So I hope to be W.C. Fields when I grow up

I was aware of W.C. Fields as a rosy, round-faced comedian at a very early age. My aunt had a copy of one of his films alongside her Monty Python videos. (I watched those Pythons, but ignored the Fields.)

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This most closely approximates the trace memory of that specific VHS tape. 

My first real exposure to Fields occurred during my first days in undergraduate film studies. We viewed clips of The Bank Dick and I thought to myself, “Self, that’s a movie you should probably watch.” But here’s the thing about film school. You are constantly watching movies for reasons other than pleasure. There’s pleasure to be had, of course, in a formal cinematic education, but you’re so booked with screenings and research-watches that watchlists grow without and grow and grow until they’re more like Audrey II than a notebook with “To Watch” scribbled atop the first page.

Oh those simple, freewheeling days before Letterboxd.com. Cue South Park’s member berries: REMEMBER VIDEO STORES? REMEMBER NEVER BEING ABLE TO FIND THE MOVIE YOU WANTED!?

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Feed me more movies you’re never going to watch, Seymour!

Fast forward sixteen or so years. I sign up for the TCM/Ball St. online slapstick course. And what clip greets me in the early sound curriculum? That same Bank Dick scene where W.C. Fields walks into the bar. At this point, further avoidance of The Bank Dick offends my own sensibilities.

A sample:

I take one more step. I buy the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection Volume 1. I have no excuse now. Except for all the other movies I want to watch! Omigoodnesstherearealotofthem! Enter Cinema Shame. I put it on my list. I state my ignorance for the world to see. And I bring the W.C. Fields collection with me when we take the family to Santa Fe to visit my wife’s parents. I have the W.C. Fields DVDs and nothing else… except his Netflix subscription and my Vudu movies. So relatively speaking, I have *nothing* to watch.

So let’s get on with this. Let’s talk a bit about The Bank Dick.

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I’m wondering how I’ve lived this long without W.C. Fields and The Bank Dick in my life. I love movies about drunks. I especially love movies about amicable drunks that believe they’re the smartest and most capable men in any room. This is the general philosophy behind W.C. Fields’ persona and the guiding light that drives this, perhaps his best known film. Upping the stakes in The Bank Dick, not only is W.C. Fields the smartest drunk in the room, but he’s the smartest drunk in charge of security detail at a local bank.

Part of the charm of this W.C. Fields film is the ambling, directionless nature of the film (and this would prove to be a consistent part of Fields’ charm as an on-screen personality). The film opens with Fields enduring familiar breakfast table grief before wandering over to the bar to get soused (and here I would be remiss to overlook the brilliant gag that is Fields’ character’s name in The Bank Dick – Egbert Sousé) and then stumbling out of the pub to direct a motion picture and catch two bank robbers. All in a day’s hard-earned inebriation.

The high concept here is that by bumbling and exaggerating himself into heroism, the bank gives Egbert a job at the bank. Naturally, he’s a terrible security guard and oversteps his duties to give terrible financial advice in addition to the terrible security and soon everything looks bleak for our drunken sod… but in the end, everything just falls into place. I won’t spoil the machinations of the narrative, but Fields must keep a bank examiner occupied for days in order for his wrongs to be made right.

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The Bank Dick has no concern for strict continuity or narrative logic. W.C. Fields, even though he’d graduated to feature length comedies after a full career of shorts, still plays in the sketch sandbox. Some jokes come back around in the end, but by and large, Fields is most concerned with the short, even in a full-length narrative. The vision and genius lies within the individual scenes and within the melody of his purposeful, booze-soaked dialogue.

Luxuriate in this choice exchange:

Egbert: Ten cents a share. Telephone sold for five cents a share. How would you like something better for ten cents a share? If five gets ya ten, ten’ll get ya twenty. A beautiful home in the country, upstairs and down. Beer flowing through the estate over your grandmother’s paisley shawl.

Og: Beer?

Egbert: Beer! Fishing in the stream that runs under the aboreal dell. A man comes up from the bar, dumps $3,500 in your lap for every nickel invested. Says to you, “Sign here on the dotted line.” And then disappears in the waving fields of alfalfa.

The Bank Dick (and now that I’ve watched six of Fields’ films, I’m qualified to say this) stands out in the W.C. Fields oeuvre not just because of the finely tuned delivery, but also because the film embraces the spectacular potential of slapstick comedy better than any of his other films (at least those on Vol. 1). It’s not just the W.C. Fields persona working full throttle here; it’s also director Edward F. Cline (director of some Buster Keaton’s finest moments) taking W.C. Fields beyond his character’s standard set of old-timey linguistic gymnastics.

