You might call this post a gung-ho "recon" rescue operation. This article is a kind of addendum to a post I made a few weeks ago about the budget DVD market, which is a market comprised of a collection of mostly obscure titles. The films on this list are seldom-seen, seldom-discussed and seemingly never-screened works which, in my belief, if given the chance, could easily find their niches. Needless to say, if you have been a loyal reader of this blog, you will have realized by now that I am a lover of beneath-the-radar cinema. I am not widely crowned the King of Esoterica for nothing. My interest lies in the countless works throughout film history that have come and gone and, as a result of which, have been largely ignored. In fact, this atypical interest is a steady devotion that has kept me devoted since I was a pre-teenager, at that time itching to make movies of my own. These "beneath-the-radar" movies were, interestingly enough, the ones that inspired me and kept me going in my pursuit of a filmmaking career. You may say, "Won't that perhaps be prescient for your own career if you so admire movies that fell between the cracks?" I honestly hope not, but I can only dream of some guy like myself encountering a given "lost movie" of mine, even accidentally, and loving whatever it is I have to offer and doing his/her part to make it more known. In my quest for "hidden gems" and great filmmaking hidden amongst a rabble of other obscure and esoteric (and, yes, often poor) films I have witnessed, here are some noteworthy ones that stood apart from the rest as examples of good and just plain compelling filmmaking. Sometimes, it seems like finding these "hidden gems" is like picking the fly-shit out of the pepper. It is a daunting task, but in my book, these misunderstood works are masterpieces. Resurrection now!
PLEASE NOTE: No recent films (post-1990) will appear on this list. Those films need time to determine if they will ultimately find an audience or not, considering their initial reception. Also, no non-English language films will appear on the list. Foreign films are my forte, but I have many reasons for their exclusion from this list.
1. DEAR MR. WONDERFUL (1982, Peter Lilienthal) Starring Joe Pesci, Karen Ludwig, Evan Handler, Frank Vincent. A rather unpredictable #1 pick, ay? In terms of unpredictable, you ain't seen nothin' yet! Okay, so, to start with this title, I have mentioned this movie twice in two respective blog-posts (i.e. the New York-on-film entry and the budget-DVD entry). Why do I keep bringing it up? Simple...because everytime I see it, I am profoundly affected in every way: emotionally, intellectually and even spiritually, and without even a single sign of manipulation or pandering from the creators. Peter Lilienthal, one of the more low-key directors of the New German Cinema movement who helmed the highly regarded Holocaust film David (1979), is one of many mid-to-high profile European directors who came to the United States to direct a film about the American experience from an "outsider's perspective". Others who have attempted this include Wenders (with Paris, Texas), Herzog (with Stroszek), Antonioni (with Zabriskie Point) and Renoir (with The Southerner). What distinguishes this one from most of the others? Lilienthal, it would seem, is more of a humanist than a pedagogue or a weary romanticist, which were both traps many of the other directors had succumbed to. In effect, many of these "outsider films" ultimately become ponderous novelties and/or analytically specious.
