developed the technology necessary to attach said wheels to our feet. Overcome by the beauty of this pinnacle of technological achievement, humans had melded these devises to their bodies. No longer would anyone walk. Gliding became the most efficient mode of transport.

In the realm of audience insulting, cash in pictures, few movies can top Roller Boogie. It is hard to tell whether the film's screenwriters Irwin Yablans and Barry Schneider, or the director Lester were the most mercenary in this enterprise. I would like to think that up and coming movie producer Bruce Curtis was responsible. After watching Saturday Night Fever at one of those newfangled multiplexes with more movie screens than seats, he likely muttered to himself, "I don't get it. I just don't get it. But I'll be damned if I'm not gonna make a few bucks from this." He soon stepped into the mall record store and picked up a copy of the soundtrack. After scanning copies of Teen Beat and Tiger Beat to see which newest fads he could exploit and make a quick buck off of, he had a eureka moment.

"Roller disco!"

Before the day's end he was on the phone with directors and screenwriters in an attempt to make some money before this fad faded. He knew that the most important element in the moneymaking enterprise would be a recognizable, bankable cast. Thus, the casting agent was the first person he phoned.

"Ann Bell? Bruce Curtis here. Working on a movie. I need a stellar cast with lots of sex appeal."

"Do you have a script yet?"

"Being written as we speak."

"What's it about?"

"Let me worry about that."

"How many stars can we afford? What are we looking at?"

"Just one, so we gotta make it count."

"Male or female."

"Female. Someone sexy and young enough to pull in the horny teenage male demographic."

"What about Jodie Foster? Her heterosexual sex appeal is through the roof."

"We'll never get her. Price tag's too high. Who do you got lower down on the ladder?"


"What about that possession movie--Friedkin's picture from a few years back."

"The Exorcist?"

"Yeah. Who was the girl in that picture?"

"Linda Blair?"

"She must be legal screwing age by this point. Get her."

"I'll see what I can do."

[American Apparel models during a rare night off]

Curtis assembled his cast and crew and all seemed groovy. Unfortunately, the production soon hit a roadblock. The screenwriters, listening to Steely Dan's Aja (a pile of blow sitting atop the LP cover), reached a crisis point.

"Yablans, I've got a problem."


"This story of yours. The screenplay. I'm coming up short, length-wise."

"What you talking about Schneidster? Refresh me."

"The disco/roller skating cash in picture. The story--Southern California snobs versus slobs tale. Scrappy roller skating kid from the wrong side of the tracks falls for slumming society girl. She rebuffs his advances. Girl inevitably falls for guy. Guy makes boneheaded move. Guy loses girl. Guy wins girl back. They have beautiful relationship until it ends poignantly when girl is shipped back east to attend Juilliard."

"What's the problem?"

"Coming up short. I finished that story and the screenplay's not even at the 60 page mark."

"The fuck? How did that happen? I gave you gold. How is it short? Did you put all the roller dancing sequences in there like I told you?"

"Too many. At this point I don't even think it qualifies as a movie."

"No other way you can lengthen it with some more skating?"

"Not without insulting the intelligence of the audience past the point where it would be obvious even to their simple disco addled bargain basement minds that we hold nothing but contempt for them."

"Shit, I'll get the book."

Yablans grabs The Giant Book of Teenage Movie Cliches and opens up to a random page.

"Perfect. Here we go."

"What you got?"

"Evil industrialist pressures kindly small businessman to sell off his popular teenage hangout (in this case the roller rink) in order turn it into a strip mall, condo, or parking lot. The scrappy kids soon band together to save this establishment and defeat the industrialist."

"Perfect. I'll go back and interweave this into the rest of the story. You know, create some conflict and counterpoint to the turbulent love story. It'll make for a much richer piece."

"How long is that gonna take?"

"I don't know. Probably another day."

"Curtis wants this shit done tonight. Plus, we've got Doobie Brothers tickets."

"Shit. I forgot."

"Listen, just tack it on to the second half of the movie. No one's gonna care."

"Fine by me. Pass the yayo."

"Yayo? That's an anachronistic reference. This is 1978. Scarface won't come out for another 5 years."

The crisis was averted. The movie got made. All was right with the world.

[Jim Dangle's Uncle assesses the situation]

As cynical an undertaking as Roller Boogie is, it is still a goddamn entertaining movie. Truth be told, any movie that lives up to its title is a stellar achievement as far as I'm concerned. Roller Boogie lives up to its title and then some. It has more rolling and boogieing than anyone up to that point imagined possible in a motion picture. It also has an equal balance of hokey dialogue, stilted-sub-Wayne-Gretzkie-on-SNL-cue-card-line-readings, and girls in spandex. What more could one ask for? What it lacks in goodness, this film more than makes up for in sheer unbridled awesomeness. Roller Boogie is truly a movie for the ages.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Apache (1954)

dir. Robert Aldrich

"If an Apache cannot live in his home mountains like his fathers before him, he is already dead."

The Native American. Has there ever been a more misrepresented group in Hollywood's frequently embarrassing history. When not being used as bullet receptacles in various westerns, these folks were usually shown murdering and raping with the kind of singleminded, gleeful barbarity that would make Jeffrey Dahmer cringe. It was not enough that America robbed them of their history, identity, and land, the conquering country now had to rewrite history and portray the various Native tribes as perpetrators rather than victims of some of the bloodiest chapters in our Nation's sordid history. After thoroughly raping their culture, America was now asking the Indians to lick the shit off the U.S.'s big ol' dick (Wow, what a horrible piece of imagery).

Occasionally, Hollywood would attempt to redress this misrepresentation problem, and sympathize with the Indians. Although a noble effort, in subsequent years movies would go too far in the other direction. In their focus on the nobility and mysticism of the Natives, these movies would too often portray them as otherworldly, godlike, inherently superior, almost alien creatures. Sure, these movies sympathized with the Natives, but this group was still presented as Others, rather than just as people. Indeed, in an act of overcompensation and atonement for its years of injun abuse, the movie industry granted an Oscar to Kevin Costner for his Dances With Wolves. Not that this isn't a decent movie, but Wolves it still a Native American movie as told from a white perspective. Never mind that it is just a retread of Sam Fuller's superior Run of the Arrow. [Of course, as we all know, the real tragedy here was that Scorsese was overlooked for his work directing motherfucking Goodfellas. Seriously, what the fuck? But that's another issue.] Before people accuse me of mindlessly jumping on the Kevin Costner hate-wagon, I should note that I am quite fond of his recent film Open Range, an entertaining throwback genre picture, but I digress.

Perhaps most insulting to Native Americans has been the propensity to cast whites in the roles of the "godless red-men". Not only were they misrepresented, Native Americans didn't even get a chance to misrepresent themselves. Although black-face thankfully faded away in the early days of American Cinema, red-face stuck around for far too long. Even the sympathetic movies frequently cast whites as Braves. Case in Point: Burt Lancaster as Apache warrior Massai in Robert Aldrich's early directorial effort Apache.

Lancaster, the godless, commie, poontang loving, fag (as John Wayne referred to him), found a kindred spirit in similarly left leaning director Aldrich. [Side note: there is no record of John Wayne ever saying such a thing.] This iconoclastic team naturally chomped at the bit to make such an unconventionally pro-Indian Western. Good intentioned an enterprise though it may be, Apache dates itself in casting the blue-eyed Lancaster as the heroic, if flawed, Massai. It takes two steps forward and one step back.

Opening with the defeat of Geronimo, this film follows Massai, the single remaining active Apache warrior on his quest to defeat, or at least torment, the white man. This relic of the past keeps himself intentionally unaware that the Apache have been defeated and that the war between red and white is over. Frequently escaping the capture of the Cavalry, Massai eventually goes batshit when he is sold out by one of his own people, Santos (Paul Guilfoyle), for some firewater. Santos is also concerned that Massai is a bad influence on his bangable daughter Nalinle (Jean Peters). Although Massai swears that he will murder Santos and Nalinle, when he finally hunts them down, he opts instead to kidnap the lovestruck Nalinle. After some initial bickering this couple decides to tie the knot. The resulting tribal wedding ceremony/mating dance is quite a thing of beauty:

After Nalinle gets a bun in the oven, Masssai abandons his warrior ways, and instead opts for tranquil domesticity with his loving bride. They shack up in a mountain cabin and subsist on corn and deer meat. Although not wanting to invite danger to his family, the conflicted Massai feels that he has betrayed his roots and longs for the day when he can return to his warrior ways. His prayers are answered when the white man discovers their remote homestead and launches a raid. Massai soon commences with some good old fashioned ass kicking, and finally finds himself in a cornfield standoff with cavalryman Al Sieber (John McIntire).

Curiously, Lancaster does not even attempt to use a different accent or manner of speech in this role, instead speaking in his typical clipped streetwise yet urbane New York dialect. In the inappropriate accent department, however, Lancaster is not the only guilty party. Charles Bronson's role as Hondo, the Uncle Tom Apache, is almost as incongruous as Mel Brooks' Jewish Indian in Blazing Saddles. Although Bronson certainly looks the part, he is betrayed by his tough guy urban vernacular. Apparently, despite the the bottomless wallets of classic Hollywood producers, dialogue coaches were beyond the reach of most budgets.