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The real coup de grace, of course, is an overlong madcap car chase that boasts some of the most impressive and almost orchestral stuntwork I’ve seen in an early Hollywood comedy. In many ways, The Bank Dick feels like a Keaton film with a verbose character at the center. This really is the best of all comedy worlds.

All that said, I’d have been just as happy spending 80 minutes in the bar with W.C. Fields. Someday, I too hope to be such a clever and witty drunken sod. I’m often a drunken sod, but I lack the certain, specific lexicon and energy that made Fields’ a legendary drunk. It’s something to which we can all aspire.

Or we can err on the side of lesser intoxication and just quote W.C. Fields more often. *Sigh* The latter is far more responsible after all. And I can’t hold my liquor quite like W.C.


 

2017 Shame! Progress:

The Magnificent Ambersons
Five Easy Pieces
The Gold Rush (watched, pending)
The Bank Dick 
The Black Pirate
Ride the High Country
My Darling Clementine
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Rope
Lifeboat
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Stop Making Sense
The Commitments (watched, pending)
Viva Las Vegas
Godfather Part III
Zatoichi 1-4 / 5-8 / 9-12 / 12-15 / 16-19 / 20-24

 

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So Zatoichi is kinda like James Bond, except blind – Vol. 2

I’ve been watching… oh have I been watching… but I’ve long neglected the part of this project that documents thoughts and feelings. This is important. This is the catharsis.

As a creator of Cinema Shame, I feel obligated to be a role model. And even when I finish this second installment of Zatoichi Shame, I’ll still be delinquent on posts for The Commitments, The Gold Rush, and a handful of W.C. Fields films. As W.C. Fields would say… “Godfrey Daniel! Lets cut through the jibber jabber!” …which is a weird intro to Zatoichi, but roll with it.

Last we checked in with my Zatoichi journey I’d just finished the first four installments and noted a few interesting DNA matches with James Bond.

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Zatoichi on the Road (1963)

After the series switched to color after The Tale of Zatoichi (Zat 2) Continues, the color films had failed to distinguish themselves visually. Zatoichi the Fugutive (Zat 4) told a ripping tale but looked like a B-production. Zatoichi on the Road marks a step forward in the franchise. Director Kimiyoshi Yasuda makes clear and distinct compositional choices. He allows his camera to linger and bask in the color and landscape. Yasuda also amplifies the action and fight choreography. In many ways Zatoichi on the Road circles closer to the Zat-ideal. It also loses some of the character development and meaningful subtext that breathed life into earlier Zatoichi films.

The narrative doesn’t stand out in my memory. (WELL IF YOU’D WRITTEN ABOUT THIS SOONER, MORON, MAYBE YOU’D REMEMBER.) In Zatoichi on the Road, our mythic hero has sworn to protect a young woman and finds himself (again) at odds against two rival gangs. Some of that moral complexity comes through in the young woman’s struggle against the male hierarchy of perpetual assholiness. She’s wanted for killing the man who tried to rape her.

It’s Zatoichi that feels stuck in a limbo throughout Zatoichi on the Road. Already, here in the fifth film it’s growing difficult to compare and contrast the films. Shintaro Katsu imbues the Zatoichi character with so much vitality and depth (gambler, drinker, spurned human and lover, slovenly eater, etc.) that when we reach a film that removes the focus from the depth of Zatoichi’s character, it’s easy to find the film wanting even though it excels in many aspects of pure, visual cinema and storytelling. Some rank this as a favorite Zat-pic, but my meager notes on the film seem to corroborate my latent sense that the film belongs in the second tier of Zatoichi.

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Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (1964)

I’m going to again cite my notebook:

“The first of the Zatoichi films that feels B-grade in execution. Lesser film stock (?). More blood. Some gratuitous (!). But the story engages, unlike prior On the Road. More Zatoichi quirks and more of the worst of humanity on display.”

This is Zatoichi moonlighting in an exploitation sandbox. The casting of Tomisaburo Wakayama (who would later star in Lone Wolf and Cub) as the villain sets up certain expectations. Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold delivers on all of it.

A face-value uglier Zatoichi picture, Chest of Gold foreground stunts and action choreography. This is the type of Zatoichi picture that’ll take you by surprise now that you’re in the Zatoichi groove. The narrative concerns some missing tax money. Zatoichi, who happens to be in town to pay his respects to a dead man, of course, gets blamed. He’s an outsider, a blind man. As “the other” he’s certainly to blame. Money turns average men into monsters. At first, Zatoichi, the noble warrior, attempts to navigate the fracas with logic and reason. Soon the logic and reason gives way to bloodshed and violence because evil men get what they deserve.

An arterial geyser spray might shock you. It’s the first truly magnificent bloodshed in the series. It certainly took me by surprise. It also took my daughters (ages 7 and 4 at the time) by surprise as I’d been letting them tune in to my Zatoichi marathons because the bloodletting had been nonexistent and death scenes mere chest-clutching.

Make no mistake, daughters also find blood geysers to be great fun.

Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, however, only serves as a ramp up to the next Zatoichi picture.

 

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Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword (1964)

Again, my notes:

“So that scene where Zatoichi leads his combatants into the river before dropping beneath the water and attacking like a killer m’f’ing sword-wielding shark.

AND THEN THAT SCENE IN THE DARK CORRIDOR. HOLY MOLY DID I LOVE THIS ONE.”

I had some other thoughts but they lack the all caps.

Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword also from Chest of Gold director Kazuo Ikehiro takes everything I loved about the former picture and turns it up to 11. The film opens slowly. Some goofy and occasionally funny comedy at the expense of Zatoichi’s blindness dominates the first third. The casual cruelty stands as another blemish on humanity. Everyone, it seems, can’t help but demean our hero. The film indulges in a small dose of slapstick — a refreshing re-introduction after the grimmer Chest of Gold.

The narrative again pits two villages against each other in a local squabble over river-crossing fees. One guy charges too little. He believes river-crossing is a right! The other guy wants to create a monopoly and bleed the poor river-crossers dry! BWAHAHA! Between the long stretches of political machinations and goofy comedy, you’ll be wondering you’re ever going to see Zatoichi’s sword again, let alone a flashing sword.

And then the whole film shifts in a moment. Zatoichi flips his “Jules Winnfield path of the righteous man” switch and suddenly Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword becomes one of the most innovative and majestic swordplay bloodbaths in cinema history. THIS IS NOT HYPERBOLE. Well, maybe a little. BUT IT’S NOT.

Your ultimate opinion of the film rests on how strongly you value the action set-pieces contained in the final third of the film. The film lacks a consistent, driving purpose. Zatoichi again attempts to navigate politics without bloodshed, but power-hungry maniacs only respond to violence.

To give you a taste of the transcendent set pieces:

Zatoichi lures a handful of skilled combatants into the water and then drops into the murk where he systematically drops them one by one (see above shark comment).

Zatoichi massacres an entire army of swordsman while fireworks light his gnarled, angry face. A rare occurrence when Zatoichi’s placid exterior falls alway in the face of pure evil.

Lastly, there’s this brilliant moment of pure cinema when Zatoichi lures his attackers into a pitch-black house. Zatoichi runs through the house extinguishing the candles to eliminate their advantage. Shades of Barry Lyndon — as the entire scene was shot using only the ambient candlelight.. at least until the scene goes black except for the contrast of shadow versus complete blackness.

I still get giddy when I think about that last scene.

 

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Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (1964)

Ironically, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight features the least amount of fighting on any Zatoichi film.

Notes:

“An emotionally resonant entry in the Zatoichi series that punctuates our hero’s inability to trust or love. It’s not that he’s unwilling; it’s that he recognizes the consequences for anyone that loves or depends on him. He’s forced to give up a baby to which he’s promised his undying care. He abandons the woman who’s professed her love. He once again heads out, alone and heartbroken, into a world of moral turpitude.”

F, Z, F forces Zatoichi into the role of caregiver as he attempts to deliver an orphaned baby to its father. After the badassery of Flashing Sword, director Kenji Misumi tones down Zatoichi’s sword skills and brings back the emotional resonance missing from the last few films. In many ways, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight is a gut punch. The plight of the newly orphaned baby mirrors Zatoichi’s sense of homelessness. He doesn’t belong. Without family, without love, without a home, Zatoichi wanders this world looking for acceptance.

At one point, Zatoichi doesn’t have money or food. In order to sooth the hungry child he offers his own nipple for suckling, merely hoping the child will find a moment of peace.

Current Zatoichi rankings:

  1. Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword (Z7)
  2. Tale of Zatoichi (Z1)
  3. Zatoichi the Fugitive (Z4)
  4. Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (Z8)
  5. Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (Z6)
  6. Tale of Zatoichi Continues (Z2)
  7. Zatoichi on the Road (Z5)
  8. A New Tale of Zatoichi (Z3)

8 down. 18 more to go. Zatoichi will return in So Zatoichi is kinda like James Bond, except blind – Vol. 3.

 

 

 

 

So I thought I’d seen The Godfather Part III

 

This has become a most unexpected slice of Shame. Having rewatched Godfather and Godfather Part II to brush up on my Corleone lore for the recently recorded Cinema Shame podcast, I kept right on rolling into Godfather Part III. Why not? The wife and I were invested, hip-deep, quoting the films and proffering our own community-theater Brando impersonations. Of course we would complete the cycle.

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But a funny thing happened shortly after beginning the final Godfather installment. I discovered none of this felt familiar. The wife began probing me for clues about the film’s outcome. I knew the crucial deaths and a few choice quotations. But how we got there? Not a morsel of information.

It’s not uncommon to begun watching a movie and realize I’d actually seen it, but not once in my movie-watching history (at least to my recollection, which I’ve just called into question, so… grain of salt) had I convinced myself that I’d seen a film when I actually hadn’t.

It’s a strange sensation.

My Shame has taken on a completely new twist. I went into Godfather Part III expecting re-evaluation. Only I had no initial evaluation to reconsider. I suppose latent images and trace memory from my readings had convinced me I’d seen the film. Frequently, the Cinema Shame phenomenon occurs because popular culture has hammered home particular aspects of a film, causing us to feel like we’ve already experienced the story. We already feel like we’ve seen it through the eyes of popular culture. The phenomenon is real and perhaps too powerful. I’m living proof.

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Let’s first put a few thoughts on the table before moving on. The Godfather Part III has a bad reputation. It’s considered a lesser film. Our frame of reference will dictate whether we consider it a lesser film or just a lesser Godfather film. The discrepancy is important. The critical mass has duly documented Sofia Coppola’s performance as legendarily bad. Movie-killing bad. As a direct result, this final installment just isn’t properly considered when discussing the Godfather saga.

I may only be merely one voice in a sea of film criticism, but I cannot abide this treatment any longer.

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The abandoned Corleone Lake Tahoe compound.

The abandoned and dilapidated Corleone Lake Tahoe compound opens the film, an affecting sequence of still images that sets the tone and propels our expectations. Before anyone sets food on screen, the audience has been primed for one ultimate outcome – the destruction of Michael Corleone and potentially the entire Corleone dynasty. The Godfather Part III offers no misdirection; this film, unlike the first two chapters, promises only tragedy, it promises the end of our anti-hero Michael Corleone and potentially the entire Corleone family. It comes as no surprise to learn that Francis Ford Coppola wanted to name the film “The Death of Michael Corleone.”

The Godfather Part III embraces darkness. Perhaps this river of bleakness offers one reason that audiences failed to embrace the film. It entertains notions of mortality and regret rather than a celebration of machismo and initiative. There’s no measure of hope or optimism for the future. The aging and now ill Michael Corleone attempts to make amends for his familiar failures and repent for his crimes, to scrub clean the Corleone family name. He wants to rekindle the old world familial bonds that he’s eschewed in favor of money and power. The Don has lost sight of the tenant that his father, Vito Corleone, held most dear. Family first. If Don Vito Corleone represents the American Dreamer, Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III represents a cultural disillusionment with our greatest institutions. Capitalism. Religion. The nuclear family.

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The loss of the Godfather’s pro-active anti-hero from Parts I and II shifts the tone dramatically. Michael manages his diabetes, weighs the value of his life and attempts to return his misplaced focus to the family. His inaction and hesitancy to call for immediate retribution in the face of an obvious assault on the Corleone name takes on an air of defeatism, a far cry from the Michael Corleone that assassinated Sollozzo and McCluskey and launched his career in the family business. He’s staring down a modern world stripped of its moral compass and opting out.

In Michael’s stead, Part III instead provides Andy Garcia’s Vincent (Sonny’s illegitimate son) as the Corleone representation in this new world order. Leather-clad, brash and hyper-reactive, Vincent accepts the bestowal of Godfather status from Michael – an unthinkable development in the Corleone business model. Vincent isn’t even a Corleone. Management of the family business has been outsourced. Plus he’s having sex with his cousin Mary, Michael’s daughter. The corruption of the family from within.

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Vincent (Andy Garcia) striking back against a couple of low-level hitmen. 