Dear Mr. Wonderful is an exquisitely simple film, deliberately paced, more generous with thorough character development than most any other element, although Michael Ballhaus' camerawork, even in its shoddy video pan-and-scan, is certainly handsome. Pesci, in his first starring role after his success in Raging Bull, stars as Ruby Dennis, a Jewish working-class dreamer who owns a bowling alley where he croons Rat Pack-style songs in a lounge area adjacent to where people bowl. He writes and composes his own songs, then belts out old Sammy Cahn tunes with a drink in one hand and a cigarette he doesn't smoke in the other, and dreams of hitting the big-time as a Las Vegas headliner, which he seems to know down deep is a major pipe dream. Pesci's singing voice leaves something to be desired (that is certainly the point of it, however, although his songs are catchy and some like New York Times critic Janet Maslin have actually complemented Pesci's singing voice, so maybe I am the one who is off). It should be noted that Pesci, in real life, was a child singing star who released an album called "Little Joey Sings" (you can't make this stuff up). Ruby lives with his sister Paula (Karen Ludwig, who played Meryl Streep's partner in Manhattan) and her son Raymond (Evan Handler). He spends a great deal of screentime wooing a promising aspiring singer named Sharon (Ivy Ray Browning, who has a lovely voice). His bowling alley is in danger of closing. Credit is being withdrawn and equipment is being slowly taken away by loan sharks (led by Scorsese regular Frank Vincent) who have a very apparent distaste for the "singing kike" Ruby who is more consumed with his lounge-singing than concerned with running a business ("Tell them not to bowl in the outer lanes when I'm singing. Just tell them nicely, 'The man is singing.'") This is something else worthy of mention. Dear Mr. Wonderful has an unabashedly Jewish flavor, which is something to notice because of how refreshingly anomalous it seems, particularly in a day when explicitly Jewish voices were customarily being downplayed or downright eliminated in cinema here and abroad, lest there was a megastar involved or the Jewishness was the driving force or the subject of the given film. Here, in this film, it is part of a much broader canvas, a richer and more encompassing one. The film opens with a simultaneously good-humored and tense Passover seder sequence which rather immediately immerses and absorbs the viewer in the world of the movie. A fish swims around in a shallow bathtub and Pesci kills it with a baseball bat (offscreen) for dinner. In keeping with the alleged Jewish subtext, ultimately the film is also, unequivocally, a thoughtful, complex meditation on a Talmudic precept which states, "A rich man is he who is content with what he has" (which makes sense considering director Lilienthal's Orthodox Jewish background). This meditation is not simply on Ruby's character, but also on the character of Ruby's sister, who leaves her family behind to "save the world" through an underprivileged co-worker of hers, and through Ruby's nephew, who turns to snatching gold necklaces right off of the necks of ladies in the street. The film possesses that quiet kitchen-sink flavor, and the humor of the scenes always keeps you rooting for everyone, despite themselves. The New York City of the film, which I discuss in the respective blog entry, is one that is lost today (it should be noted that while there are plenty of NYC exteriors, a great deal of the interiors were shot in Germany).
One of the most heartbreaking movie scenes of the 1980's, in my opinion, and one where you can almost physically feel the character's humiliation, comes in Tony Martin's cameo. Real-life singer/actor Tony Martin comes to visit Ruby's Palace to listen to him sing, after his nephew Ray invites him via a letter earlier in the movie. I won't spoil the scene, but it's almost gut-wrenching, and the character's arc comes at such a moment of profound humiliation, followed by insult, followed by the most naked vulnerability. Every critic who reviewed the film mentions this scene as being among the most memorable of its era. And the film's ending...perfect understatement and a perfect open ending! I am not going to say any more about this film other than to see it and get back to me when you do. I have been dying to talk to someone about this one!
2. KINGS AND DESPERATE MEN (1981, Alexis Kanner) Starring Patrick McGoohan, Alexis Kanner, Andrea Marcovicci, Margaret Trudeau. Prisoner-fans take note, if you haven't already. This film reunites Prisoner star Patrick McGoohan with frequent Prisoner player Alexis Kanner. This undoubtedly started as one of those "concept movie projects". Get a load of this story: Charismatic, histrionic ex-actor turned Montreal radio talk-show host John Kingsley (Patrick McGoohan) is held hostage in his own private luxury radio-studio by a group of crusaders who want an on-the-air retrial of a man they feel was wrongly convicted and oversentenced at that, kidnapping the original judge who tried the first trial and detaining him elsewhere, then designating the listening audience as the phone-in jury. When I first read this description on the back of the video cover at a Pittsburgh flea-market circa 2001, I put down my two dollars because I was instantly hooked and intrigued. McGoohan's involvement certainly didn't hurt the prospect of my purchase...and, hey hey hey, it was obscure! Just my cup of tea! Ha ha! So, I popped the tape into the VCR and the movie underwent the customary Kremer Hidden-Gem Test (the KGMTs...funner than the SATs and GREs, and more efficient!). It passed in flying colors, but not in the way I would have ever predicted. Its execution was almost...otherworldly. The camera placement is sometimes highly unorthodox, the sound design highly experimental, the acting decidedly stylized, the editing complexly fragmentary and elliptical, the politics offbeat even in the left-wing sense of the word, the narrative progression delightfully perplexing. What an interesting, strange creature this film was to me...and still is!
This is one of those movies that, as a cinephile, I became obsessed with for years after first seeing, and it was a mighty quest to learn as much as I could about it inception, conception and reception. It plays out like an experimental film in some stretches, and renders its hook/reel-in of a plot summary a curiously distinctive thriller with a nearly inimitable sense of voice. By voice, I mean camera voice, montage voice, narrative voice and even soundscape voice. That's a lot of voices there, and a lot of films do not even have one type of those uniquenesses. This is a motion picture that is difficult to describe to the fullest using just words. Kings and Desperate Men is definitively a thriller, without question. It uses the conventions and the narrative traditions of genre (e.g. the unstable captor, periodic showdowns between captor and captive, etc) but uses a flamboyant, barbed cinema language and a twisting dialogic verbiage, courtesy mostly of McGoohan's purposefully melodramatic portrayal of the lead, and elaborate use of the filmmaking's "plastic" elements to deliver to its audience something completely in opposition to other offerings of its genre.
The film had a scattered release. It was shot in the winter of late 1977, was screened once in Montreal in late 1978, was widely released in its native Canada three years later in 1981 after its struggle to find additional completion funds, was later re-released only in Canada in 1983, premiered at the London Film Festival in 1985 and then finally hit the United States over a full decade later in 1989. That is quite a history. The film was met with accolades at the London Film Festival, but only The Los Angeles Times gave the film good reviews in the U.S. In point of fact, The Los Angeles Times gave it glowing reviews. Most critics obtusely complained of McGoohan's overacting, and every major U.S. review I read was facile, fast and artless. It definitely says something when a critic's dismissals are coy and mirthless. Vis a vis McGoohan's so-called "overacting," that's the point, folks! It's not hard to get! The story itself unfolds by sheer virtue of his character's history as an ex-actor and the writer-director's statement is made via McGoohan's character's titanic "emceeing" of the events at hand. Look at the art direction. Theater posters from the character's past are prominently on display. The film, when all is said and done, has a bold and (believe it or not) original message about media treatment of exploitable circumstance. I mean, the subject has been done before, but never like this. Again, all more I can really say is do your best to see it. This one is actually a little tougher to locate than Dear Mr. Wonderful because it is only on VHS, but if you still have your VCR (if you are a real film fan and ditched yours, you are doing yourself no favors), I recommend tracking it down. In a post scriptum, I gave my copy to a friend to borrow. He definitely joined the film's micro-cult after seeing it. Rise to the occasion and join us!
3. SIGNAL 7 (1986, Rob Nilsson) Starring a cast of unknowns and featuring an onscreen dedication to John Cassavetes, Signal 7 was a feature-film shot over a period of five consecutive nights on 3/4 VHS tape and then transferred to 16mm, and then to 35mm. The innovative and singularly unique image quality almost makes me want to go and do the same. Frankly, it looks gorgeous. The film follows a night in the life of cab-drivers who work out of the DeSoto Taxi Company in San Francisco. Many of the characters are actors who have taken to driving a taxi to make ends meet. The film's ostensibly improvisatory feeling is effectively juxtaposed with solid writing, solid structuring, solid acting and fluid camerawork and editing...thankfully without gas! Okay, that was cheesy, all in an effort to say that, contrary to other films of its type, this is not a bloated exercise that is an excuse for a film but a real working piece of cinema. In any case, describing a plot for this film beyond this premise is futile. Just check it out -- and you're not likely to find another film that looks like this. "You are the egg!"
4. COLD TURKEY (1971, Norman Lear) Starring Dick Van Dyke, Jean Stapleton, Vincent Gardenia, Bob Newhart. This is yet another premise movie: Eagle Rock, a small Midwestern town, will be given a large cash-prize reward if all its citizens quit smoking for thirty days and the local minister (Dick Van Dyke) whips the chain smokers into shape to take the gold. But on this foundation of the "premise project" is built an extremely funny film that is given a kind of strange immediacy and social importance by its grim, weighty and perversely poetic denouement (involving a clever visual trope). It also uses other jarring, if only periodic, visual techniques to sell it as "more than just a silly treacle of a comedy" (look at the film's lyrical opening title sequence). All the films on the list have, in different ways and using different methods, transcended conventional genre elements and do their own thing, and Cold Turkey is certainly no exception. Also, if you've ever smoked and strived oh so desperately to quit, this one may hit close to home, despite the humor. All in all, this is one of the best esoteric comedies out there -- and character actor Barnard Hughes' delirious "cold turkey" attempts at communication put me in stitches with every viewing ("The Dr. Proctor hoctor. The hospitoctor of Dr. Proctor..."). And then you could always watch the over-the-hill "Christopher Mott Society" hard at work. For fans of Randy Newman, the spiritually dirge-like opening title hymn "He Gives Us All His Love" (from Newman's album "Sail Away") is featured, and Newman also composes the film's original score...in perhaps one of the best opening title sequences I have seen heretofore. The sequence is inspiring and inspired in its poetic simplicity. Who knew the creator of "All in the Family" could be so poetic with his images? You can take a look at this title sequence below, courtesy of YouTube.
5. QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX (1970, Waris Hussein) Starring Gene Wilder, Margot Kidder. Gene Wilder, in his recent autobiography, remembers how none other than the legendary Jean Renoir was originally slated to direct this weird little comedy-drama. As many things go in Movieland, this plan did not pan out. Nonetheless, BBC director turned filmmaker Waris Hussein, an emigree from British colonial India, took over the directing reins and delivers a wonderfully eccentric study of a man who makes his living selling waste...in the most literal sense of the word. The film tells the story of a nonconformist horse-dung salesman who independently follows the horses-and-carts around Dublin selling their caca as fertilizer. Right around the time the horses are to be replaced by motor-carts, and it looks like Quackser is about to be deprived of his livelihood, he meets and falls for an American exchange student at Trinity College while figuring out what to do with the rest of his life after the doodoo disappears. Gene Wilder is as endearing as in any other film he has been in, even if the efficacy of his Irish accent is vexingly come-and-go. Dublin as a location, particularly in the hyper-industrialized, working-class milieu it depicts in the film, is as good of a shooting location as a filmmaker could ever find. It is a curious film -- maybe you could even call it a curiosity. However, it does what it sets out to do and functions as an excellent motion-picture exercise in originality for those looking for something a trifle more offbeat. And the film is not just original...it is highly original. The scene where Quackser sets the horses free from the slaughterhouse is a moment of exhilarating release. Nearly everything about this movie marches to the beat of a different drummer, even though it is nonetheless very traditionally (what's wrong with that?), however very competently, structured and shot (by Polanski regular Gilbert Taylor). Check out this blog entry at Moon in the Gutter.
6. GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT (1972, Brian De Palma) Starring Tom Smothers, John Astin, Katharine Ross, Orson Welles. If Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx blithely celebrates the spirit of nonconformity, the irreverent Get to Know Your Rabbit parodies it, while still upholding the validity of nonconformity within a tediously monotonous world. The making of Get to Know Your Rabbit sounds rather tumultuous, with Warner Brothers firing director Brian De Palma early on during the editing of the film (this was his first major studio film). Despite this, I consider it among De Palma's finest work -- although keep in mind, I much prefer the early Greetings!/Hi, Mom!/Phantom of the Paradise De Palma period to the Hitchcock-ripoff/campy-genre-film De Palma period. This comedy tells the story of a corporate ad executive who throws everything away, rejecting his materialistic bourgeois existence to fulfill his dream of becoming a tap-dancing magician. The film features appearances from a parade of great character actors (the incomparable Allen Garfield discusses "Mediterannean overtones" when feeling up a voluptuous kewpie doll's large melon breasts), and a number of hilariously absurdist, Pythonesque moments (one of the first scenes involves a random visit from a destitute piano-tuner who knocks on doors soliciting customers who do not own pianos). This is all without even mentioning the orotund presence of Orson Welles as the mysterious magic expert D'Alessandro who gravely intones "You're holding your rabbit...wrong!" to crestfallen wannabe tap-dancing magician Tom Smothers. This role actually came before F for Fake. The movie is brilliant, exquisite comedy, sometimes hysterically funny, and very much in the vein of anti-establishment movies of the time -- without ever once resorting to tiresome polemicism or dated, overt 60's American cinema sentiments, a la 'screw the system'. Ultimately though, De Palma's message is that everything eventually becomes commodified, even the ostensibly novel idea of escape from a world of commodity and commodification gets bought and sold like any other product. The film's ideology is very much in line with Downey's Putney Swope (1969). You have to love the acronymic cleverness in the closing act's revelation that a Tap Dancing Magician Corporation has been established (TDM, get it?). Check out this write-up at Reverse Shot.
7. CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER (1979, Joan Micklin Silver) Starring John Heard, Mary Beth Hurt, Peter Riegert, Griffin Dunne. What became of the children of the 60's after Woodstock when, at the end of the day, they felt compelled to find their other half and cash in their idealism for a shot at stability? At one point, a character exlaims, "What do you want from a child her age? She never even went to Woodstock!" Another character replies, "Well, neither did we." The first character retorts, "But we could have!" Adapted from Ann Beattie's novel of the same name, Chilly Scenes of Winter sports endlessly quotable dialogue ("Did you know that if you spread yogurt on your nipples it makes them pink?", "Gift-wrap the Turtle Wax" or "I'm an unemployed jacket salesman") and deeply felt direction ("con affetuoso" if you are content with applying musical terminology to film). This one is also something of a Kremer family favorite, thanks particularly to a scene involving a senile mother's forgetting to cook Thanksgiving dinner when her son and his friend have arrived to eat. In any case, the movie functions mostly as a character study of a hopelessly-in-love man's desperate attempts to win back his soul-mate from a bumpkin-y husband named Ox. On an ideological level, the film is fascinating too. Beneath the surface "simple love story" proceedings lies a deep-rooted, pervasive nostalgia for the youth the characters celebrated in the 60's (the lead character's obsession with Janis Joplin notwithstanding). The film has a devoted cult following, but still remains largely obscure. This is another one that is, for some unknown reason, still not on DVD, despite its loyal following. Turner Classic Movies shows it occasionally. I remember I was in a hotel room in Iowa for a film festival when I caught it on TCM. One day, kids, one day it will make it to DVD. And while I'm at it, I might just mention Ivan Passer's Cutter's Way (1981), which features another stunning performance from John Heard, is tied for this spot, although that film is slightly more known than this one is, so I am choosing not to include it officially.
8. THAT'S THE WAY OF THE WORLD (1975, Sig Shore) Starring Harvey Keitel and Earth, Wind & Fire. "Wow! Keitel starring with Earth, Wind & Fire?! That's chemistry, babe!" That's not even all, folks! Wholesome real-life "Miss America" singer Bert Parks plays a child molester and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" singer Jimmy Boyd plays an obnoxious drug addict who dabbles in everything, whether it be needle, nose or smoke, throughout the film's length. But don't count your chickens yet because this one is not what it seems. From the creator of Superfly comes this scathing indictment of pop-culture, hegemonic influence and "selling cool," which was released on DVD for the first time not too long ago, complete with excellent liner notes by Roger Thompson, a professor of American Culture at VMI. What Network did for television That's the Way of the World just as scathingly does for the corrupt music industry. Keitel plays The Man with the Golden Ear, Coleman Buckmaster. He is a genius recording technician who, as the chintzy ads and trailers to the movie read, can "take the best and make them sound better or turn the worst into number one." Keitel must put aside recording the earthy, hopeful, vital, gritty sounds of The Group (Earth, Wind & Fire) to record with a naseatingly saccharine, all-American, mom's-apple-pie family group called The Pages whose hit-single-to-be would try to have you believe that everything is "joy, joy, joy." Just think of the bubble-gum music of the 70's popularized by such groups as The Carpenters. This movie has no illusions, no pretensions and no overriding, superficial need to please. It does so on its own, with an unusual sense of honesty. The extended sequence in which Keitel toils away in the studio trying to make the ghastly-sounding, grossly untalented Pages sound sterling is excruciatingly intricate. Brass is introduced, then strings, then percussion, etc. all the way down the line. The film shows in super-fine detail what goes into recording music in the professional world...or the way it was at the time. Director Sig Shore seems to take great pains to do so.