Truth be told, as wrong as the casting may be, Lancaster is still fun to watch. The man's got presence goddamnit. Sure, you won't forget that you're watching Burt Lancaster, but that's part of the fun. Way back when, actors excelled not so much in disappearing into roles as portraying particular personas. Lancaster's star power only helps to embellish the legend of Massai. His awesomeness trumps all else.

Despite its flaws, Apache is still an entertaining revenge picture. Given that Aldrich was behind the wheel, this is not surprising. Although I have yet to view Aldrich's entire cataolgue, I think it's safe to say that the man was incapable of making a bad picture. Excelling in a multitude of genres, he was particularly adept with the action picture. He also exhibits a masterful sense of framing in every shot. Sure Apache may be rife with political incorrectness, but it was produced with the best intentions. In terms of bizarre casting, incidentally, Burt Lancaster's performance as Massai pales in comparison to John Wayne's performance as Genghis Kahn in The Conqueror, a movie so offensive that God gave half the cast and crew cancer. [Well, it was either God or the filming location's proximity to nuclear testing grounds, but more on that later when I review Wayne's opus.]

[the trailer]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, January 5, 2009

Murder, Inc. (1960)

dir. Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg

"Hey, you see? What you can get your hands on, you take. Don't ask questions. Take. What you want, take. What I want, I take. Nothin' means nothin' unless I got it. Whaddya got hands for? Huh? Take."
-Abe Reles

When making a crime film, a filmmaker must walk a thin tight rope between verisimilitude and entertainment. Although a director would like to give his gangster picture an authentic feel, veering too far toward realistic docudrama will result in a film that might put off enough viewers so as to make it bomb at the box office. Leaning too far in the direction of entertainment, on the other hand, will result in a film that so-called guardians of morality will label as diseased, and further proof of the decline of our culture. The entertaining gangster pictures of the early thirties, for instance, were motivating forces for the introduction of The Production Code. Political and religious leaders, outraged by what they viewed as a glorification of violence (and sexuality in other films), forced the movie industry to police itself so as to avoid outside censorship. Subsequently, directors would have to make sure to guide their audiences, like parents leading slow children by the hand, toward the realization that crime is bad.

Of course, as with screwball comedy directors (and various other genre directors), clever studio era crime filmmakers found their own ways around the code. The criminals in their movies, for instance, although undeniably rotten to the core, were always infinitely more entertaining than any of the square stiffs on the right side of the law. Sure, crime never paid for these lowlifes but damned if they didn't have fun doing it. Inevitably, as time progressed, restrictions became more relaxed and the villains in these films were allowed to become more developed. During the era of film noir, dating roughly from the early forties to the mid fifties, criminality was viewed through a much more complex prism. Many of these films viewed the two sides of the law as mirrors of each other. Now, everyone got their hands dirty. The 1960 film Murder, Inc. is interesting in that, although coming after the heyday of film noir (and long after the preeminence of the gangster picture) it exhibits qualities of both phenomena. Long after numerous films noir had worked to blur the lines between good and evil, Murder, Inc., in its blunt moralizing, is curiously anachronistic.

Using a torn from the headlines setup (albeit headlines torn from papers a quarter century earlier), Murder, Inc. follows the exploits of the infamous titular Depression era criminal organization. Aside from launching Ja Rule to fame, Murder, Inc. was also responsible for hundreds of mob hits. Working under the control of the Syndicate, these assassins for hire dirtied their hands with contract killings so that the higher ups in the Cosa Nostra would not be implicated in any of the crimes. The most notorious of these killers, Abe 'Kid Twist' Reles (operating out of the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn), would eventually turn state's evidence, but not before meeting his untimely end through the window of a Coney Island hotel, earning him the nickname "The canary who could sing but couldn't fly".

Reles is played in this film by none other than my childhood hero Peter "Lieutenant Motherfucking Columbo" Falk. Opening with a brutal Reles hit inside a tenement building (later emulated in Godfather II), Murder, Inc. hits the ground running. Almost as soon as we are introduced to Reles, he is introduced to notorious criminal kingpin Louis "Lepke" Buchalter. Because of Reles' infamy as a trigger man, Lepke pulls him under the fold of The Syndicate. Reles, in turn, pulls degenerate gambler but otherwise decent citizen Joey Collins (Stuart Whitman) under his wing. Because Joey is under enormous debt to Reles, he has no choice but to acquiesce, becoming a driver for Reles.