Godfather Part III also benefits from Connie (Talia Shire) coming into her own as an invested and active member of the family rather than just a failed homemaker. She too represents a modern dynamic. The women were once relegated to a shadowed, maternal existence. Willingly naïve of the family business. Connie emerges as a strong central figure, giving orders during Michael’s incapacitation. One could write an entire book on Connie’s journey to investiture in the family business and how that represents the emergence of feminism in the Godfather narrative. She becomes perhaps the most interesting figure in the entire saga.

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Connie rise to power charts a fascinating course through the Godfather Trilogy.

The obvious criticism of Part III remains Sofia Coppola’s portrayal of Mary. It is unfair to judge the Godfather Part III on Sofia Coppola alone. Yes, she’s distracting. She’s an amateur acting alongside Diane Keaton, Al Pacino and Andy Garcia. She was destined for failure. Context is important, however. Winona Ryder dropped out of the production at the last minute. Coppola, fearing that Paramount would pull the plug on the whole film, asked his daughter to fill the role as an emergency measure to preserve the production. Without Sofia there might not have been a Godfather Part III at all. Just something to think about.

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Sofia Coppola is not an adequate scapegoat. This is no Christmas Jones, people.

There’s so much more to the film than Sofia Coppola’s performance that relying on that as criticism feels patently lazy. Intricately woven themes of redemption and mortality remain in play throughout the film. Part III offers a complex and multifaceted analysis of the ways in which power and money has corrupted not only Michael Corleones of the world but the greater institutions designed to protect us.

This sense of total corruption snowballs into a thirty-minute white-knuckle finale that rivals the baptismal conclusion of the first Godfather in terms of complex, layered cross-cutting. The opera assassination sequence features the most tense and thrilling moments in the trilogy. It is masterful filmmaking.

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George Hamilton photobomb at the opera.

Only a small bit of comic relief (supplied by Connie) breaks the persistent tension. And rightly so. This is the climax of the entire trilogy. The reckoning for past misdeeds coming to call on Michael in the form of a reaper-like assassin sent by his powerful enemies. The opera house becomes the gateway to the future of the Corleone family. The Corleone hopes and dreams, the plausibility of redemption all hang in the balance.

The film shocked me. I thought I’d merely forgotten, but aside from certain culturally accumulated catchphrases, I’d never really known it at all. The accepted and perceived order of the Godfather films clouded my judgment and distorted my conception of the film. I know now that many of these criticisms had merely been formed based on overly critical and small-minded comparisons.

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The Godfather Part III was not only worthy; in many ways it surpassed its supposedly greater elders. It’s not the cinematic perfection of its predecessors, but it tells a very human story, a very relatable story – and perhaps as a result it cuts too close and too deeply. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II allowed the viewer a measure escapist distance. The violence and human horror framed in otherness. As part of the mafia, as part of a narrow band of Italian immigrant experience. The Godfather Part III is the human condition – it is all of our stories.

 

 

So The Postman Always Rings Twice sizzles and fizzles.

As I have a tendency to do, I went overboard with my shame. This time I overindulged in The Postman Always Rings Twice penance. I watched the film and the 1981 remake (which we’ll not worry about for purposes of this conversation), but that wasn’t enough. So I tracked down a copy of James M. Cain’s anthology of noir novels and novellas at the library and read that. And that wasn’t enough. I learned that the 1943 Luchino Visconti film Ossessione was one of two earlier adaptations of the novella. So I found a copy of the Visconti and now I’m working on locating the 1939 French film Le Dernier Tournant with English subs. I’ve put my best Francophiles on the case.

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Why satisfy the Shame but continue on down this path of obsession? …or Ossessione?

Truth time. I watched the film and thought, “That’s it? That’s the movie I’ve been hearing so much about for so many years?” This is not disappointment; this is the danger of Cinema Shame — the damning expectation that comes along with the term “classic.”

I’m going to lay this out for you, reader. I found this uncontested (at least to my knowledge) classic to be a minor chore. I enjoyed the film, but never felt the film grip my lapels and hoist me up by my own petard. Film noirs should sizzle – a slow burn, a candlewick burning, dwindling until it folds onto itself upon the end credits. The layers of wrongdoing and malice eventually extinguished with one final gasp for air.

“Then I saw her. She had been out back, in the kitchen, but she came in to gather up my dishes. Except for the shape, she really wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.”

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Lana Turner’s first appearance in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Cain describes the Cora character as sulky and without any “raving beauty.” 

James M. Cain describes the first meeting between Frank and Cora in a way that portends the ugliness to come. Frank sees Cora and the sight drives him to combine sex and violence into an unsettling mélange. She’s no “raving beauty” he says, but notes her shape and especially her lips. The raw, animalistic aggression contained within the study of her her lips provides a platform for their relationship and the ugliness that it ultimately inspires.

If there was any doubt about Cora’s reciprocity, look no further than their first sexual encounter.

“I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers… ‘Bite me! Bite me!’

I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.”

When I first read this passage from the novel, I understood precisely why I’d felt underwhelmed by the 1946 classic. Not one part of me truly believed Lana Turner embodied “Cora” to John Garfield’s pitch-perfect “Frank.”

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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) purposefully references Cain’s popular source material, but ultimately undermines the thrilling ugliness of the novel.

Garfield’s very visage – scarred, mottled like that of a boxer – conveys Frank’s demons. As Cora later tells him, “you’re smart but you’re no good.” Even though I’d not read Cain’s prose before seeing the film, Garfield felt authentic. I, of course, brought in extratextual information. Garfield’s performances in films such as He Ran All the Way, Body and Soul, and Force of Evil all contributed to my expectations and acceptance.

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The flip side is of course Lana Turner’s enduring image. The pristine, Hollywood-groomed beauty of Lana Turner could not conjure the woman who married the slovenly Greek twice her age, the woman who displayed masochistic sexuality, the woman who helped author the plot to murder her husband. Lana Turner was not Cain’s Cora. After reading James M. Cain’s prose, the more convinced I became.

In order to go along with The Postman Always Rings Twice, one must believe in the uncontrollable animal magnetism between Frank and Cora. Though Cora certainly commits misdeeds in the film, she lacks the character’s purposeful impetus from the novella. In Tay Garnett’s film, she’s almost a passenger, propelled by Frank’s delusional self-prowess. She wields her sexual potency with no certain end. A more in-depth conversation about the film could explore how Lana Turner’s sexuality in The Postman Always Rings Twice merely entertains the audience’s gaze rather than also function in service of narrative propulsion.

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“No one can know what that means to a woman. To have to be around somebody that’s greasy and makes you sick to the stomach when he touches you. I’m not really such a hell cat, Frank. I just can’t stand it any more.”

Cain’s Cora lacks measurable self-confidence; Frank feeds her ego with his sexual aggression. She’s painted as an average beauty, one consumed by the attention bestowed upon her by Frank. Lana Turner presents the self-assurance of someone who’d never be wanting for male companionship or attention. That she’d ever become the wife of an owner of a greasy diner or that she’d turn her life upside down for a wandering miscreant ring false. I can’t fault the casting of Lana Turner here, because her presence in this film belongs in the realm of pure spectacle, but I can also challenge the casting choice as a detriment to the merit of the film.

By definition the femme fatale is “a mysterious and seductive woman who whose charms ensnare her lovers, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.” The archetype figures prominently in the folklore and mythology of many ancient cultures including the Sirens of Greek mythology, most notably in Homer’s Odyssey.

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Sirens and Ulysses by William Etty, 1837.

I concede that Cora’s overt malice would likely have been marginalized by the production code. Double standards existed for female on-screen decorum. And this film had already pushed the boundaries of acceptable mainstream cinema. Cora’s character has been recalibrated as a partial victim.

I would argue that the on-screen portrayal shows that she did not pro-actively lead Frank astray, but rather that Frank nudged her astray and their obsession and plotting gathered momentum like a snowball. With that in mind I do not believe that she is acting as a true femme fatale. I think it is important to differentiate Cora’s actions from that of a character such as Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyillis in Double Indemnity. Phyillis manipulates Walter Neff from the moment he first walks in the door. If Lana Turner’s Cora manages Frank in this way, we don’t see that conveyed adequately on screen.

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Consider the conscious ways that Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) manipulates Walter Neff in Double Indemnity versus how Cora does not purposefully control Frank.

Turner’s performance is not wanting, however. And I must agree with the critics that cite her role in Postman as a dramatic landmark in her career. She charges her scenes with a shocking amount of eroticism for 1946 – especially considering the Production Code’s decade long fight to prevent this story from being seen by American audiences. I just do not see this character using her sexuality as man bait. Cain’s text clearly shows Cora manipulating Frank.

Critics don’t seem to agree with my judgment of her character. Writing in 2000, Stephen MacMillan Moser in the Austin Chronicle writes “from the first glimpse of her standing in the doorway in her white pumps, as the camera travels up her tanned legs, she becomes a character so enticingly beautiful and insidiously evil that the audience is riveted.” Even if you place Visconti’s Ossessione next to Tay Garnett’s Postman one can immediately notice differences in the way the two filmmakers went about establishing malice and intent in Cora.

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Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) starring Giovanna Bragana and Gino Costa. 

Ossessione portrays Cora as having clear and purposeful intent in a way Turner’s Cora does not. It may seem like splitting hairs to challenge a grade-A certified classic film noir over a subtle characterization, but after lining up all these various adaptations of Cain’s novel, Cora’s clear intent to kill her husband and manipulate Frank make this a far more interesting dynamic than a girl just getting swept up in a seedy romance.

Visconti’s Osessione and Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice perfect the minor keys that this Hollywood classic could not perfect or did not even attempt due to the watchful eye of the production code, abandoning the full depiction of femme fatalism by casting as unbesmirchable as Lana Turner.

I’m using my Shakespearean license to declare “unbesmirchable” a real word. I think that if you also line up all your Postman Always Rings Twices you will also come to see a similar value in the grit and grime of the Visconti. It might not be the certifiable grade-A certified piece of film noir, but it rings true. And maybe the answer is as simple as citing Visconti as a genius of understand emotional turmoil and Tay Garnett as a talented, but unspecialized cog in the studio machine. You be the judge.

So Zatoichi is kinda like James Bond, except blind – Vol. 1

I’ve had this Zatoichi Criterion box set on my shelf. It’s a very pretty box set, filled with lots of movies, 25 to be exact. After procuring the set for Christmas some years ago, I watched the first Zatoichi film, The Tale of Zatoichi. What a superb film!

And then there was silence.

I don’t have an explanation. I just have SHAME.

Last year for my Cinema Shame, list I vowed to complete the set. The 24 other Zatoichi films. This in addition to my regular allotment of SHAME. It might come as no surprise that I failed in this endeavor. But this is a new year, with new lists and new motivation. I’ve made certain promises to myself. That I will watch more, read more, write more. I promised to be better to myself and ignore the noise that has distracted me from doing the things I love. Noise is the urge to pick up my phone for no good reason and scroll through social media bullshit. Noise is a DVR filled with episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I haven’t actively wanted to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory in years.

For January, I began my journey (and my 2017 Shame) through this Zatoichi set once more. To make this exercise more manageable, I’ll break the massive word-spewing down into a few different posts. I’ll watch four Zatoichi movies per month and leave my thoughts here for you to consider.

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Gawkers consider the lowly masseur/legendary swordsman in The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

The first Zatoichi film, The Tale of Zatoichi, showcases a potent character study about the friendship between two warriors (with elevated moral codes) on opposite sides of a clan dispute. Light on swordplay, long on philosophy — but effective at establishing the cavernous division between the moral right and the moral wrong with a conservation of action and language. Our blind, pacifist swordsman vs. a world of human ugliness.

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So I’m back to fight the evil Shame in ’17

I screwed the pooch last year. I drafted an elaborate Shame Statement from here to Baja, California and I made a wrong turn at Albuquerque. Okay, I lied. I made a wrong turn in Columbus, Ohio, likely when I needed a White Castle fix.

We don’t have any White Castles in Pittsburgh, okay!?!?

I don’t want to get into the ways in which I failed my Shame Statement. It would just be rehashing old wounds. Instead, I’m going to move on. I’m going to move on from 2016 and all that mess and my blown Shame Statement. 2017 is a new year. New Shame. New rules. No more Mr. Nice 007hertzrumble.

Let’s get back to the basics. 12+ movies. 12 months.

I’ve again consulted my handy dandy Entertainment Weekly Guide.

EW GUIDE TO THE GREATEST MOVIES EVER MADE

I’ve lost the benefit of free will this year due to my failings in 2016. For my first Shames, I’m taking the first unwatched entry in each genre and moving forward.

DRAMA:

#1. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942) – #16 Drama

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Honestly, I’ve never felt shame for not having seen The Magnificent Ambersons, but the book shames me. So I will oblige.

 

#2. Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970) – #20 Drama

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I’ve planned to watch Five Easy Pieces for years, decades. I’ve just never done. I’ve owned the film on DVD and I just recently upgraded to Blu-ray. That makes sense, right? I’ll watch it twice to make amends. I watched a few clips during film school and the sense of having seen it probably proves detrimental to the actual, legitimate watching.

 

COMEDY:

#3. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925) – #25 Comedy

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Another film school casualty. In fact, I could probably blame film school for my woeful lack of Chaplin, whereas I’ve devoured both Keaton and Lloyd. Having seen dozens of individual moments from Chaplin films, my memory gets a little foggy regarding the ones I’ve actually watched start to finish.

 

#4. It’s a Gift (Norman C. McLeod, 1934) – #29 Comedy

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The TCM Slapstick Fall class sold me on catching up on my W.C. Fields education. I’ll retitle this section of my Shame Statement “It’s a Shame!”

 

ACTION/ADVENTURE:

#5. The Black Pirate (Albert Parker, 1926) – #8 Action

black-pirate-1926-movie-still

Apparently I’m pretty well versed in Errol Flynn, so the Book has dictated that Douglas Fairbanks requires attention. So it goes.

 

WESTERN:

#6. Ride the High Country (Sam Peckinpah, 1962) – #7 Western

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There’s only so many times I can write about how I’m going to watch this movie. And I’ve hit that limit. It’s not like I don’t like Peckinpah. I REALLY LIKE PECKINPAH. And it’s not like I haven’t watched dozens of B-level Randolph Scott movies. BECAUSE I’VE WATCHED DOZENS OF B-LEVEL RANDOLPH SCOTT MOVIES.

 

#7. My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946) – #10 Western

my-darling-clementine-1946

I bought the Criterion Collection edition of My Darling Clementine for just such a Shameful occasion.

 

MYSTERY/SUSPENSE:

#8. The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946) – #8 Mystery/Suspense

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Postman currently resides on my DVR, which is handy.

 

HITCHCOCK

#9. Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948)

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It’s a Hitchcock movie starring my favorite actor. SHAME. All caps.

 

#10. Lifeboat (Alfred Hitchcock, 1944)

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I figure one good Hitchcock movie set in one spot deserves another.

 

HORROR:

#11. Henry: Portait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1986) – #13 Horror

henry-portrait-of-a-serial-killer-review

Truth time. I really don’t want to watch this movie. I’ve been told to watch this movie. I’ve read how amazing it is. Everyone seems to think this movie is the absolute bees knees. I’ll save this for October and my 31 Days of Horror Movie Marathon when maybe I can trick myself into watching this by putting it in the Tremors 4 case.

 

MUSIC:

#12. Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1986) – #15 Music

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When one of my favorite bands has done a rockumentary and I haven’t watched it that’s pitch-perfect SHAME, friends.

 

#13. The Commitments (Alan Parker, 1991) – Personal Pick

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This is a movie that fits squarely in the “I’m going to f’ing love this” box and I haven’t seen it. I know it might not be your particular ball and chain, but knowing I haven’t watched this weighs heavily on my conscious.

 

#14. Viva Las Vegas – (George Sidney, 1964) – Elvis Shame

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1964 Elvis and Ann-Margret, directed by George Sidney. Time to fix this oversight.

 

LONG PLAYS:

Zatoichi Criterion Box (Various, 1964-1973)

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I started this endeavor last year. I did not finish. Carry on, Zatoichi.

 

I’m determined to take on 2017 with everything I’ve got. No more Mr. Passive Resistance. I’m here to kick some Shame butt.

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31 Days of Horror: 2016 Shame-a-thon

For the past few years, I’ve gathered the fearless masses during these pre-Halloween weeks, encouraging them to indulge in a horror movie shame-a-thon, sponsored by Cinema Shame. The notion was simple. List 31 unseen horror movies you feel obligated to watch and tackle as many as you can during the month of October.

It may seem impossible, but October’s creeping up on us all yet again. I know this, you see, because it’s my birthday tomorrow and my birthday is a harsh reminder. The whole end of summer, end of one more year of existence combo-malaise. Pumpkin picking, hay rides, apple cider, arguing about costumes with small people… and then Halloween.

This year, I’m again following my Cinema Shame method, but adding a new twist. Fellow Pittsburgher @ElCinemonster has been organizing his Hoop-Tober Challenge on Letterboxd.com for three years now. Each year he lays down some challenges to help guide the viewing of his monstrous minions. Anyway, that’s been a smashing success, and I’ve enjoyed watching the event from afar. This year I’ve decided to combine my Cinema Shame Horror Shame-a-thon with @ElCinemonster’s Hoop-Tober Challenge to create the most unwieldy title in the history of movie blogging and watching.

Welcome to the 2016 CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile 31 Days of Horror Shame-a-thon

31 days of horror 2016

So let’s lay down the laws, shall we? Continue reading