Saturday, December 31, 2011

Eva Zeisel 1906-2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

From My Archive. Lily Literary Review. December 2003

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

John Chamberlain 1927-2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Best Art Exhibits of 2011

My list of the best shows that I saw this year is not very large, mainly because I didn’t see that many shows, or that many shows that I liked. I saw a lot of bad, mediocre or overrated (B. Wurtz anyone?) exhibitions, and there were exhibitions by major artists that were anything but major (Jasper Johns and Richard Tuttle anyone) but to be fair It’s difficult to see everything because there is so much of everything.  Also of note were the really terrific works that passed in front of my eyes this year on Facebook, strong bodies of work by many of my facebook artist friends were at times more exciting and rewarding than what I saw in museums and galleries.  So in no order of preference is what I liked in 2011.

Lyonel Feininger: At the Edge of the World June 30–October 16, 2011  Whitney Museum. This is the kind of show that the Whitney does best, and they should lay off giving large shows to minor contemporary artists who do not deserve the attention or the recognition, and instead focus on the great and sometimes forgotten American artists who deserve the light that is usually withheld by museums like the Whitney who are way too much in awe of the flavors of the month. This was a beautiful and eye opening show for me, rich and full of Feininger’s lovely lyrical landscapes. Also notable were his roughhewed wooden toys.

Richard Serra-the metropolitan museum,  Gagosian Gallery. Two major shows by a forceful and pioneering sculptor who manages to manipulate space and weight with imagination and grace that is not usually found in minimal art. His large maze like sculptures at Gagosian were towering and tactile.

H.C. Westermann  Lennon, Weinberg Gallery. Any season that offers up a show of this great man’s work is indeed a good art season. I was just getting to know him as a friend when he passed at a way too early age. This was small but beautiful show that included a series of drawings that had never been shown before.

Richard Pousette-Dart-East River Studio-Luhring Augustine. This show was a revelation for me, I mean when was the last time I even thought of this artist. Every painting in the exhibit was absolutely brilliant and exciting. There was also some terrific sculptures.

Eva Hesse Spectres 1960. Brooklyn Museum. Not great paintings but interesting to see how they led this superb artist to her compelling sculptures, a few years later and while they were minimal were also eccentric and cranky with an inventiveness of materials that were an. Inspiration for a whole generation of artists including myself.  The clues in these works were her use of greys which would later show up in her sculptures. An unfinished life.

Youth and Beauty: Art Of The American Twenties.  Brooklyn  museum. I don’t think there was one bad work in this beautiful show and it works very well as a companion show to Hide/Seek, because of the many homoerotic works included.  

Hide/seek Difference and Desire In American Portraiture Brooklyn museum. Although flawed and predictable with a weak third act, this is a show that should be seen, and I’m indeed grateful that I had a chance to see it after its controversial run in the district of contempt.

George Tooker (1920-2011) Reality Returns As A dream: Memorial Exhibition DC Moore Gallery. A dream of a show by one of my favorite artists from my youth, this was one haunting exhibit and a rare treat to see so many of his works in one place.  

Wonder of the age. Master painters of india 1100-1900 metropolitan museum.  Beautifully installed and probably the best show to lose yourself in. 

Stieglitz and his artists: Matisse to O’Keeffe. Metropolitan museum of art. I was surprised by the size and scale of this show, I was expecting a small exhibit, so it was a treat for me to have rooms of Hartley’s and Dove’s. Granted some of his artists never please me much, especially Marin, but still the guy had a great eye for talent.

New galleries for the art of the arab lands. Metropolitan  museum of art. This is one of the great galleries in the city, and it’s so large and intense that I could only sample a little of it on my first visit and will be returning for many more samples.

Martín Ramírez: Landscapes Ricco Maresca Gallery. Way too small an exhibit for my money, but what was shown was magnificent.  His story and life were indeed sad, but what he left behind is so inspiring, this is work to get lost in. 

Matta: A Centennial Celebration-The Pace Gallery. This was another surprise for me, and if nothing else the size and scale of these works were impressive, plus all that color made for an impressive environment and finally one of these huge spaces gets it right.

de Kooning: A Retrospective. Museum Of Modern Art. Another great example of what the Museum of Modern Art does so well, and once again we have a major museum that is too focused on the now and not enough on the then, but this ravishing show makes up for their many blunders of recent years with regards to contemporary art and in particular with “installation and performance art.” I mean can it be that they finally get Fluxus?

Vivian Maier-Steven Kasher Gallery. A great photographer who almost got away, and suddenly and thankfully we have one of the great street photographers when nobody was looking. Saved from the garbage, this makes me think that there is indeed a God watching over us.  

Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art-The Museum Of Modern Art. A little too cramped and crowded this is what must be meant by the chickens coming home to roost. The murals were great, but I really loved his small sketches that he did in Russia.

John Chamberlain at Pace and Gagosian. No surprises here, except lots of great sculptures by one of our major sculptors who managed to mash together the car culture into big bright overwhelming  and yes beautiful pieces of expressionistic pop works that no one would have to worry about tripping over.

An Intimate Circle. Paul Cadmus,  Jared French, Margaret French, George Platt Lynes and George Tooker.  D.C. Moore. This was a beautiful show bringing together many rarely seen works including photographs by a group of friends most of whom were gay and who managed to put their  lives out there in sometimes coded images during a generally repressive time in our history. The works might seem precious and too particular for some tastes but I found it to be overall impressive in its  wide range of eroticism and fantasy.





Saturday, December 17, 2011

untitled paintings from the 80's Recently photographed

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Year Of Collages

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Last Collage of 2011

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Torch Has Been Passed.

Torch song-1953

Where was the great liberal head of M.G.M. Dore Schary when this movie was being filmed.  Put together on the cheap in garish color and with what looks like costumes and sets from other films and with Joan Crawford basically playing herself. What was she thinking, was she so hungry for the attention that she would play a "star" that is clearly based on her off screen persona and reputation for being a BITCH. This  drek was directed  by Charles Walters an out gay man who also should have known better, but we do get to see him dance (he was a major choreographer) with Joan who jumps at the chance to show off her gams. He pushes and pulls her around like a dead weight but he plays ineffectual screwing up their dance routine which of course is a ha ha in moment for those of us who recognize Walters.  Joan wearing a deep crimson slash where a mouth is usually found wears a horrible red unfeeling wig, smokes and drinks up a storm and bosses everyone who comes in her path. Her assistant is played by the African American actress Maidie Norman who in one scene throws daggers at Crawford with her eyes, looking like she wanted to smother Joan in her sleep with a pillow, and will turn up in a few years as Joan and Bette’s housekeeper in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? It’s a good moment because it feels improvised. Her blowsy and boozy mom is played by the veteran actress Marjorie Rambeau, who for some reason was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar for three short scenes. Michael Wilding who was bi and at the time married to Liz Taylor plays a blind pianist who takes over the job of playing for Joan during rehearsals for a show that is coming to Broadway. They have problems of course, even Mikes seeing eye dog hates Joan and growls whenever she comes near. It seems that Mike is in love with this gorgon because before the war (where he lost his vision) he was a critic and saw the young Joan in her debut on Broadway and fell in love with her, and still sees her in his mind as she was. And then there is that number that comes out of nowhere  (Joan’s singing  is dubbed India Adams) and is shocking not only for the racism but also for the sheer look of it. Joan, in brown face and looking like shiva, goddess of destruction is surrounded by a dancing chorus of clumsy male and females also in brown face who embarrassingly  dance and sing their way through a rejected  number from The Bad Wagon whose out takes featuring Cyd Charisse still exist.  Gig Young is also in it, and I couldn’t quite read his character, that’s how vapid he was.  The film itself is a gay romp if you know where to look and as awful as this film is, I couldn't stop watching this car accident of a movie.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

My upstairs neighbor has disappeared

My upstairs neighbor disappeared. Well she didn’t really disappear, her nephew and niece came from Maryland to take her back with them to a little room or apartment somewhere in that state. She’s 78 and not doing so well, imagining things that weren’t there, complaining about no heat, and claiming that she owned our building and was the landlord. So how about giving us some heat Maureen I jokingly asked her one chilly morning.  “I’m working on it” she replied. For a few days and nights I heard noise above me, things being moved, dropped and shoved around. What the hell was she doing up there I wondered. It turned out that Ken her nephew was up there packing up some of her things. He knocked on my door one evening to apologize for all the noise and asked if I wanted to come upstairs and pick out anything I wanted to take. At first I said no. I had more than enough things and was myself trying to downsize my own belongings and stuff, but I thought why not, and went up to have a look. “It’s all junk,” Ken said.  He was pretty much right in that department. The apartment was a mess, crowded and hoarded. Maureen had lived here all her life; she grew up here and, lived in this small apartment with her mother until she died. Maureen  remained there all these years. I thought she was a lesbian, and all the bowling trophies that were everywhere in the apartment cinched it for me and no I didn’t take any of them as a souvenir.  She took out her stove a few years back. “What do I need a stove for?”  she asked me. Over the years on and off she was trying to fix up her apartment herself, which included replacing the electricity. So the two bedrooms had no lights when I went up there to take a look. I was always appalled by her messiness and worried that it was a disaster just waiting to happen. Thank God she didn’t smoke. I guess I could have taken some things if I could have seen what was up there, and I know I could have gone back up there during the day, but it was too sad. I mean a life was being dumped. There were lots of photographs and some of her paintings that she did on Sundays, but I just walked out of there with a nice lime green bowl, that Peter’s Thanksgiving day mashed potatoes looked really nice in, and a cheap white ceramic Nativity scene whose figures I thought would look nice next to my colorful clay one that I bought in Baja so many years ago. I knew that soon the landlord would be gutting her apartment, ripping everything out, the floors, the walls, the toilet and anything else that he could tear out, so he could do a cheap renovation and charge big bucks for it. Maureen was paying $400.00 for it, but she had lived here since 1933. She was a good neighbor quiet and nice and now I hope that whoever moves in above me is also quiet and nice. So last night my landlord, who by the way is also a nice young man called to tell me that the renovation will start tomorrow and the worst should be over by Friday.  In the rain today the workers ripped, tore and threw out her life as I watched from my kitchen window.  The noise was very bad, so I took myself out in the rain to The Museum  Of  Modern Art to look at the Diego Rivera murals and all the cute boys from foreign countries.


No this is not Iowa or Kansas. I took snapped this disgusting foul thing on the 49th street subway station today coming home from The Museum Of Modern Art. The barbarians are indeed at the gate.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The best films I saw on dvd during 2011

This is not really a list of the best films of the year. Its simply a list of some really marvelous films that I saw on dvd and wrote about in 2011. There were 100’s of other films that I saw on dvd that I loved, liked or simply enjoyed that I didn’t write about.

Animal Kingdom, 2010.
Sensational first film from down under by David Michôd about a small time crime family living and dying in Melbourne. A perfect fit for the genre with standout performances by Ben Mendelsohn and 17 year old James Frecheville who plays the nephew of this highly dysfunctional and dangerous family. In a startling opening scene we see Frecheville on a couch watching tv with a woman who appears to be napping, but it turns out that she is dead from a heroin overdose and is his mother. He is soon brought back to the criminal lair by his grandmother played by Jacki Weaver the Matriarch of the brood and the mother of his dead mom. Looking like a dried up apple with a blonde wig, tiny Weaver plays the mother from hell in a hair raising performance that is low keyed with her cards held close to her chest so you really don’t know where she’s coming from or going. When she tells one of the characters “You've Done Some Bad Things, Sweetie” you want to duck and take cover. If there is any justice, she would be taking home an Oscar. The violence and blood letting is there but its not in your face gory or grisly. With Guy Pearce as a good cop trying to do his job. One of the years best films

The Films of Christopher Smith
Christopher Smith Is a youngish British horror movie director who is obviously very smart and knowledgeable about the genre. I’ve seen three of his films recently, all with one word titles, CREEP 2004, SEVERANCE 2006 and TRIANGLE 2009 and unfortunately like most contemporary films of this genre they tend to come undone and fall apart around my feet. Still he does have an original streak in his filmmaking and is full of good and odd ideas. He sets his films in places that one would not want to be caught dead in: a deserted “ghost ship”, an isolated cabin in Eastern Europe and the tunnels of the London underground and peoples them with very good attractive, and vulnerable (a given in this genre) young actors who are usually set upon by crazed maniacs and killers. Sounds like the usual set up for grizzly horror movies, but Smith has more going on in his vision and has more juice and talent than most directors who slosh around in the genre. Creep pits an attractive, but not particularly nice or endearing strong young woman against a horrible creature (and I do mean horrible, wait until your peepers get a gander at him) who lives in the London underground and kills at will. In Severance a group of young employers from a multi-national weapons company on a sales retreat get lost in the mountains of what might be Slovakia or Hungry and are killed off one by one a scary rogue group of soldiers, and in Triangle which is the most supernatural of the lot, a young group of friends go sailing and encounter very serious problems on the open sea. Sometimes droll and tongue in cheek, the films do offer up quite a few jolts and jumps without resorting to extreme violence and gore. Now that opinion is mine, a seasoned and hardened horror aficionado and some people might still find his films too violent and gory for their taste. If they do they have no business loitering around this genre, because yes there is blood and gore, but he also mixes in a nice blend of humor and an unexpected political awareness that is particularly evident in Severance. There are also lots of loose ends along with big gaps and holes and unexamined and unexplained threads in the plots but these are common defects of the genre and not just his films.
Kiss Of Death 1947
This is a superb noir thriller that Hathaway made in 1947, with mostly “real” New York City locations. This film of redemption and revenge opens on Christmas Eve as Victor Mature and two other hoods enter the Chrysler Building to rob a private jeweler and of course everything that could g...o wrong does. This is a striking sequence to open a film with, and Hathaway milks the suspense as the crooks are stuck in a slow moving elevator. Mature whose fabulous face looks like it belongs on the side of a mountain is amazingly touching and moving as Nick Bianco a small time crook who decides to squeal on the psychotic Tommy Udo played in his debut film role by a scary Richard Widmark who throws a wheel chair bound Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs and then gives off his creepy giggle. This is still a shocking sequence and Widmark deservedly received a supporting Oscar nomination only to loose to Edmund Gwenn’s Santa Claus, in Miracle on 34th Street. Sweet always wins out over sour. The screenplay is by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer with wonderful nourish documentary like cinematography by Norbert Brodine. One of the Ten best films of 1947.
Crime Wave 1954
This rapid dog of a B Noir movie directed by one eyed Andre De Toth  and released by Warner Brothers in 1954 follows a familiar story line common to Nor B flicks. A trio of newly escaped cons pull small heists jobs in southern cal just to get by, a hamburger joint here, a gas station there, but  meanwhile they’re working on a plan to pull off a  big bank heist. The film opens with a beautifully shot sequence with the camera in the back of the thieves car as it roams the dark L.A. streets of 1954 and pulls into a gas station run by that runny cheese of a character actor Dub Taylor who is all cheerful and up because the radio is playing a request of his, sung by the magnificent Doris Day. Already I know I’m in for something special because of this on location shot, and the actual voice of Ms.Day on the soundtrack singing. S Wonderful. The three hoods are played by Ted De Corsia, Charles Buchinsky ( who down the road will change his name to Bronson and become a super duper super star) but for now he is Buchinsky, with that sexy ugly chiseled face of his and  Nedrick Young all proper and dandy in a a suit and tie. Young who was also a screenwriter won the Oscar for best screenplay for The Defiant Ones under the pseudonymous Nathan E. Douglas after being blacklisted for invoking his Fifth Amendment rights while testifying before the 1953 House Committee on Un-American Activities. We are soon introduced to an ex con on probation unexpectedly played by the very good dancer Gene Nelson who was one year away from making his mark in the film version of Oklahoma. But for now he is an ex-con trying to go straight pulling his very pretty wife played by the lovely Phyllis Kirk, who supports her man no matter what along with him. Gene his dancer’s body taunt, tense and wiry spent time in the big house with the three cons and they want him to take part in their big heist, and of course he wants no part of it.  There is a strong hard turn by the terrific Sterling Hayden as a ramrod of a detective who does the whole film with a toothpick stuck between his lips, you see Hayden is trying to give up smoking and since Nicorette was not yet invented his oral fix of choice is a toothpick. A nice eccentric touch, and Hayden does more with a toothpick than anyone I’ve ever seen. The film is thrilling and exciting in its narrative flow, and also in its beautiful visuals with real exterior and interior locations shot with mostly available light and hand held cameras, (the cinematographer was the great Bert Glennon). De Toth uses lots of extreme close ups and one memorable and beautiful shot is of two hands reaching for a late night ringing phone .that is as breathtaking as any shot I’ve ever seen in a film. There is also a small but pivotal and moving performance by the great Jay Novello as a once proud alcoholic doctor who also spent time in the cooler with the boys and because of this can no longer practice medicine and instead turns to the healing of animals and criminals on the run, and a scary small bit by the always compelling and freaky Timothy Carey as a minor accomplice on the heist. One of the ten best films of 1954.

Easy Living 1937
A screwball fairy tale from the depression. So one day Jean Arthur who plays Mary Smith is riding on the top of a double decker bus on her way to work down a rear projected 5th ave when a sable coat lands on her head. We know where the coat has come from .because minutes before we’ve seen  millionaire banker Edward Arnold who annoyed at his wife for spending 58,000 on it in the middle of a depression , angrily tosses it off the roof of their building where as I said it lands on Jean Arthur. This sets the film in motion. Jean wants to give the coat back, but Arnold will hear of no such thing, so Jean has this very expensive coat but no job and a $7.00 a week apartment whose rent she does not have. The plot is complicated as only a Preston Sturges script can be and is loaded with recognizable Sturges touches that will serve him well in his future Paramount films. There are mistaken identities, apoplectic fathers, lots of pratfalls, outspoken and pushy servants, lovable immigrants, prissy salesmen and of course sweet love affairs that always turn out fine in the end. Arthur’s love interest is a young Ray Milland who happens to be the son of Arnold, but of course Jean doesn’t know this. They meet very cute at the Automat where Milland out to prove to his father that he can make his way without his help has a job as a busboy, and is smitten with Arthur the minute he sees her. Wearing her sable coat but broke with only a nickel to her name, Milland decides on a scheme to get her food, and this leads to one of the wildest and memorable scenes ever put on celluloid. More confusion follows but that’s all I’m going to spend on the plot and instead I would like to sing the praises of Jean Arthur who I fell in love with one early evening in my young life watching a showing of  The Devil and Miss Jones on the early show which showed vintage films heavily cut to fit in the 5 o clock time schedule right before the news. No doubt it was her unique voice that caught my 12 year old attention, and her unusual looks. This was not your typical lady movie star, she was awkward and real, was she really even acting. I don’t know, but I really fell hard for the lady. Her career began in the silent film era but it wasn’t until Frank Capra cast her in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town that her career really took off, and some terrific movies followed. Reclusive and secretive, rumors persist to this day that she was lesbian and that’s what accounted for her low profile in such a high profile town like Hollywood. Easy Living or Living easy if you prefer is a fast and furious 88 minutes and if a movie can be said to be out of breath it’s this one. Well directed by the underrated Mitchell Leisen who did some very nice films with many top female stars including Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert and Olivia DeHavilland (who by the way won an Oscar in his To Each His Own), he was however disliked by Billy Wilder and Sturges who complained that Leisen ruined their screenplays, which is nonsense. Their anger and dislike of him had more to do with Leisen being gay, and the homophobia that ran rampant and unchecked back then. The cast is wonderful with many actors who Sturges would embrace and use many times in his is own films, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Luis Alberni and Robert Greig and If you’re quick you might pick out Dennis O’ Keefe and Lee Bowman in short uncredited early roles. One of the ten best films of 1937.

Alibi. 1929

Made right on the cusp of the coming of sound films, this Art Deco gangster movie is riveting mainly for its look. Directed by Roland West best known for The Bat Whispers this one is very much influenced by German expressionist films and has some jaw dropping beautiful images, most of which was shot for the silent version. The plot is simple and concerns the story of a very nasty gangster who lies and hides his true feelings so he can get away with murder. Played by Chester Morris who was very handsome with patent leather hair and a classic profile, (check out his nose) he not only deceives many of the other characters but also the viewer. As I said this is a stunning film with sets designed by the great William Cameron Menzies and beautiful cinematography by Ray June, who you can tell was experimenting with his shots. There are also several musical numbers that take place in Deco nightclubs that are oddly shot from the side and not head on. They were of course injected into the action to take advantage of the craze for musicals that the newborn sound techniques made possible.  Morris who never really became an A list star was mostly known for the series of Boston Blackie films that he made in the 1940’s but he did work a lot appeared on many tv shows. There are problems with the quality of the sound, and I wish Kino had spent more time and money cleaning it up. At times you can hardly make out the dialogue, and the soundtrack sounds like someone was dragging a snow shovel across a just cleaned sidewalk, or someone was doing an old soft shoe on a floor with sand thrown about.  The film is a bit stagy and static which is to be expected for an early sound film, but the “exterior” shots (there is some actual footage shot at night in L.A. in which the camera is attached to police cars as it roams through the city) and the interior expressionistic sets are as I said simply beautiful.  Nominated for 2 Oscars.  Best Picture and Best Actor but surprisingly the great cinematography and art direction were ignored 

L.I.E. 2001
This is a marvelous deep, dark and disturbing first film by Michael Cuesta who is most known for his work on a series of deep dark and disturbing t.v. shows such as Six Feet Under and Dexter.  Cuesta tells us the story of a neglected sensitive and very intelligent 15 year old boy growing up in the suburbs of Long Island. His mother has recently been killed in a car accident on the L.I.E. (Long Island Expressway) and his father who seems to be well off (they live in a lavish house) is involved in some shady real estate dealings and is distant and incompetent when it comes to being a father to his son.  The boy is played by an impossibly young Paul Dano who is simply brilliant and who takes up with some bad kids who roam the dismal landscape breaking into houses. One of the houses that they break into is owned by a well liked and respected member of the community who by the way is a pedophile and is played by the fine actor Brian Cox who gives a complex shaded performance.  They break into his basement as he is celebrating his birthday with family, friends and his latest boy catch upstairs, and trouble, trouble, trouble follows. This could have been a nasty piece of work, but thankfully Cuesta who also co wrote the screenplay handles this explosive story with style and sensitivity. He is helped by these two wonderful performances and I guess one could find fault with the ending which can be seen coming down the expressway at a rapid speed, but the film is so compelling and worthwhile and Dano just breaks your heart.  One of the ten best films of 2001.

Road House 1948 

This is a sultry and smooth semi film noir with the great Ida Lupino playing torch singer Lily Stevens who gets hired by Richard Widmark out of Chicago to sing for her supper in Jefty’s his googie styled road house sprawl of a joint ( there is even a bowling alley) that is plopped down in some backwoods place near the U...S Canadian border. Besides Ida and Widmark the cast includes the lavishly luscious Cornell Wilde and the sparkling Celeste Holm as the gal assistant to Widmark. Celeste did this film right off of her Oscar win for Gentleman’s Agreement and again plays stoic and hopelessly in love with the male lead ( Wilde) who hardly notices her. So Ida is this tough been around the block a few times broad who looks great in her starched wigs and late 40’s clothes, and a special placard should be held up for this film, because Ida does her own singing that Celeste says sounds like gravel, and “She does more without a voice than anybody I've ever heard!” True her voice is like gravel but its well worn gravel, and when she sings "One for My Baby" attention must be paid. Ida who Smokes wildly and intensely as she performs leaves many cigarette burns on her white piano (this is a nice touch to show time passing) and Widmark somewhat Psycho once more has the hots for her but she has no interest in him other than the nice paycheck that he gives her. 


Ida only has hot thighs for Cornell, who at first is not so nice and friendly to Ida’s Lily Stevens, but soon they are all over each other, kissing and what not, and when Widmark finds out watch out. This was only Widmark’s 3rd film and he was desperate to drop the sick giggle and psycho ways that became almost a trademark after his startling debut Oscar nominated performance in Kiss Of Death and finally after 3 nasty man roles he started to appear as good guys in many of his films. As you might surmise things don’t end so nice, but that’s the way of Noir. Beautifully directed by Jean Negulesco who did some good and not so good films in the 40’s and 50's and great cinematography by Joseph LaShelle who did his best work at 20th Century Fox which produced this reclusive little gem.
 Detour 1945
Made on a shoe string budget and looking like it was filmed in that shoe, Detour was made in a matter of days using a few cheap sets and some rear projections. This poverty row raw noir is about a guy on a hard luck life trip who tells his story in flashbacks as he sits in a dive of a diner (the waitress is none other than the great Esther Howard) nursing his cup of coffee and moaning over his fate. The film stars real life bad guy Tom Neal and a shock to the system actress Ann Savage as Vera the nightmare that Tom picks up on the road. The background to the story goes something like this. Tom plays piano player Al Roberts who works in a cheap joint in a pulp paperback New York City. His girlfriend Sue played by Claudia Drake also works in the club and sings for her supper very nicely, but she’s tired of Manhattan and wants to op out of the place to try her luck in L.A.  So off she goes and soon Tom gets depressed missing his babe and wants to join her but is broke and decides to hitchhike and that’s when his troubles start and my pleasure with this great film begins. Tom Neal who was a real life problem, was arrested a few times, and made headlines in the early 50’s ’s for beating the crap out of Franchot Tone for playing around with his tootsie the really bad Barbara Payton who Tone later married.  Tom also shot one of his wives dead and served 6 years in the clinker for it.  Nice going Tom. His career didn’t amount to much, but Detour is a great tombstone to put on his grave. Neal was bad and dark and sexy as hell, and he’s very good in the film. As for Savage her performance is startling to say the least, with her rough hewed face and nasty countenance, she is unique, troubling and very scary. The movie is art povera, a lost and found assemblage of parts put together by Edgar G. Ulmer over at PRC pictures home to cheap and I mean cheap B programmers. It’s dark and grimey, running only 68 fast and furious minutes, and is an example of why movies sometimes can matter, why they sometimes can be works of art, why they make some of us scream for joy.  A note about the print. The transfer put out by Alpha Video is not as bad as I expected it to be considering that this company’s product is usually hit or miss but this is a film that should be restored by Criterion with lots of extras. One of the ten best films of 1945., and Ann Savage the best actress of 1945.  

Caged 1950

The sub sub genre of women’s prison movies have long been fodder for various television shows, exploitation movies, and even Off -Broadway camp musicals and with Caged we have the grandmother of them all. Directed by John Cromwell (the father of the very good contemporary character actor James Cromwell) for Warner Bros. an...d shot in inky black and white on a tight claustrophobic cheap looking set. In this grimy grim tale of injustice and mistreatment Cromwell brings the lovely young actress Eleanor Parker to this prison for a long internment for a crime that did not fit her sentence of 1 to 15 years. Parker who was 28 at the time received an Oscar nomination for best actress that year and plays the nineteen year old naive Marie Allen with ease and believability, you really worry about her. Still shocking after all this time, the film when first released in 1950 must have horrified the cold war audiences what with the sadistic violence, the implicit and explicit lesbianism and the very bleak ending. Situated in this pit of hell are all the various stereotypical types of women we have come to expect to find in this kind of place. There is the prostitute with a heart of gold, the old lady who’s been in prison for most of her life but has a heart of gold, the I’m loosing my mind gal with a heart of gold, the sensitive type who can’t take being locked up any longer with a heart of gold, the tough broads and bull dykes all with hearts of gold, and the mean sadistic guards and matrons without any hearts what so ever. The pot is boiling for sure, and a big part of our prurient interest in watching this film is the fabulous cast of actresses who fill the cells and patrol the corridors. Besides the lovely Ms. Parker some of her cell mates include the great Betty Grade as the aptly named Kitty Stark who on the outside runs a shoplifting racket and is the big shot dame of the joint until Lee Patrick as Elvira Powell a big time Madame and a rival of Kitty’s on the outside gets thrown back in the slammer. The gloves are off, and they both want a piece of Eleanor who they want to work for them when she gets out. Nix nix Parker tells them both, but it is the horrible Evelyn Harper the sadistic prison matron played with hot house relish by the larger than life Hope Emerson (who received an Oscar nomination for her performance) who really wants Eleanor for her own. Over 250 pounds of rolling flesh and built like a brick shit house, Emerson is a frightening presence throughout the film as she rolls down the corridors causing hate and fear in the inmates. Also in the cast is Agnes Moorehead as the kindly director, Ellen Corby, Jan Sterling, Olive Deering, Jane Darwell and Gertrude Hoffman as Millie Lewis the oldest inmate in the cell block who takes no crap from Emerson. A classic of sorts and one of the ten best films of the year

The Dark Corner 1946
Before she became Lucy, Lucille Ball made a lot of movies, some comedies, some musicals and some dramas including this well done Noir directed by Henry Hathaway. Lucille as I will refer to her here plays secretary and girl Friday to Mark Stevens’s angry private dick who was framed for a crime he didn’t commit back in San Francisco and got sent up the river for 2 years. The movie opens with the great William Bendix in white suit eye balling Stevens’s office near the 3rd Ave El. Bendix has been hired by someone to follow Mark for reasons that we learn slowly but surely. This is a nice tough noir with a sweet and sour script and smooth direction by Hathaway who did a number of these nourish tough movies at 20th century fox during the late 40’s. Hathaway started his long career doing low budget western programmers and worked his way up at Fox finally getting his hands on some A projects including what I consider to be his best film “Kiss of  Death” made one year after Corner and unlike this dark corner Death was shot almost entirely on location in New York City.  This one was shot on the backlot of the studio but there is still a nice feel of the city on an early warm spring evening. Bracketed by 3rd ave sleaze and 5th ave art galleries the movie is swift and very entertaining, and how could it be otherwise with a cast featuring Clifton Webb, Bendix, Ball and Stevens. Mark Stevens was a very attractive actor who really didn’t go very far in films but I always liked him and he handles this part with cool assurance and hot anger, not easy to pull off especially at the same time that he’s necking with Lucille. Also of note is the lush cinematography by Joseph McDonald, the well known “"Manhattan Melody" theme, that was used in so many films of the 40s, and first heard here, and Colleen Alpaugh as the little girl with the slide whistle and her encounters with William Bendix. Almost one of the ten best films of 1946.

Side Street. 1950

This is a taunt little B noir thriller directed by Anthony Mann that reunited Farley Granger and Cathy O’ Donnell who appeared as the doomed lovers in Nicholas Ray’s “They Live by Night” the year before. This time we find the couple newly married with a baby on the way living in her parent’s small dingy Manhattan apartment and having trouble making ends meet. Granger is a good guy, works hard at a temporary job he has as a mail man but does a stupid thing.  One day as he’s dropping off the mail at the office of  a shyster lawyer and blackmailer played by Edmond Ryan, he sees some high end bills lying around and decides to go back when the office is empty and rob them of the loot. Rayan along with his partner James Craig ( a ham hock of an actor) run a shake down  racket of milking rich men of their money after they’re set up to fall into the clutches of Lucille 'Lucky' Colner. Lucille turns out to be not that lucky and is played with rancid relish by that nourish B dame of dames Adele Jergens. Lucky Lucy and her pals push some tangy and damaging photos of her and the unlucky johns on them in order to get a lot of moola out of them, and if they don’t pay up they better watch out.. So stupid Farley now has a lot of money but he also has a conscience and decides to return the money to the crooks, but this isn’t as easy as it sounds, and so the chase as they say is on all over Manhattan. Mann who worked in many genres does a great job with this shoe string B shooting most of the film on location in New York City. M.G.M was not known for Noir, but in the late 40’s and early 50’s they did a small series of  B Noirs  and being M.G.M. the films have the gloss and production values of their A movies. The beautiful cinematography is by the great Joseph Ruttenberg whose remarkable career began in 1917 and who went right on doing films up to 1968. Part of the pleasure of watching this movie are the glimpses we get of a city that no longer exists including the Third Ave El and a peek at 8th street in the Village where the marvelous Jean Hagen comes on as a cheap nightclub singer (she’s dubbed) whose relationship with her sometime lover Craig comes to no good. Also in the cast is a boatload of good character actors including Paul Kelly (who in real life found himself in a boatload of trouble), Paul Harvey, Charles McGraw, Harry Bellaver, Whit Bissell, a very young Ben Cooper, the delightful Mineva Urecal and in a bit the real life Marie Crisis who owned and operated the famous cabaret Marie Crisis’s in the Village. Mann ends the film with a great car chase through the concrete canyons of lower Manhattan, and hopefully after it’s over you’ll sit back and say to yourself this was a damn good little movie. Thank you Mr. Mann.