Unfortunately, Joey's involvement spells bad news for the missus, the nightclub dancer Eadie Collins (May Britt). After receiving an insult from Eadie regarding his crudity and unsavorinessititudity, the insecure Reles exacts his revenge by brutalizing Mrs. Collins. Although Joey would like to avenge her, or at the very least to flee with his gal, he knows that any action would result in the offing of himself and Eadie, so he decides to play it cool (i.e. act cowardly). This inevitably creates discord between the couple and they temporarily separate.

As news of the Syndicate's murders becomes more brutal, a crusading district attorney, Burton Turkus (Henry Morgan), takes it upon himself to rid the city of this scum. Through aggressive police tactics, he manages to ensnare many low-level members of the organization. When he captures Reles and Joey, Turkus knows that their cooperation and testimony can put Lepke in the big chair. After Reles gets offed, however, will Joey have the cajones to finger Lepke?

As this film unfolded, I was undeniably enrapt. This it seemed would turn out to be one of those gems that I had somehow missed throughout my years of movie watching. Whatever enjoyment I received from this film, however, soon vanished when a voice of God narrator interrupted the proceedings halfway through. Repeating everything already shown, this Jack Webb-esque (at least, in terms of line readings) narrator makes sure to underline the themes of the movie as well as to inform us of the moral weight of the proceedings with such lines as "America was coming out of the Depression. Who had time to care about an assasination group in Brooklyn? An operation that was building a name for itself." The pomposity of the narration is rivaled only by the douchebaggery of Robert Evans. The final insult to the audience's intelligence comes at the end of the film when Joey testifies against Lepke, putting the crime boss in the electric chair. The narrator, stating that criminals can be brought to justice, closes with the line, "It can be done and it must be done. Again, and again, and again." Given the brutal/nuanced depiction of criminality elsewhere in the film, this narration is quite jarring, creating a bi-polar film. In many ways, Murder, Inc. feels like two movies.

Almost thirty years earlier when Howard Hawks was forced to include a preachy interlude in Scarface in which ordinary citizens decry the barbarities of the criminal underworld, the didacticism felt a tad annoying. In this film, the moralizing is downright laughable. It is curious why the filmmakers decided to include this narration. Sure the production code was still around, but it was slowly crumbling. Surely, the brutality of the violence would be enough to turn off most viewers who would otherwise be apt to travel back in time in order to join Murder Inc.

Perhaps Falk's performance was responsible. Giving a naturalistic performance that rivals Marlon Brando's turn in On the Waterfront, Falk creates a character that, although repulsive, is wholly empathizable [Is this a real word? I don't care.]. He has a casual fuck-it-all attitude that would later be emulated by the anti-heroes of numerous New-Hollywood films.

Indeed, Peter Falk's performance here is one of those revelations that comes along once in a very great while. [Not that this was Falk's first film role. Among other roles, he had previously played a beatnik who fed a delivery boy a hamburger full of broken glass in the beatsploitation flick The Bloody Brood.] Murder, Inc. was the film that put him on the map, earning Falk an Oscar nomination. Although the other cast members turn in solid performances, they are no match for Falk. This film is like a high school production of Glengarry Glen Ross in which Ed Harris is brought in to reprise his role as Dave Moss. I'm convinced that the directors told Falk he was acting in a different film than the other cast members. It is not surprising that Cassavetes would come to employ Falk so effectively in a few of his films years later. Falk's naturalistic lived in acting style would prove a perfect fit for Cassavetes' kitchen sink dramas.

Incidentally, Falk was not the only person here to go on to bigger and better things. Later to achieve fame through his role as Buddy Sorrell on "The Dick Van Dyke Show", Morey Amsterdam has a small but notable role here as a Catskills comedian. One of the film's directors, Stuart Rosenberg, would go on to direct such movies as Cool hand Luke and The Pope of Greenwich Village. Not too shabby.

Murder, Inc. foretold much of the move towards realism in crime pictures that would be made in the next few decades. Falk's lived in demeanor and slangy New York tough guy dialogue brings to mind performances from later Scorsese pictures and "The Sopranos". This film was also one in a long series, beginning with such films as Force of Evil and The Big Heat and reaching its zenith with The Godfather, that attempted to portray crime as a sophisticated organized business operation and an analogy for capitalism. Unfortunately, the moralizing keeps this film tied to the worst elements of thirties films. [Don't get me wrong. I love thirties movies, but every era of filmmaking has some dated conventions that have thankfully faded away.] Thus, the film is just shy of greatness. Regardless, though, this movie is a must see for anyone who has ever wanted to see Lieutenant Columbo ice-pick Buddy Sorrell.

[the trailer:]

Dave's Rating: