The Gauntlet (1977, Clint Eastwood)

I think I watched The Gauntlet for masochistic reasons, namely screenwriters Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, the late 1970s, early 1980s version of Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner–incompetent Hollywood writers. Even so, the film’s not wholly terrible. It’s rarely exciting, just because the action sequences are so poorly written, and Clint approaches the whole thing with a sense of boredom. His character’s real shallow and the film would barely work if it weren’t for Sondra Locke and Eastwood’s chemistry. Locke’s actually got some really good moments–which is hard, considering how bad her character is written for the first half or so–including a great monologue comparing hookers and cops. In the later half of the film, once the two of them improbably fall in love, there’s even a neat idea of a scene, but again the writing kills it.

About fifteen minutes into The Gauntlet, I realized it was not dissimilar to Clint’s earlier, Coogan’s Bluff, but the greatest difference between the two is that lack of interest I mentioned before. Clint shoots this one in lots of long shots, concentrating on the physicality of the situations and not the characters, as though if he did, the characters might have to realize the absurdity of their situation. So it isn’t just the script making the character shallow, it’s also Clint’s direction of himself–those long shots make the character empty. His performance is sort of broad. When he’s interested, he acts; when he’s not, he’s on autopilot.

The supporting cast is fantastic–William Prince, Pat Hingle, and Michael Cavanaugh are all good. The names in the movie are some of the most absurd I’ve heard: Blakelock, Feyderspiel, Shockley. The actors stumble over them with a lot of trouble–audible trouble, which sometimes makes the more boring scenes funny. An interesting, IMDb-fueled note: this film reunites Clint with Mara Corday. They both appeared in Tarantula twenty-two years earlier, though they didn’t have any scenes together (and Clint wasn’t credited). That bit of trivia–and the possibility of a story behind it–is more interesting than anything in The Gauntlet, except, I suppose, my newfound regard for Sondra Locke’s acting ability.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack; director of photography, Rexford Metz; edited by Ferris Webster and Joel Cox; music by Jerry Fielding; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Ben Shockley), Sondra Locke (Gus Mally), Pat Hingle (Josephson), William Prince (Blakelock), Bill McKinney (Constable), Michael Cavanaugh (Feyderspiel), Carole Cock (Waitress), Mara Corday (Jail matron), Douglas McGrath (Bookie) and Jeff Morris (Desk Sergeant).


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Superman (1978, Richard Donner)

I love how the end of Superman, with the spinning back of the earth, causes so much trouble for people. My fiancée–before Marlon Brando had even gotten the kid into the spaceship–made me stop the movie twice (I had to tell her to stop, though I love her line about Superman having just as many plot holes as the Bible) to make observations about its inconsistency. So, two major inconsistencies in the first ten minutes. I was more concentrated on Krypton’s apparent lack of atmosphere and the effect it’d have on the three criminals (wouldn’t they suffocate before the Phantom Zone got them?). My point being, Superman is rife with dramatic inconsistencies and silliness, the world-turning being one of the lesser ones.

I’ve probably seen Superman six times as an adult, maybe seven (this viewing is the fourth time since 2001), so it’s kind of hard to write about it like it’s tomorrow’s bread. I notice things, every time I watch, and sometimes I’ve noticed them before and sometimes I think I have or haven’t. Superman‘s an incredibly watchable film, because it works so damn well–I can’t think of a film where the music was more important than this one. John Williams’s score literally makes the film. Something about the epical storytelling and Donner’s use of cranes and his short on dialogue, but not short in running time scenes, makes Williams’s music essential. Without it, Superman wouldn’t just not work, it’d be funny looking. There’s music for most of the movie, with the exception of the Daily Planet scenes. The other superior technical aspect of the film is the editing. Donner shot some great coverage for the film and editor Stuart Baird puts it all together beautifully–that scene in the cornfield and the Superman finding Lois in the car scene are both editorially magnificent. I never thought about it before, but in a certain way (not narratively) Superman‘s got a lot in common with 2001.

Other things I noticed this time was Donner’s great close-ups of Terence Stamp at the beginning, which I’m sure I’d noticed before, but never really appreciated, especially since it’s a movie called Superman‘s first real scene. Glenn Ford gets better with each viewing… The infamous “Can You Read My Mind?” flying dance number, which has become, in the last couple viewings, my favorite scene in the film. Also a big fan of the interview scene and the helicopter scene from the cinematography angle. I think the last time I watched it, I appreciated Superman ignoring Marlon Brando for Glenn Ford (something Bryan Singer ditched in the latest “sequel”), and I appreciated it again this time.

It’s amazing to me, the film I’ve seen, man and boy, fifteen or twenty times, about a flying guy in blue tights, still has so much to offer.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | SUPERMAN.

The Seven-Ups (1973, Philip D’Antoni)

The Seven-Ups is a fascist daydream beyond almost any cinematic compare, certainly American cinema (except maybe a Charles Bronson movie from the 1980s or something). And it’s not a cheap, 1970s exploitation picture either. Yes, to some degree it’s cheap (Roy Scheider and Tony Lo Bianco are the only two recognizable principals), but producer and director Philip D’Antoni also produced Bullitt and The French Connection, and The Seven-Ups is something like a cheap version of French Connection. Scheider’s okay, but he doesn’t real create a character in Seven-Ups because there’s nothing in the script. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, but the film’s absent of any subtext.

Oh, before I forget–this film is so fascist, when I was looking up director D’Antoni, I really expected his biography to mention he went into exile after Mussolini went out of power. The film’s incredible–I imagine it’s a neo-con’s wet dream.

Actually, D’Antoni’s a really good director, so good it’s unfortunate Seven-Ups is his only directorial effort. He’s not particularly good with actors, but his composition and his sense of timing are fantastic. Seven-Ups has a great ten minute car chase in it, notable mostly because it gives a lovely tour of early 1970s New York, but it’s still good stuff. I kept finding really good shots throughout the film, which made its failures more and more glaring.

The Seven-Ups is a good looking film, but it’s incredibly dumb. Watching it, I kept having remind myself films can be dumb no matter when they’re from–you don’t need CG to be dumb, all it takes is bad writing, which has been around since people started doing it. In many ways, it’s like a TV show–a really well produced one–but the set pieces in the film really reminded me of things I’ve seen on TV. Not the car chase, fine, but there are these sequences (with scary music) of being in a car wash… and scary car washes really scream TV show for some reason.

As an easily accessible filmic travelogue of 1970s New York, if one cares about that sort of thing, it’s essential. As a film… eh. There are these great villains and the film doesn’t even get the pay-off right, which makes the whole thing sort of… eh.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Philip D’Antoni; screenplay by Albert Ruben and Alexander Jacobs, based on a story by Sonny Grosso; director of photography, Urs Furrer; edited by John C. Horger and Stephen A. Rotter; music by Don Ellis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Roy Scheider (Buddy Manucci), Tony Lo Blanco (Vito), Larry Haines (Max Kalish), Victor Arnold (Barilli), Jerry Leon (Mingo), Ken Kercheval (Ansel), Richard Lynch (Moon) and Bill Hickman (Bo).


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Spoilers of the North (1947, Richard Sale)

Spoilers of the North takes a hard look at the seedy underbelly of salmon poaching in Alaska. I just had to write that sentence. Spoilers is a non-studio B-picture from the mid-1940s and, though I may never have seen anything equitable, it’s probably as good as it can be for what it’s got. The direction is technically mediocre, but it’d be hard for it to offend. There’s lots of found footage used in Spoilers, from boat shots, to salmon cannery shots, to American Indian dancing–when there appeared to be a real boat chase, I was shocked it hadn’t been cobbled from newsreels–then realized the editing is so poor, they’d never be able to do it. The editing at the beginning almost makes Spoilers unwatchable. It’s full of wipes and fades, one every six seconds, moving the lame story along. However, once you discover it actually is about a bad guy trying to defraud people over salmon, well, Spoilers gets a lot more amusing.

The film’s public domain now, but the cast is actually somewhat recognizable. Bad guy Paul Kelly is not familiar–he’s an amazingly bad actor. The dialogue in Spoilers is pretty bad, but Kelly gives an exceptionally bad performance. He’s also playing a philanderer. His successful approach to women is to mimic George Raft. James Millican plays his good guy brother. Millican’s been in a bunch of bit roles, so he’s familiar. He’s also almost all right. He’s really busy during the film, always moving his hands and fiddling with things. It gets distracting. But he does have good chemistry with the girl, played by Evelyn Ankers. Ankers is probably the biggest star of the film, at least in retrospect (she was the girl in The Wolf Man). She’s okay, surprisingly good for a few moments, but blah for some others. The best performance is from Adrian Booth, as the “half-breed” who Kelly romances but won’t marry (she’s a “half-breed”).

Spoilers is astoundingly racist–there’s a great scene when Ankers is showing the audience she’s empathetic (not just a twit fooled by Kelly) and she buys a little Native kid a birthday cake. Then the family proceeds to get excited eating the candles. There’s plenty more along those lines, but there’s also a bunch of great sexism in the film too. In rugged (California set-based) Alaska, a successful businesswoman like Ankers can’t possibly understand what’s going on. Spoilers is somehow amusing, offensive, and actually not terrible in places. I just wish I could see a trailer for it, because I spent the whole movie imagining it–”Two brothers battle for fish and women in rugged Alaska,” “See the forbidden love between man and half-breed,” “Prepare for pulse-pounding fishing scenes!” Maybe I just ought to make one myself. I was expecting Spoilers to be low budget of that variety, but it’s not. So, if the filmmakers had actually been impassioned about Alaskan salmon poaching, Spoilers might be a “better” movie, but since they weren’t, Spoilers is certainly a watchable one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Sale; written by Milton Raison; director of photography, Alfred S. Keller; edited by William P. Thompson; music by Mort Glickman; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Paul Kelly (Matt), Evelyn Ankers (Laura), Adrian Booth (Jane Koster), James Millican (Bill), Roy Barcroft (Moose McGovern), Louis Jean Heydt (Inspector Winters) and Ted Hecht (Joe Taku).


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