Crashout (1955)

Score: 4/5

Terrific hidden gem, B-movie thriller made by Standard Productions and directed by Lewis R. Foster. A cross-genre film, with some parallels to Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Prison breakout film, w film starting at the point of breakout. The great William Bendix plays Van Duff, the thuggish and ruthless con who organized the whole breakout and escape plan, but who has been shot badly in the shoulder during the escape. The six cons meet in the designated hiding spot (a cave with a small opening). Each of the cons is played by an effective character actor: William Talman is terrific as the sociopathic Luther Remsen (aka Swanee Rawlins aka Rev. Remington), a former priest, now with vacant eyes, who follows every command of Van Duff. Luther Adler plays Mendoza, a loud braggadocio always playing card tricks with his constant companion deck-of-cards; Gene Evans (an actor who is stunningly good as the lead in The Steel Helmet isn’t given many lines in this film, but is passable as Monk Collins; Marshall Thompson plays Billy Lang, the young, 20-something con, who has a softer side; Arthur Kennedy is very good as Joe Quinn, who was not invited to the breakout attempt, and whom Van Duff has never liked (probably because Quinn was only in for robbery, while the others were in for murder), but is now Van Duff’s weary accomplice.

Part of Van Duff’s plan, which he is adamant the others stick to, is to wait in the cave for 3 days (with no food, but a water supply), so that the guards will have long moved on to other areas of the mountain range they are at the base of. In order to convince the remaining cons to not leave him behind, the wounded Van Duff promises them all an even split of $80,000 in bank robbery money he has stashed in the mountains. They all agree, except Quinn, who is skeptical that Van Duff is being honest about the amount he has stashed. Van Duff relents and then says it is actually $180,000. Quinn is now onboard.

A long-ish but effective opening scene in the cave possesses a stage play’s interpersonal dynamics, but then gives way to action and movement throughout the rest of film. Van Duff orders two of the men to find him a doctor. They break into a nearby remote gas station, closed for the day, and use the phone, asking the operator to send a doctor, under the pretense that a garage mechanic has had a jack fall on him. The doctor arrives, and they force him into the cave to mend Van Duff. They tie him up, but Quinn objects, noting that the doctor treated them fairly, etc. Van Duff says we’ll call his wife tomorrow and tell her where he is. The men all leave the cave, and when the others are out of earshot, Van Duff tells the Reverend to kill the doctor, who we then see pick up large stone the size of a football and re-enter the cave.

The film’s 2nd act moves along at a swift clip, with two budding-romance interludes (which might easily have turned saccharine in less competent directorial hands) actually unfolding as mini-tragedies, as both women reveal their own backstories to be ones of sadness and misfortune. Over the course of the movie, one-by-one, the escaped cons meet deadly fates.

The 3rd act finds us down to just 3 men left: Van Duff, Quinn, and the Reverend. Van Duff leads them — on foot and during a snow storm — up a mountain pass to where the money is buried. Quinn is quite a bit ahead of them in going up the mountain, leaving Van Duff and the Reverend walking together a bit behind. They get into an argument, which culminates in the Reverend screaming at Van Duff: “It’s you! YOU are the Devil!” Van Duff shoots and kills him, and lies to Quinn, telling him that the Reverend went crazy and tried to kill him.

The still-injured Van Duff guides Quinn to where the money is buried and has Quinn dig it up, which he does. Quinn opens the small trunk to reveal wads and wads of bundled cash. “This is it!” yells Quinn. “Yes,” Van Duff says, pulling out his gun and aiming it at Quinn, “this is it.” However, when Van Duff pulls the trigger, it turns out he’s out of bullets. The two then struggle, with Van Duff getting the better of Quinn, knocking him unconscious by hitting him over the head with the small trunk.

When Quinn comes to, he staggers over a rise, to find Van Duff lying dead, the case of money next to him. Quinn ignores the trunk full of cash, the last shot being him walking through the snow blizzard alone, to an uncertain fate.

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Mad Debating Skilz

A great blast from the past. You couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.

