The Cincinnati Kid, Norman Jewison. What should have been a vehicle for Steve McQueen is amplified then validated with a soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin (including vocal by Ray Charles) and a Terry Southern co-credited screenplay (he wrote and orchestrated most of the critical card-game sequences), shot on location in New Orleans . The three-act script is strictly by the book, the characters cardboard, but the acting shows what Hollywood used to be capable of even with modest effort. McQueen got the top billing but in a cast of A-list character actors (Rip Torn, Karl Malden, Joan Blondell), the pretty boy is largely over-shadowed. Ann-Margret hots things up as a juicy femme fatale. Her curves dominate her scenes—like she stepped out of a Russ Meyer picture. A fresh faced Tuesday Weld is mostly memorable for her improbable name (too bad Sharon Tate lost the part). But it’s seasoned veteran Edward G. Robinson that makes the movie. The man can strike fear and inspire awe with little more than a lit match and an eye-brow roll. Old and pot-bellied, he sports an immaculate Van Dyke and the razor sharp manners to match. (In his autobiography, Robinson says ‘It was one of the best performances I ever gave … it was symbolically the playing out of my whole gamble with life’.) The lack of a happy ending beyond a perfunctory hug is vintage silver screen—pessimism used to be ok. Pop culture bonus: extended Cab Calloway cameo as gambler ‘Yeller’.
My novel Singapore Black is finally available on amazon.com in paperback!
It’s available NOW (earlier they indicated it would not be available until May, but it looks like it’s already available).
Search ‘this is not a pipe’ on google and this is what you get…
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Luis Buñuel. This one won the academy award for “best foreign language film.” Strange, because it’s the closest thing Bunuel did to outright surrealism since L’Age d’Or (1930). A group of affluent people attempt to dine together; each interrupted meal is an episode. One episode collapses into the next without any indication of who is narrating the stories; there is no beginning and no end though the film travels in a linear direction, or at least seems to; and while the ensemble of characters subtly shifts from one episode to the next, they never change beyond who they are—or are not. It’s one of the best explorations of the illogic of dream-time ever filmed, and even though it is not a horror flick, I know people it gave nightmares.
Pickup On South Street, Sam Fuller. The Cold War meets film noir in this classic potboiler set in early 1950s New York. The main character, named Skip McCoy, is a pick-pocket with a face full of mean angles who doesn’t fight the bad guys for god and country but because he’s fallen for the pout-mouthed femme fatale with one name (‘Candy’—delicious), who turns out to have a heart of gold. He lives, totally improbably, in an old bait shack on the East River, and keeps his beer cold in a crate. The dialogue is mid-century crime Americana at its best: pickpockets are ‘canons’, the lead detective is nicknamed Tiger, and turn this phrase: ‘that muffin you grifted’. The low life patter is aided by the camerawork: lots of dolly shots rolling into and out of character faces as revelations unfold. Actress Thelma Ritter nearly steals the show as the professional stoolie ‘Moe’ – her death scene speech is straight out of Chandler’s hard-boiled playbook and Ritter cuts the bitterness with just the right amount of sweet . The big band soundtrack swings from smoochie to mysterious to melodramatic and back without missing a beat and is perfectly mixed with the visuals, enhancing without being obtrusive. In his recent unauthorized biography of Tom Waits, Barney Hoskyns notes that the song ‘Potter’s Field’, from the 1977 album Foreign Affairs, was inspired by POSS, which Waits supposedly watched in a motel on late night TV during a tour. The sound of the film, and the phrase ‘potter’s field’, as well as some characters and narrative twists, all resonate in Wait’s cinematic song.
Here’s Luc Sante’s (a saint to me) essay about POSS on the Criterion Collection website: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/311
Tom Waits ‘Potter’s Field’: