Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

24 June 2024

SleuthSisters, Movies, and the Bechdel Test: Part II

The last time our beloved SleuthSayer buddy John Floyd, who everyone agrees watches way too many movies, listed his favorites, fellow SleuthSayer Melodie Campbell and I both commented, "You are such a guy, John!" What did we mean? What does John's love for Casablanca, The Godfather, and The Big Lebowski have to do with gender? Aren't they all great films? Yes, but. Melodie gave me the best way yet to explain why many women may admire these films but not necessarily adore them when she told me about the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test, created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who now says she was only kidding at the time but thinks it's cool that it's worked so well and come to mean so much to women who love movies, is a simple three-part measure to apply to any movie.

Does the movie have at least one scene in which (1) two women characters talk (2) to each other (3) about a subject other than a man (or men)?

I grew up in a household in which the women—me, my mother, and my sister—outnumbered the lone man, my dad. Add in a gaggle of loquacious aunts, maternal and paternal, on holidays—I've recently learned that the linguistic technical term for the constant interrupting in any New York Jewish gathering is called "overlapping" and is a feature of our "dialect"—and the men could barely get a word in edgewise. At age 92, my mother, who by then called herself "the oldest living lawyer," made friends with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was twenty years younger. The first time they had lunch together, we asked Mom, "What did you talk about?" "Everything!" she said. And that's what I want women in movies to talk about too.

In Part I, my SleuthSister Melodie discussed why it's important for all of us to have movies that pass the Bechdel test: for some, characters that we can relate to and admire; for others, frequent reminders that women have more interesting things to talk about than men, men, men.

If you missed Melodie's post, you can read it here.

Now, here are some examples: 26 (a double baker's dozen!) wonderful movies that pass the Bechdel Test (in no particular order):

1. Enchanted April
Four women seeking respite from their lives in dreary post-World War I London are unexpectedly transformed by a month in a castle in Italy.

2. Hidden Figures
Black women's work as mathematicians at NASA was crucial to America's success in the Space Race; their story is finally told.

3. The Help
The women who work as maids to the young white wives of Jackson, Mississippi just before the Civil Rights movement risk their jobs and their safety to tell a woman journalist the truth about how they're treated.

4. Nyad
A woman in her sixties comes back from repeated failures to swim from Cuba to Florida, with the support of the woman friend who coaches her.

5. Fried Green Tomatoes
Two pairs of women form enduring friendships: a modern housewife in need of empowerment with an old woman in a nursing home and an independent woman in the 1920s with an abused wife in need of an escape route.

6. Little Women
Four sisters share dreams and ambitions in Civil War-era New England. Seven movies have been made of the novel that more American women still read for pleasure than men read Moby Dick or Huckleberry Finn.

7. Erin Brockovich
A single mother fights environmental crime and corporate greed in a small community.

8. Norma Rae
A millworker finds her voice when she leads a fight to unionize.

9. Made in Dagenham
Women strike for equal pay at a Ford plant in Britain.

10. Songcatcher
A woman in the 1930s goes to Appalachia to collect folksongs and learns more than she expects to.

11. Beaches Two very different women's lifelong friendship begins and is renewed on beaches.

12. Marvin's Room
A dying woman seeks a bone marrow transplant from members of her dysfunctional family.

13. Howard's End
Two Edwardian sisters devoted to each other, culture, and their independence diverge on issues of class and how to use their privilege for good.

14. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
A group of aging British women and men relocate to India in hopes of a more satisfying life in their later years.

15. Still Alice
A brilliant woman facing early onset dementia struggles to connect with her daughters while she can.

16. Monsoon Wedding
The prospect of a wedding stirs up secrets in a prosperous Indian family.

17. National Velvet
A little girl with an eccentric but loving family dreams of winning the Grand National on a horse she won in a raffle.

18. Nine to Five
Three women friends plot revenge against their abusive boss

19. Girl, Interrupted
Two girls in a locked psychiatric institution become friends.

20. After the Wedding
The birth mother and adoptive mother of the bride meet, and their complicated history is revealed.

21. Calendar Girls
A group of respectable British women raise money by posing nude for a calendar.

22. Bend It Like Beckham
Two girls from different backgrounds become friends after being rivals at football (soccer to Americans).

23. Boys On the Side
Three young women join forces on a road trip that becomes a trip on the run.

24. Julia
The writer Lillian Hellman tries to help her friend Julia, who works against and is ultimately killed by the Nazis.

25. Outrageous Fortune
Two actresses who hate each other become friends in a mashup of buddy, spy, and caper movie.

26. Steel Magnolias
The women in a small Louisiana town shares their joys and sorrows at the local beauty salon.

How many of these have you seen?

22 May 2024

Voyage to the Bottom of the Barrel:
Hillbillys in a Haunted House


If you ever find yourself striving to solve the mystery of what is the worst motion picture ever made, follow the trail no further than Hillbillys [sic] in a Haunted House. The film has everything a 1940s Poverty Row horror comedy should have: aging horror movie actors and no-talent leads; a story in which the creepy “haunted” house turns out to be a lair for foreign spies; substandard special effects, and college theatre production values. There’s even a gorilla in a cage in the basement. The problem is that it wasn’t made in the 1940s. Hillbillys in a Haunted House─ which is remembered today (if at all) for the casting of Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney Jr., and John Carradine as the spies──was shot in late 1966 and released the following year.

Even if it had been made in the 1940s (with the same cast!) it would be a wretched film, but asking audiences to accept this antiquated mess it a year before Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead is simply insulting.

Produced specifically for the Southern theatrical circuit, the film was the follow up to producer Bernard Woolner’s 1966’s gem Las Vegas Hillbillys, which starred country singer Ferlin Husky, perennial starlet Mamie Van Doren, and novelty songwriter Don Bowman. Husky and Bowman returned for Hillbillys, but Van Doren was replaced by Joi Lansing, a road company Jayne Mansfield who never quite made it to stardom (for the record, the real Mansfield also appeared in Las Vegas Hillbillys).

While Husky was no actor, there is some entertainment value in his imitation of a werewolf transformation any time he goes for a high note. The dyspeptic Bowman is ostensibly the film’s comedy relief, and to be fair, he is funnier than Jack Lord. But only barely. As for Lansing, she can sing (if not act) and no one filled out a chambray shirt better.

Hillbillys in a Haunted House begins with these three Dixiefied “Bowery Boys” surrogates motoring their way to a Country Music Jamboree in Nashville, but before long they find themselves in the middle of a gun battle between two spies and the police─ literally in the middle. Their luxury convertible is the only thing separating the guns-a-blazin’ shooters. When the bullets stop flying, they move on and decide to shelter for the night in an old plantation house where “terrifying” things begin to happen, all orchestrated by the spies who work for a wannabe Dragon Lady named “Madame Wong” (played with Acquanetta-level incompetence by Linda Ho). The goal is to infiltrate a nearby missile factory (something every small town should have).

Having last worked together in the threadbare 1956 shocker The Black Sleep

, Rathbone, Chaney, and Carradine were by this point on the downslide, Carradine slightly less so than the others given his propensity for jumping from quality films to utter dreck and back again, stopping only long enough to cash the paychecks. Here he seems to be amusing himself by overplaying and mugging. Chaney’s stardom was over by the late 1940s, but he established a reputation as a reliable character actor throughout the ‘50s. By the ‘60s, though, he was in an alcohol-fueled descent. Still, he managed to contribute the movie’s sole dramatically effective moment by stepping out of the general silliness and into cold-blooded killer mode for a rather chilling murder scene.

The saddest part of watching Hillbillys in a Haunted House is seeing the great Basil Rathbone struggling through his last film (he died only two months after its release). Once the cinema’s top villain, then its preeminent Sherlock Holmes, Rathbone in later years found himself adrift in a changing youth-and-realism-oriented Hollywood. Always in need of money to support his wife’s legendary, extravagant party-giving, he was forced to accept roles in drive-in pictures, do spoken word records, and shill Leisy Beer on television just to keep going. Unable to muster up much energy or enthusiasm, Rathbone underplays his role and his trademark crisp speech is somewhat slurred with age and illness. But at least he appeared to have read the script, unlike Carradine, who at one point calls Rathbone’s character “George” when it’s supposed to be “Gregor.”

Once the spies are rounded up by a stalwart G-Man played by Richard “Captain Midnight” Webb, our three heroes get back on the road to Nashville, crooning the same lame song they started with (in fact, it’s the same footage). But before the viewer can thank the deity of their choice for the film being over, the action shifts to the Music Jamboree and goes on for another fifteen minutes. A parade of country “stars” take the stage, ranging from well-known Merle Haggard to somebody named Marcella Wright (maybe they knew who she was in the South). After numbers by Bowman, Husky, and Lansing, the film finally comes to an end. At least it stops.

Someone named Duke Yelton wrote Hillbillys in a Haunted House, making it a compendium of every hokey, cornball Halloween gag in the book, from the ubiquitous ape in the basement to flying a sheet around a string to simulate a ghost. Yelton never scripted another film (for which we should all be grateful). Jean Yarbrough, the picture’s director, on the other hand, was a prolific Hollywood hack whose most notorious movie is 1940’s The Devil Bat, featuring Bela Lugosi and a giant rubber bat wobbling around on wires. Yarbrough is best remembered for his work with Abbott and Costello, particularly in their television series, but here his clumsy staging and inability to elicit any convincing performances falls short of even the TV standards of the time short of even the TV standards of the time.

If nothing else, suffering through 86 minutes of Hillbillys in a Haunted House makes one realize that, despite his best efforts, the legendary Ed Wood, Jr. did not make the worst film ever. Reportedly, a 1969 epic called The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals, also with Carradine, is every bit as atrocious as Hillbillys in a Haunted House. But I have no interest in finding that out for myself.

05 May 2024

How the West has Worn

What defines a Western? Many argue it’s an American phenomenon although European filmmakers have left a sizable stamp. It’s more than six-guns and shootouts and Mama, fetch the rifle.

To me, their morality plays with clearly delineated rôles, good and evil, male and female, peace and violence. Good triumphs over wickedness and although we vicariously enjoy violence in pursuit of justice, peace eventually reigns. All becomes right with the world.

List of Lists

I was thumbing through my feed when it decided I needed more exposure to Westerns. The internet is loaded with articles about the 10 Best Westerns and the 20 Best Western Actors. More than most genres,  opinions differ wildly but not violently. An actor at the top of one list doesn’t appear on other lists at all. I was surprised one film list opened with WestWorld and The Three Amigos comedy on the list. Are those even Westerns?

So be it. When we were children, lists in no special order might include:

 1. Roy Rogers11. Richard Boone
 2. Gene Autry12. Jimmy Stewart
 3. Clayton Moore13. Michael Landon
 4. Jay Silverheels14. Dan Blocker
 5. Duncan Renaldo15. Hugh O’Brian
 6. James Arness16. Gene Barry
 7. James Garner17. Josh Randall
 8. Steve McQueen18. William Boyd
 9. Chuck Connors19. Lash La Rue
10. Clint Walker20. … and many more

Haboob has watched more Westerns than Sergio Leone’s film editor. Some of her favorites are obscure, some she’s watched many times. Her popularity list runs thus:

 1. John Wayne 4. Sam Elliot
 2. Walter Brennan 5. Barbara Stanwick
 3. Yul Brynner 6. Maureen O’Hara

Frankly, I’m not sure Haboob could be trusted in a room alone with Sam Elliot. Similarly, Sharon’s list goes like this:

 1. Kevin Costner 4. no one worth mentioning
 2. Kevin Costner 5.  
 3. Kevin Costner 6.  

To me, the mark of a good film is what we remember five or ten years after viewing it. Some blockbusters (i.e, The French Connection) have left few memory traces, but other less popular movies had scenes that stuck. My own list isn’t as well considered, but I’d hazard my favorite actors include:

 1. Clint Eastwood 5. John Wayne
 2. Lee Van Cleef 6. Charles Bronson
 3. Henry Fonda 7. Jack Elam
 4. Yul Brynner 8. umm…

Jack Elam had a wandering eye. No, not that kind, although he was once called the most loathsome man in Hollywood. Sadly, two of my favorites have been called Mr. Loathsome and Mr. Ugly. Elam injured his eye as a child and it became a kind of trademark, terrifying children with his bad guy portrayals in B-movie after movie Westerns. He appears so often, that he earned a kind of audience affection and went on to become a leading man and even starred in comedies.

I put Fonda on my list not because of his heroic rôles, but when he played a bad guy with chilling ice-cold blue eyes. Fans could easily believe the presence of evil. His interaction with Charles Bronson is memorable.

Since I was a kid, Lee Van Cleef fascinated me. When spaghetti Westerns emerged, Ol’ Squinty Eyes came into his own. He seconded Eastwood in a couple of man-with-no-name Westerns and starred in his own, once matched against a knife-thrower and a psychotic German bounty hunter. He also starred in a near-Western as a ferry operator facing off against an army.

My favorite of the man-with-no-name series was the middle one, A Few Dollars More. Many will challenge that, although I think John mentioned he agreed. The most humane of the films, it combines an intriguing plot with a poignant relationship between bounty hunters Van Cleef and Eastwood. We can see Eastwood doesn’t mind poking fun at himself and we discover Van Cleef is a better nimrod than Eastwood himself.

Train Spotters

I’ll end with a clip not of Van Cleef, but of Eastwood chatting up an old man in his shack by the railroad. The scene is unusual in that you simultaneously know and don’t know what’s coming, laughing when you least expect it.

  To Kill a Dead Man @ Portishead


In modern slang, nimrod means fool, but in traditional use dating back to Biblical times, nimrod refers to a good hunter, a good shot with gun or bow.

13 March 2024

The Roaring 20's

Raoul Walsh made some terrific pictures, some of them in fact great.  You can make a good argument for High Sierra, Pursued, and White Heat, but even the movies that aren’t obvious masterworks are pretty damn rousing: They Died with Their Boots On, Gentleman Jim, Colorado Territory, The World in His Arms, The Revolt of Mamie Stover.  He made four features with Cagney, and probably only Wellman, in The Public Enemy, had more to do with shaping Cagney’s screen persona.  He made ten features with Flynn, and while it’s safe to say Michael Curtiz invented the dashing Flynn swashbuckler most of us think of - Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk - it’s Walsh who gets more out of Flynn the actor. 

Another thing about Walsh is that he sets up bits of business that reverberate well past their actual time on screen.  There’s a throwaway gag fairly early in The Roaring Twenties that’s not only one of the coolest things in Walsh, it turns out to be one of the coolest things in the history of the movies.  (Since it’s a visual joke, I can’t really do justice to it, but here goes.)  Cagney meets Priscilla Lane and falls head over heels.  He squires her home on the late train, from midtown Manhattan to someplace out in the sticks, maybe Yonkers. Cagney mutes the trademark Cagney wiseacre, and delivers enormous yearning and charm.  In the end, she’s fated to wind up with the straight-arrow DA instead of the roguish bootlegger, but in the immediate present, you can entertain the same hopes he does.  The moment is suspended, a single note hanging in the air, like the chime of a wineglass, the two of them completely taken up with each other, a private physical space for themselves alone, but keeping a delicate distance, hoping not to break the spell.  They get to the last stop, where she’s going to get off, and he gets off with her, to walk her home from the station – because he’s still not ready to leave the moment behind – and here’s the kicker.  Cagney and Priscilla Lane haven’t been shot in close-up, i.e., a shot of his face, a reverse of hers, an alternating visual dialogue; they’re shot together, over the back of the seat in front of them, so you don’t get the feeling they’re opposed: they’re in the same frame.  Walsh also frames the scene, at the beginning and the end, in a longer shot, that shows the whole carriage, with Cagney and Lane about two-thirds of the way back in the nearly empty car.  Not entirely empty.  Toward the front of the car, closest to the camera, is a passed-out drunk, with his hat over his face.  When the train pulls up, and Cagney and Lane get off, the camera waits behind for a beat, and the drunk startles awake, realizing it’s his stop, and stumbles out of the carriage.  Your laugh breaks the spell.

This scene on the train prefigures Garfield and Beatrice Pearson in the back of the cab in Polonsky’s Force of Evil, and the even more famous scene between Brando and Rod Steiger in On the Waterfront.  You can see its influence in the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple, when the camera tracks along the bar, and bumps over the sleeping drunk, and then settles back down to surface level – instead of effectively dollying through him, because in the convention or conceit of movie-world, the camera takes no notice of such physical obstacles, a wall or a window, a speeding car, a piece of furniture.  The camera, first of all, is omniscient, and secondly, it doesn’t exist in the same physical space as an object or an actor.  It’s a ghost, it isn’t present.

Walsh doesn’t break the Fourth Wall, that’s not where I’m going.  And he doesn’t call attention to himself.  He’s not doing a Hitchcock, inviting you behind the curtain.  He’s very straightforward.  In fact, the story goes that he’d turn his back on a scene, and then turn around and ask his cameraman if it went right, as if he were embarrassed to be a grown man, doing something this stupid to make a living.  But look at the way he sets stuff up, the scaling, the intuitive balance between the epic and the intimate.  Ward Bond has an amazing cameo in Gentleman Jim as John L. Sullivan, the bare-knuckles heavyweight champ that Corbett knocks out in the ring.  He comes, literally hat in hand, to the door of the victory party, and when Corbett asks him in, Sullivan says no.  He’s the past, he tells him, an old punch-drunk palooka with cauliflower ears; Corbett’s the future, what the Irish can aspire to.  The most astonishing thing about it is that you can easily imagine this with Ward Bond, or maybe Victor McLaglen, in the hands of John Ford, and watch it get grossly oversold.  It’s sentimental, but Walsh has the sense not to play it for sentiment. 

Another example.  Custer leaves for the Little Big Horn, in They Died with Their Boots On.  (Even in sympathetic biographies, Custer comes across as a bully, if never a physical coward; Flynn, interestingly, plays him as ingratiating and thick-witted, exaggerating his own least likables.)  It’s the last time Libby Custer will see her husband alive.  (Libby devoted her widowhood to promoting the Custer legend, the golden-haired Achilles of the Plains; she was remarkably successful.  Olivia de Havilland is a sympathetic Libby, but the real woman had ice in her veins.)  The way Walsh shows it, Custer kisses her goodbye and steps away, out of the frame.  The camera draws back slightly, a medium shot, Libby in the lamplight.  She’s standing stiffly, as if posed for a daguerrotype, her eyes wide, her mouth barely parted, one hand resting on the dresser next to her, the other clutched to the front of her dress, and then she crumples, all of a piece.  I think there’s a sudden pulled focus, just as it happens, a quick trick of the lens, that underlines her abandonment, but I’m not quite sure.  It might be something my own eye added.

And the justly famous tracking shot in White Heat, in the prison mess hall, first from right to left - Cagney asking how his mom’s doing, passed down the line of cons to Edmond O’Brien – and then back from left to right – the word that she’s dead, all of it done in pantomime, and then Cagney, zero-to-sixty, batshit psycho in a tenth of a second.  Word is, the scene wasn’t shot as written, Cagney and Walsh set it up without warning the extras, and Cagney took it to the bank. 

The Roaring Twenties was released in 1939, which was one hell of a year for pictures, and you can make a case that it caps the Warner Bros. gangster picture.  It hits all the marks, with plenty of vigor, but the movie’s a swan song for the genre. Cagney personifies this.  The Roaring Twenties is one of his most physical performances.  Mark Asch, in his essay for the Criterion DVD release, points out that he seems to think with his body, that he expresses all his energies and emotions with it, his hands, the balls of his feet, the way his eyes change.  He’s always restless, in motion, checking the threat environment. And as the picture winds down, he loses that intensity, that muscular purpose.  He turns into an old soak, living on memories.  His last gasp, when he comes out of hiding – from the promises he’s made himself – is like watching somebody try on a set of clothes that don’t fit anymore.  In the end, he lives up to his promises.

The Roaring Twenties is out on a new DVD restoration from Criterion, although not available on the Criterion Channel to stream. There’s a halfway decent print on YouTube, even if the subtitles are strange.

26 February 2024

Room of Ice

I have a new story, Room of Ice, and it appears in the new SleuthSayers' anthology Murder, Neat. The alcohol reference in the anthology's title is on purpose. All the stories in the book have a finger, or other, in a drinking establishment. A glass or two of my story is set in a London pub.

Story settings aside, drinking establishments are excellent places to tell a story. The social atmosphere, comfortable seats, warmth, and alcohol invites (nay, demands) story telling. When the wine comes in, the wit comes out. I mean, if you're sitting there with a group of friends, you've got to do something while you're drinking. And pretty soon, someone will be off and running with a tale, tall or otherwise.

Our desire to gather with friends somewhere warm and convivial, and tell a story, is innate. And it predates drinking. Many thousands of years ago, our caveman ancestors sat around the fire on dark winter evenings. The whole clan. The extended family. They'd spent the day hunting and gathering, they'd eaten. They sat there sated and sleepy, nothing else to do – drawing pictures on the cave wall was so last era. Someone said, "You know, a funny thing happened to me today. There was this woolly mammoth…" And off he or she went, running with a tale, tall or otherwise.

The invention of alcohol meant there was now something to do while the stories were being told. And that swiftly led to the creation of places to do all of this in: pubs, inns, bars, taverns, and so on. The public living room.

I digress.

So, what's my story (Room of Ice) about? Well, no spoilers, it's about two things: Hammer Films and perception.

Hammer Film Productions is a British film production company that had its heyday from the mid-1950s to the 1970s. They specialised in horror films with a Gothic flavour (e.g., vampires, mummies, Frankenstein). Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were probably the studio's two biggest stars. According to Wikipedia, the studio made 295 films (between 1934-2019). In addition to horror, Hammer also produced science fiction, thrillers, noir, and comedies. I grew up watching Hammer Horrors (along with their American counterparts, the Vincent Price Edgar Allen Poe movies).

In my story, I imagine Hammer made a horror film in 1959 called Room of Ice.

My story is from the point of view of a middle-aged man – "Tim" – who, as a child, was an extra in that movie. Tim tracks down the movie's now elderly star, because he has, in later life, remembered something about the filming – something he saw. It isn't a spoiler to say that Tim is a blackmailer.

This is a story about perception. Something witnessed as a five-year-old, and then remembered at 45, with a now adult's perspective of the world (my story is set in 1999).

Room of Ice is about movies (I'm film mad, don't you know?). Making them, remembering them, worshipping them. And, as such, I made a trailer for the story to help promote it. And rather than do my usual, I made a "movie trailer" for an imagined re-release of the movie Room of Ice. You can watch the trailer here:

Well, I'm off to read all the other stories in the anthology. Should be a treat!

03 December 2023

The Spy Who Shunned Me

I was glancing at a not-so-recent ‘Best 100 Spy Movies of All Time’, thinking it was right up the dark alley of our spymaster, David Edgerley Gates. If you did something extremely stupid, he could make you disappear.

male spy in trenchcoat carrying smoking gun

And then I noticed something stupid.

Where was Ipcress File? And Day of the Jackal? Manchurian Candidate? Riddle of the Sands? Casablanca? And where the hell was 39 Steps? And why the Hail Freedonia was Duck Soup in the list? Hey, I love the Marx Brothers but it bears as much resemblance to a spy movie as Margaret Dumont does to John le Carré.

I had to stop because so many possibilities flooded my mind. The article should be retitled ‘100 Pretty Good kinda-Spy Movies of Small Time, Give or Take.’ I bet David could name many more.

So here is the core of Stacker’s list followed by a few unranked suggestions of my own.

100Body of Lies2008Ridley Scott 50Clear and Present Danger1994Phillip Noyce
99Salt2010Phillip Noyce 49Rogue One: A Star Wars Story2016Gareth Edwards
98Moonraker1979Lewis Gilbert 48Breach2007Billy Ray
97Never Say Never Again1983Irvin Kershner 47Spy2015Paul Feig
96Shadow Dancer2012James Marsh 46Eye in the Sky2015Gavin Hood
95Octopussy1983John Glen 45Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol2011Brad Bird
94The Man from U.N.C.L.E.2015Guy Ritchie 44The Bourne Identity2002Doug Liman
93The Informant!2009Steven Soderbergh 43Red Cliff2008John Woo
92The Eagle Has Landed1976John Sturges 42Emperor and the Assassin1998Kaige Chen
91Atomic Blonde2017David Leitch 41Flame & Citron2008Ole Christian Madsen
90Until the End of the World1991Wim Wenders 40Inherent Vice2014Paul Thomas Anderson
89You Only Live Twice1967Lewis Gilbert 39No Way Out1987Roger Donaldson
88Cloak & Dagger1984Richard Franklin 38Black Book2006Paul Verhoeven
87The Fourth Protocol1987John Mackenzie 37The Age of Shadows2016Kim Jee-woon
86RED2010Robert Schwentke 36Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation2015Christopher McQuarrie
85Mission: Impossible1996Brian De Palma 35The Bourne Supremacy2004Paul Greengrass
84Snowden2016Oliver Stone 34Europa Europa1990Agnieszka Holland
83Allied2016Robert Zemeckis 33Lady Vengeance2005Park Chan-wook
82The Matador2005Richard Shepard 32Dr No1962Terence Young
81Michael Collins1996Neil Jordan 31Inglourious Basterds2009Quentin Tarantino
80Eye of the Needle1981Richard Marquand 30The Imitation Game2014Morten Tyldum
79Horror Express1972Eugenio Martín 29The Man Who Knew Too Much1956Alfred Hitchcock
78Patriot Games1992Phillip Noyce 28The Quiet American2002Phillip Noyce
77OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies2006Michel Hazanavicius 27A Beautiful Mind2001Ron Howard
76The Front Line2011Jang Hoon 26Infernal Affairs2002Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
75Thunderball1965Terence Young 25Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy2011Tomas Alfredson
74The Hunt for Red October1990John McTiernan 24Ghost in the Shell1995Mamoru Oshii
73Spy Game2001Tony Scott 23The Constant Gardener2005Fernando Meirelles
72Mission: Impossible III2006J.J. 22Bridge of Spies2015Steven Spielberg
71Despicable Me 22013Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud 21Skyfall2012Sam Mendes
70True Lies1994James Cameron 20From Russia with Love1963Terence Young
69Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid1982Carl Reiner 19Casino Royale2006Martin Campbell
68The Falcon and the Snowman1985John Schlesinger 18Enter the Dragon1973Robert Clouse
67The East2013Zal Batmanglij 17The English Patient1996Anthony Minghella
66Official Secrets2019Gavin Hood 16Mission: Impossible: Fallout2018Christopher McQuarrie
65Lust, Caution2007Ang Lee 15The Conversation1974Francis Ford Coppola
64Sneakers1992Phil Alden Robinson 14House of Flying Daggers2004Yimou Zhang
63Fair Game2010Doug Liman 13Stalag 171953Billy Wilder
62Confessions of a Dangerous Mind2002George Clooney 12Goldfinger1964Guy Hamilton
61Charlie Wilson's War2007Mike Nichols 11The Bourne Ultimatum2007Paul Greengrass
60Kingsman: The Secret Service2014Matthew Vaughn 10Letters from Iwo Jima2006Clint Eastwood
59Three Days of the Condor1975Sydney Pollack 9Zero Dark Thirty2012Kathryn Bigelow
58GoldenEye1995Martin Campbell 8Le Petit Soldat1963Jean-Luc Godard
57Walk on Water2004Eytan Fox 7Barry Lyndon1975Stanley Kubrick
56Marcel Proust's Time Regained1999Raoul Ruiz 6The Departed2006Martin Scorsese
55Where Eagles Dare1968Brian G. 5Duck Soup1933Leo McCarey
54Top Secret!1984Jim Abrahams, Zucker Bros. 4The Lives of Others2006Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
53A Most Wanted Man2014Anton Corbijn 3Notorious1946Alfred Hitchcock
52The Spy Gone North2018Yoon Jong-bin 2Pan's Labyrinth2006Guillermo del Toro
51X-Men: First Class2011Matthew Vaughn 1North by Northwest1959Alfred Hitchcock
The 39 Steps1935Alfred Hitchcock Topaz1969Alfred Hitchcock
Day of the Jackal1973Fred Zinnemann Riddle of the Sands1979ony Maylam
The Ipcress File1965Sidney J Furie Casablanca1842Michael Curtiz
The Manchurian Candidate1962John Frankenheimer Dark of the Sun1968Jack Cardiff

male spy in trenchcoat carrying smoking gun

For worst movie, I seem to recall Our Man Flint (1966), directed by Daniel Mann, was embarrassingly awful.

What is your take? Enquiring spies want to know.

Check out Prohibition Peepers, a Michael Bracken anthology.

21 June 2023

This Film Rolls


 I'd like to tell you about a movie I saw recently, one which I suspect you have never heard of.

A funny thing about movies: Some of the best ones don't become immediate hits in part because the studio can't figure out how to market them.  And I'm not really blaming the studio. (Not for that, anyway. I'm happy to blame for a lot of other things.)

Consider three of my favorite flicks: Galaxy Quest, The Princess Bride, and A Christmas Story.  If you have seen them, ask yourself how to sum them up in one sentence (the so-called "logline") in a way that makes them sound irresistable or even appealing.  Well, a grandfather reads a sick child an old novel about a girl who falls in love with a farmboy, and there's a giant, and a Spanish swordsman, and Rodents of Unusual Size...

Eventually each of those movies became a cult classic, because of word of mouth.

I doubt if the  movie I'm about to describe is destined for cult status, but it is one that is hard to summarize in a helpful way.  Please don't reject it immediately when I describe it. One thing is for certain: the title doesn't help.

Kills on Wheels (2016) is a Hungarian movie (with subtitles) written and directed by Attila Till. The protagonist is Zoli, a young man who suffers from a birth defect which will kill him unless he has an operation.  He is tired of thinking about that and only wants to create graphic novels.  “Why am I always the cripple?  It’s someone else’s turn now.”

His roommate, Barba, suffers from a serious palsy condition.

Into their life comes Janos, who was a fireman until an on-the-job accident made him a paraplegic.  To say he is not adjusting well is a gross understatement.

Assassin and Boss

But now Janos is making serious money as a hit man for a Yugoslavian crime boss.  You may be saying: A disabled assassin? That's hard to believe.

And that's exactly what Janos' victims die thinking.

By this point you may be thinking this is a dumb exploitation flick: Supercrip shoots 'em up!  It isn't. There is a heck of a lot more going on than it may appear.  

The acting is very good but I especially want to take note of two actors who come to the field in unusual ways.  Zoltan Fenyvesi plays Zoli.  This is his first acting gig, after the director discovered him through his Instagram account, wheelchairguy.  And Dusan Vitanovics plays the sinister crime lord.  The actor's day job?  He's a neurosurgeon.

I saw the film on Kanopy.  I recommend it.