“The 2014 Cross Examination Debate Association’s national championship was held at Indiana University.  The all African American female team from Towson University defeated the all African American male team from the University of Oklahoma.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmO-ziHU_D8

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3:10 to Yuma (1957)

SCORE: 4/5

Loosely based on Elmore Leonard’s far leaner 1953 short story, 3:10 to Yuma (1957) is a superb adaptation directed by Delmer Daves. Shot gorgeously in crisp black and white, Director of Photography Charles Lawton Jr. effectively deploys Tolland/Wellesian-styled deep-focus cinematography for a near perfect western. Both Van Heflin (Dan Evans) and Glenn Ford (Ben Wade) are at the top of their game, the psycho-drama of their exchanges the work of a superb screenplay by Halstead Welles, who greatly expands the story’s characterization as well as moral terrain. The casting choices here are terrific, as the grizzled weariness of Van Heflin’s face perfectly matches his character’s Job-like difficulties in life, while the smooth handsomeness of Glenn Ford (playing against type) aptly reflects his character’s sociopathic powers of effortless seduction and psychological manipulation. Felicia Farr (Emmy Evans) delivers an effective performance as Dan’s loving but long suffering ranch wife.

It is hard to find a more compelling and complex Western character than Ben Wade, the leader of a 12 man criminal gang, ruthless and effective in his trade, but who displays a surprising and bizarre code of ethics when it comes to Dan Evans, his wife, and two sons. Wade is like the proverbial snake in the garden, a Satanic like figure who offers Dan huge sums of money to let him escape.

It is the arc of Van Heflin’s character, however, that drives this film’s morality play. Dan’s financial duress (a long drought is putting his small ranch at risk of complete failure), coupled with his looming doubts about his worth as a man, lead him to a potentially tragic path of desperation. Tortured by the financial temptations that Ben Wade dangles before him, Dan’s stoicism and Christian underpinning (his sons are named Matthew and Mark) prevail, even though rationality clearly dictates he will ultimately be killed by Wade’s gang.

I loved James Mangold’s 5-star 2007 remake, with a substantially revised script written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, which featured Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, and a scene-stealing breakout role for Ben Foster. The tragic ending sequence of this remake is, dare I say, far superior to the relatively ‘happy ending’ of the 1957 original, especially given the arc and honor-at-all-costs element of the Dan Evans character, although this 1957 version does have a terrific and almost biblical final shot of Dan (on the train with Wade) seeing his wife in the distance: without words, both of them simply look at each other, then look up to the sky and smile at the down-pouring rain which has just begun.

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Lenny (1974)

SCORE: 4/5

Lenny (1974) is Bob Fosse’s well made, black and white biopic of Lenny Bruce (born Leonard Alfred Schneider), which is itself based on a play by Julian Barry. Dustin Hoffman does a terrific job channeling the manic energy of Lenny, and Valerie Perrine is equally terrific as Honey, the former stripper and “shiksa goddess” whom Lenny becomes obsessed with and eventually marries. (For her performance, Perrine won the Best Actress award at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival). The film cuts back and forth in time, from the events of Lenny’s life to the ‘present day’, where various people from his life are talking to an off-screen interviewer.

Having failed with his comic act based on impersonations and standard one-liners, Lenny transitions into a profanity-laden, improvisational, and confessional style of blue ‘humor’ that became a major countercultural force of the era, and which proved hugely influential to later comics such as Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Rhythmically, Lenny fancied his act as the linguistic equivalent of be-bop jazz musicianship. In terms of his subject matter, Bruce represented the quintessential urban, liberal Jew who revels in being the fly in the ointment, who gravitates towards deviancy and subversion.

Regarding the depictions of his act, of particular note is his Jews-as-Christ-killer bit, and a later bit where he’s criticizing a Time magazine profile that called his act “sick humor”. Of the latter, he says what is “really sick” is Zsa Zsa Gabor making $60,000 a week in Las Vegas, while the average school teacher in NV makes only $6,000 a year. But, as is soon revealed, he admits that his liberal virtue-signaling on the matter is just that… virtue-signaling. In the same act, he says “I’m not a moralist,” while the film intercuts to images of his newfound wealth in the Hollywood hills. He tells the crowd “I’m a hustler. If they give it, I take it!”

Indeed.

He repeatedly cheats on his “shiksa goddess” wife with various other women. The one woman shown is another blond WASP-looking nurse at the hospital where his wife was recovering from a car accident. His wife later speculates to the interviewer that he cheated on her repeatedly due to his need “to prove himself… due to his insecurities.” (There is a disturbing scene where he’s engaging in a threesome with an attractive bisexual woman, his wife and himself. The scenario has clearly been manufactured by Lenny; we later see his wife crying, saying that he “talked her into the freak scene.”)

Lenny’s mother is depicted throughout as a staunch (and rather unscrupulous) defender of his act, as well as an active participant and promoter of his career, in a quasi business manager capacity. She even managed the finances at the strip clubs where he worked. She says something to the interviewer about how if a Protestant mother moved to California to help her son “you wouldn’t call her Protestant. Well I’m a Jewish mother.”

Lenny’s multiple obscenity charges became a major turning point in his life. After each such arrest, his subsequent acts became less a comedy routine and more a series of obsessional riffs on his cases (“You need the deviant!”), his martyrdom, and testing the limits of public tolerance. As with many other Jewish culture producers (e.g., pornographers; the soft pornography of 1970s-era Hollywood, etc.), Lenny hid under the pretext of the First Amendment, exploiting it for all it is worth.

And, as with many of these aforementioned Jewish culture producers, he was an ‘extreme’ personality: neurotic, paranoid, narcissistic, excessive in ways of the flesh.

Unsurprisingly, he died of a morphine overdose in 1966, at the age of 40.

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How the West Was Won (1962)

SCORE: 3.5/5

How the West Was Won (1962) was a big budget, ‘5-part’ Western was co-directed by Henry Hathaway, John Ford, & George Marshall. Its all-star cast includes James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Debbie Reynolds, Eli Wallach, John Wayne, and Richard Widmark.

The film is an unapologetic celebration of Western expansionism and, as such, would never get made today. Spencer Tracey provides voiceover narration which connects the 5 separate vignettes, each of which do have continuity overlap with each other. Overall, none of the stories is very gripping. The vignette directed by Ford is hokey and disappointing. The best vignettes are the last two, especially “The Railroad” (directed by Marshall), with Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark, followed by “The Outlaws” (directed by Hathaway), with Lee J. Cobb as the representative voice of newly established law struggling for replacement of the previous, anarchic frontier justice. In this last vignette, Eli Wallach is particularly good, in a performance that anticipates, and likely led to his being cast as, ‘Tuco’ in Leone’s immortal The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966).

The stunning Metrocolor print is hampered by the gimmicky, 146° arc, Cinerama technology, which distorts close-ups, and forced directors to use center-focused, medium- & long-shots only (looking for the Cinerama ‘sweet spot’). Cinerama was a short-lived technique which involved filming with 3 synchronized cameras (correlated to 3 vertical planes of the picture’s content). The finished film was then projected onto special, curved, theater screens, to minimize bleeding between the 3 separate, synchronized projectors to simultaneously projected the film. Despite the no-doubt careful job transferring this to a clean, 2.89:1 aspect ratio for Blu Ray release, the annoying aspects of Cinerama (which do occasionally account for a stunning shot) are distracting.

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The Molly Maguires (1970)

SCORE: 4/5

Directed by Martin Ritt, with great leads and a solid supporting cast. Based on the real-life, Irish immigrants who were an extension of Ireland’s secret-society ‘Molly Maguires’, this extension being present in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining towns of the 1870s. Pro-union and anti-exploitation in orientation, the group partook in violent, ‘eye for an eye’ reprisals, kidnappings, and mine sabotage, for which 20 of them were ultimately hanged, which this film is a fictionalization of.

Sean Connery & Richard Harris are at the height of their powers here, with Harris playing Pinkerton detective, and Irish native, James McParland, who goes to great lengths (both in terms of personal risk and in willingly partaking in some of the Maguires’ violent acts) in order to infiltrate the group and gain their trust.

James Wong Howe’s gritty and grimy cinematography conveys the misery of Coal Region life, where children begin their lives working in unimaginably harsh and dangerous conditions, at disturbingly young ages. Surprisingly, the film is a poignant allegory for today, where the idealistic promises of neoliberalism are quickly morphing into a neo-feudalism, with new incarnations of the exploitative ‘factory towns’ of old.

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Lonely Are the Brave (1962)

Of his own work in the movies, Lonely Are the Brave (1962) was Kirk Douglas’s favorite film, and for good reason. Douglas secured the rights to the film after reading the source novel, The Brave Cowboy (1956) by Edward Abbey, and proceeded to make the film through his own production company, Joel Productions, after making a production deal with Universal Pictures.

A couple of years earlier, Douglas, as the production force behind Spartacus (1960), hired blacklisted communist sympathizer Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay, and effectively ‘broke’ this blacklist by having Trumbo’s name, rather than a pseudonym, placed in the movie’s credits. After the success of that film, Douglas hired Trumbo to pen a screenplay for Lonely Are the Brave. In the source novel, the Paul Bondi character is sentenced to 2 years in prison for refusing to register for the draft, while in this movie adaptation, Trumbo changes the reason to Bondi having aided some illegal immigrants from Mexico. Despite this, and the screenplay’s romantic symbolism of borders being ‘against’ man’s nature, etc (which would normally get me to knock off at least a half-star from my score of the film), Trumbo’s raw talent as a wordsmith makes up for it.

The film is wonderfully directed by David Miller (whose spotty career has only the noir classic Sudden Fear (1952) as another high point), with crisp, black & white cinematography by Philip H. Lathrop, and a terrific soundtrack by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith. With both its theme of modernity eclipsing the way of the cowboy, and its overall aesthetic, Lonely Are the Brave has several similarities with Peter Bogdanovich’s excellent film The Last Picture Show (1971).

In his performance as cowhand drifter and loner Jack Burns, Kirk Douglas gives arguably his greatest, and certainly his most nuanced, performance of his career. Much of his performance here consists of the non-verbal: through body language and facial expressions. But Douglas also gets to deliver fantastic lines such as (to the police), saying glibly and with a carefree smile: “I don’t need [identification] cards to figure out who I am, I already know,” or, to his old flame Jerri Bondi (a young Gena Rowlands):

Jack Burns: I didn’t want a house. I didn’t want all those pots and pans. I didn’t want anything but you. It’s God’s own blessing I didn’t get you.

Jerri Bondi: Why?

Jack Burns: ‘Cause I’m a loner clear down deep to my guts. Know what a loner is? He’s a born cripple. He’s a cripple because the only person he can live with is himself. It’s his life, the way he wants to live. It’s all for him. A guy like that, he’d kill a woman like you. Because he couldn’t love you, not the way you are loved.

Rounding out the primary cast is Michael Cane as Paul Bondi; the always-terrific Walter Matthau, perfectly cast as a seasoned, gum-chewing sheriff; a menacing George Kennedy as a sadistic jailhouse deputy; and Carol O’Connor as the weary ‘cowboy’ of the modern world, living an arduous and lonely life on the road behind an 18-wheeler.

Unfolding at a languorous pace, Lonely Are the Brave is a movie I know I’ll reflect upon for years to come, and that I’ll surely re-watch in the future.

The last moments of this movie, with Jack Burns unable to speak, and expressing worry about the condition of his horse solely through his eyes, got me teary-eyed myself.

SCORE: 4.5/5

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Uncut Gems (2019) and Jewish Neuroticism

I have an essay on this recent Adam Sandler film over at The Occidental Observer. An excerpt:

The phenomenon of Jewish neuroticism, while often joked about in Jewish humor (e.g., Woody Allen, Larry David) or elaborated upon in Jewish literature (e.g., Philip Roth), is, like other Jewish ‘stereotypes’, typically a subject that Gentiles are not allowed to broach, else they be branded anti-Semites. However, the acknowledged Jewish predisposition for mental illness, and the idea of a “psychological Jewishness”, are ideas that many Jews themselves accept the basic premises of. (As a personality trait, neuroticism is likely half or more attributable to genetics).

For the Dissident Right, the value of watching Uncut Gems may lie in how the film serves as a symbolic reflection of Jewish neuroticism. Through devices of chaotic direction and frantic delivery, the stereotypes of Jewish intensity, overcompensation, obnoxiousness, money obsession, paranoia, and continuous persecution complex are on full display, as is that world-weary form of Jewish pessimism which, in this case, seems to have its ultimate expression in the lead character’s suicidal death wish.

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Watchmen: S01E07

For those keeping track, here are my quick notes on S01E07:

  • Episode opens with old newsreel footage of Dr. Manhattan’s origins. Against inspirational footage of the Statue of Liberty, etc., it is implied that he is the child of Jewish immigrants. “From humble beginnings, fraught with persecution in Nazi Germany, to the shores of New York, one small boy in a huddled mass, yearning to breathe free, Jon Osterman transcended pain, suffering, and even death itself to create a life the likes of which history has never seen. To some, the immigrant son of a poor clockmaker was the fulfillment of the American dream.”
  • Agent Blake tells Mrs. Crawford (widow of Don Johnson’s character) that Reeves (the now wheelchair-bound character played by Louis Gossett Jr) is her husband’s killer, and that he was the first masked vigilante: Hooded Justice. “He had to hide who he was,” she tells Mrs Crawford, because “white men in masks are heroes, but black men in masks… are scary.” In a big reveal, Agent Blake is surprised to learn that, behind her simple, humble persona, Mrs. Crawford is, in reality, a committed member of Cyclops. This is more fuel to the show’s central theme that all white people, no matter how nice and civil on the outside, are ‘white supremacists’ on the inside.
  • During Angela Abar’s (Sister Night) treatment for overdosing on her grandfather’s (Reeves) Nostalgia memory pills, which seem to be almost entirely consisting of ‘traumatic’ memories, the small Asian student with the big glasses (who works for Lady Trieu, the trillionaire owner of Trieu Industries) is giving Angela some visual cue card tests. The tests, however, have nothing to do with Angela’s treatment; rather, she says it is research for her dissertation. “It’s on the adaptive function of empathy and the role of rage suppression in social cohesion.”
  • The Evil White Southern GOP Senator Joe Keene Jr., who in an earlier episode we learned is heading Cyclops/7K, says to a captured Agent Blake: “You’re wrong about Cyclops. We’re not racist. We’re about restoring balance in those times when our country forgets the principles upon which it was founded. Because the scales have tipped way too far… and it is extremely difficult to be a white man in America right now.”
  • Lady Trieu speaks (holographically) to what appears to be an investor audience, but we are shown reaction shots from Angela, implying that Treiu’s message is oriented towards people like Angela (and her grandfather). After describing Trieu Industries’ successes, Trieu expresses what sounds like conventional Asian attitudes toward blacks (which resembles white conservative attitudes toward blacks): “But there were failures too… My gravest was Nostalgia. I gave people the means to visit the past so they could learn from it, so they could evolve, and transform, and better themselves. Instead, they became fixated on their most painful memories, choosing to experience the worst moments of their lives over and over again. And why? Because they were afraid… afraid that once unburdened by the trauma of the past, they would have no excuse not to move gloriously into the future.”
  • Lady Trieu tells Angela that Dr. Manhattan is not on Mars, but is here on Earth disguised as a human, and that he is here to try to stop the 7th Kavalry. “In less than an hour, they’re going to capture Dr. Manhattan, and they’re going to destroy him. And then, they’re going to become him. Can you imagine that kind of power in the hands of white supremacists? I’m sorry, Angela. I know you asked me not to say it, but I am saving f*cking humanity.”
  • In the middle of the night, Angela escapes from the Trieu Industries complex, drives home, and searches for a hammer, when her husband Calvin “Cal” Abar (nee Jelani… apparently, among woke non-white couples, husbands take their wives’ names) enters the kitchen, having heard the ruckus. “Cal,” she orders him, “I need you to stop talking and listen to me, okay? You’re a great husband, an amazing father, you’re the best friend I’ve ever had… Time to come out of the tunnel. Don’t be scared. We talked about this. We always knew that this day would come.” She calls Cal “Jon”, which confuses Cal. “My name is not Jon,” he says to her. (NOTE: Dr. Manhattan’s real name is Jonathan “Jon” Osterman). Angela then smashes him in the head with the hammer, killing him, and then opens his forehead to retrieve a blue, luminous, circular device. The implication here is that Dr. Manhattan (the spirit of the Enlightened Jew) has been occupying a black body. (After the episode’s credits, an “on the next episode” teaser shows flashbacks to when a Dr. Manhattan, is his total blue splendor, fell in love with a younger Angela.)
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The Wire (2002-2008)

Some high-level, overview thoughts on The Wire (2002-2008) —

After seeing this show often listed with The Sopranos and Breaking Bad as the triumvirate of the Third Gold Age of Television, I recently watched all 5 seasons of The Wire for the first time. I was a huge fan of both The Sopranos and Breaking Bad (both being shows that, intentionally or unintentionally, deliver conservative and even identitarians messages), so I figured it was time to check out The Wire, even though I’m highly averse to the police procedural genre. (I was drawn into the show by about S01E05. Sidenote: I was a big fan of David Simon’s earlier, short-lived HBO show The Corner, which was in many ways a test run for The Wire).

While it’s not up to the caliber of the former two shows, The Wire does provide something of a case study in how a liberal showrunner can inadvertently create content that buttresses conservative perspectives. The Dissident Right can interpret the same empirical phenomena (characters, actions, motivations) depicted in the show in a very different way, and that, more than anything else, is the show’s strength.

From his real-life experiences in the environs, creator/showrunner David Simon unsparing shows Baltimore as the cesspool it is: a city of drugs, murder, fried chicken, fast food, and littering, of endless boasting and quick-tempered violence from young black males, of hoppers and slingers. The Baltimore shown is a de facto Third World country, where warlords — whether in the form of the endless army of black gang bangers, seemingly getting younger and more ruthless as the years pass, or corrupt black politicians (like the fictional Clay Davis) – protect their own narrow interests or siphon as much of the public coffer for themselves as they are capable of. Trust and loyalty means nothing. Social capital is eroded to the bone.

There’s a good amount of gritty, politically incorrect elements expressed in the show, and while liberal platitudes may be placed over these expressions in order to condemn them, this attempt largely fails relative to the rival explanatory power of conservative theory towards making sense of the same phenomena. In this sense, I don’t believe The Wire would be made the same way today. Wokeness has gotten so stifling, self-censorious, and out of control that the degree of ‘white saviors’ in the show would be found problematic, as would be the very depiction of urban black pathologies.

With respect to the character of unscrupulous, shyster, drug lawyer Maurice Levy, it is quite telling how much Jewish publications were kvetching heavily about this character. “Why, in a show so concerned with race and ethnicity, is the only identified Jewish character a stereotypical money-grubbing, scumbag lawyer?” asks Seth Madej in a piece titled “Is ‘The Wire’ Anti-Semitic?” (See also: “Network Jews: Maurice Levy, the Jewish Lawyer from HBO’s ‘The Wire’” by Dov Friedman).

“Why did we make this guy Jewish?” responded David Simon, who is himself Jewish, “Because when I was covering the drug trade for 13 years for the [Baltimore] Sun, most of the major drug lawyers were Jewish.” [See
The Politics of Brisket: Jews and ‘The Wire’” by Keith Kahn-Harris].

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