Amazingly enough, That's the Way of the World has a great deal to say about race and the role it plays in relation to corporate media hegemony, which is bold considering this is not just an underlying theme but one that is manifest throughout. The record company in the movie, the fictional A-Chord Records, is more than ambivalent about marketing an all-black group like "The Group" with a musical message that, while not downbeat or bleak, is a hell of a lot more practical and truthful vision of the world than the inane "joy, joy, joy"s of the opposing group. Keitel's character wants the musical acts he develops and ushers to the top of the charts to tell the truth, and is disgusted that his company has sold him out for such tripe. The ending is sweetly vindicating to the audience, while still retaining a kind of darkness, and without pandering or losing its sense of overriding honesty. All of this to examine how the people will buy whatever garbage is put in front of them and that everything in the world is bought and sold. That's the way of the world! All of this is without mentioning the classic, awesome Earth, Wind & Fire soundtrack which features "Shining Star," "Reasons" and the eponymous tune "That's the Way of the World". It should be mentioned that Earth, Wind & Fire are not in the movie very much as actual characters, so there are none of the customary embarrassments synonymous with music-movie enterprises where non-actor musicians must hone their acting chops up against much more skilled actors.
9. THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS (1972, Bob Rafelson) Starring Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn. Yep, this is the one where Jack Nicholson is cast against type...as a depressive, cerebral, anhedoniac, bespectacled nerd. Sounds like him, doesn't it? Of course I am kidding. On a personal note, my brother recently watched Five Easy Pieces for the first time, which was likewise directed by Bob Rafelson and stars Jack Nicholson. Overall, he seemed to dislike that film. I recommended that he see The King of Marvin Gardens before passing judgment on Five Easy Pieces because I see the two films as definite companion pieces. The movie, throughout its opening ten minutes, seems very mannered and almost courtly in its narrative progression. The first scene, which you can watch below via YouTube, is an extended 8-minute monologue, done in a single unbroken long-take, in close-up, as Nicholson discusses a vivid memory from childhood involving his brother and his grandfather. The writing here is baroque and descriptive in a prosey, novel-esque sense, but purposefully so. Nicholson's part is that of a radio-show host who, in lieu of playing records or discussing news items, engages his audience with long-winded autobiographical stories based in personal memory. The opening title sequence is pure 70's American arthouse, i.e. no musical accompaniment, careful framing (courtesy of the great Laszlo Kovacs), following a character on his way home through the night as muted wee-hour city sounds haunt the soundtrack. Soon, the constipated Nicholson is summoned from his uneventful life in Philadelphia to Atlantic City by his brother (played with yeoman bravado by Bruce Dern). It is there on the austerely picaresque boardwalks and beaches where he learns that his brother has plans to buy an island near Hawaii which he plans to develop into a resort, with the help of some pilfered funds. Considering how everything is set up early on, the film could have fulfilled an implicit promise of finally being pretentious and obstinate, but it thankfully does not uphold this promise. His brother's lover is played by Ellen Burstyn, and her performance is the consummate example of a performance that builds and builds and builds cumulatively, and it is perhaps the most fascinating (I use this word in a functional sense) and exploratory of her career.
The film is comprised of a great deal of set-pieces juxtaposed with less ambitious but still powerful "smaller" scenes. This delicate mix of scene-types is never contrapuntal and all the sequences work in surprisingly effective and logical confluence. For example, I automatically think of a scene in an empty amphitheater involving a fictional two-person Miss America competition, as well as a hilarious scene where Japanese businessmen, potential investors in the resort, are eating with Nicholson, Dern and Burstyn in a lobster restaurant. In the scene, all the characters wear these ridiculous bibs while Nicholson expounds on an idea involving humans fulfilling the sexual desires of dolphins as a potential tourist attraction on their island. Another scene involves a bonfire on a beach, which is one of Burstyn's finest moments in the film. The sequencing is astoundingly never fragile. Also, it is not just Burstyn but the film itself that builds and builds in a cumulative sense. It develops from something that is at first innocuously original to a final profound sense of dramatic urgency and crescendo that we cannot instantly perceive or realize in any sense, until the final devastating dramatic act has been committed. The audience's radar will have difficulty detecting much of anything until the impact hits them hard with the final fade-out. It's a wow-inducing moment, and one that leaves you speechless. In its final shot, the film is summed up by one incendiary, illuminating, encapsulating image -- and yet another example of how filmmaking can be poetic.
10. THE NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY (1968, Hubert Cornfield) Starring Marlon Brando, Richard Boone, Rita Moreno. Made officially during Brando's so-called pre-Godfather "slump period" when his very name was box-office poison, The Night of the Following Day is one of those films that casts a strong spell, at least over me. It's a hallucinatory, ethereal, eerie, paranoia-inducing, puzzle-like, even surrealist thriller. Stanley Myers' musical score is unnerving and experimental at times, giving the audience more of a sense of rigid unrest. It's a thriller about a kidnapping operation gone haywire that gradually falls apart at the seams. An heiress is abducted as she is leaving Orly Airport and is taken to a secluded beach-house in the south of France where the kidnappers await their ransom. Brando, doing the fluorescent blonde-hair thing, plays one of the stoical kidnappers who attempts to come to the rescue when he realizes that one of his compatriots in the extortion plot is a psychotic, violence-prone sadist who appears to making eyes towards their captive. Meanwhile, Rita Moreno, playing another one of the extortionists, habitually zonks out on heroin and starts getting paranoid about a fishing-happy policeman who conspicuously has asked her maybe too many "innocent" questions. Brando is, as usual, magnetic in the lead and Richard Boone is quite scary and imposing in the role of the sadist. This one is pretty easy to track down on DVD. Usually, I have to be in a very particular mood to see this because the film's aftertaste leaves you cloudy and distant in a way that is useless to describe, at least it does me. The so-called "surprise ending" is slightly irksome because it is something we have seen far too much before, but somehow it seems to suit the film's original objective. Once again, we have some beautiful camerawork, from Willy Kurant, on display. Kurant is the man Orson Welles called "my Rembrandt," and that is certainly true here. Many of Kurant's images are quite painterly. Note: If you are intrigued enough afterwards to listen to director Hubert Cornfield's audio commentary for the film, I would be curious to see how long you last. Cornfield has a gurgly voice-box following a bout with throat-cancer and the commentary is often trying to listen to. But you get to hear some funny stories about the unruly (and downright naughty) behavior of Brando on the set and about how Kubrick originally wanted to shoot the film as adapted from the Lionel White novel (he wound up adapting and directing White's The Killing instead).
HONORABLE MENTIONS (IN NO ORDER): The Ninth Configuration (William Peter Blatty, 1979), Without Reservations (Mervyn LeRoy, 1946), Law and Disorder (Ivan Passer, 1974), Born to Win (Ivan Passer, 1971), Undercurrent (Vincente Minnelli, 1946), Two Weeks in Another Town (Vincente Minnelli, 1962), Inserts (John Byrum, 1976), Forbidden Zone (Richard Elfman, 1980), Slade in Flame (Richard Loncraine, 1976), Out (Eli Hollander, 1982), Such Good Friends (Otto Preminger, 1971), Romance of a Horsethief (Abraham Polonsky, 1971), Adam at 6 A.M. (Robert Scheerer, 1970), Secret Ceremony (Joseph Losey, 1968), T.R. Baskin (Herbert Ross, 1971), Desperate Characters (Frank D. Gilroy, 1971), In MacArthur Park (Bruce Schwartz, 1977)
SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? SEE THESE MOVIES THEN LET'S CHAT!!!