They Live By Night 1949
An American masterpiece directed by Nicholas Ray. Opening with a dramatic arial shot of a speeding car along a dusty country road, we are soon introduced to 3 escape convicts who have high jacked a car from a trusting farmer. They show him some mercy by only knocking him out instead of killing him. The three cons are played by Jay C. Flippen as T-Dub a fearless character actor if ever there was one, Howard Da Silva frightening  as the one eyed Cyclops Chickamaw (yes I know his one eye is not in the center of his face, and the young and handsome Farley Granger as Bowie. The gang holes up in the backwoods cabin of  De Silva’s drunk and lazy brother  (well played by  another ever present  wonderful character actor Will Wright ) and his lovely young daughter Keechie played by Cathy O’Donnell. The three cons plan a bank robbery and they do pull it off getting quite a bit of money from the heist, but soon things start to go bad and everything is falling on them so they take it on the lam leaving Granger and O’Donnell to fall in love. The couple hastily decide to get married in a morose and depressing ceremony at a roadside wedding chapel where a jaundiced justice of the peace played with relish by Ian Woolfe reigns. They are soon on the run as Granger is being blamed unfairly for all of gang’s dirty dealings. His beautiful  face is in all the papers, and he is being set up to take the fall by Helen Craig who plays Mattie a friend of the crooks. Mattie is the poison nectar of the piece, a dark Greek chorus of one who makes a deal with the authorities to get her husband out of prison if she tells them where Bowie and Keechie are hiding out. 
Craig who was an odd and striking actress makes one hell of an impression but unfortunately did very few films along with a bit of t.v. before fading unfairly into oblivion. At one time the film was going to be called “Your Red Wagon” (in fact the paperback movie tie-in published in 1948 uses this title), and there is a nice small moment in the film, when the couple have a night out on the town and go to a nightclub where the African American singer Marie Bryant wonderfully warbles a song called “Your Red Wagon”. The couple on the lam is nothing new in American movies, the earliest one that comes to mind is Fritz Lang’s 1937 film “You Only Live Once”, and in the same year “They Live By Night” was released “Gun Crazy” which is a rougher nastier film then this one also saw the light or noir of day. Remade in 1974 by Robert Altman using the title of the original Edward Anderson novel “Thieves Like Us” and setting it in the 1930’s where the novel takes place and not in the late 1940’s where Ray’s version is set. No doubt production budgets and not aesthetics had a lot to do with this decision. With  beautiful black and white cinematography by George E. Diskant.  One of the ten best films of 1949.
Sweet Smell Of Success. 1957
There are a few films from my childhood that have stayed with me throughout the years. The Little Fugitive, Night of The  Hunter, Psycho and Sweet Smell Of Success are all films I saw when I was very young. I can’t imagine why when I was ten years old I wanted to see Sweet Smell of Success, but I did and off I went with my uncle Natie to the Loew’s State to see the film. I don’t remember if I liked it or not, but I probably did. It was real (just outside the theatre the actual locations where the movie was shot were vividly there). Also the strangeness of the characters and the language that they spoke must have appealed to me. And of course the film starred two virile youngish beautiful male movie stars, and no doubt the combo of 1957 Lancaster and Curtis beckoned me. I’ve seen the film many times since then, and the new restored transfer from Criterion is stunning. The film’s dynamic plot is told in the first few minutes of the movie by Sidney Falcon acted by Tony Curtis, a good-looking but sleazy Broadway hustler who likes to think of himself as a press agent.. His nemesis is the well known gossip columnist who resides over his small kingdom, (most notably 21) with a fierce anger and hostility to one and all. J.J. Hunsecker (based on Walter Winchell) and is played by a very fine Burt Lancaster, who gives it a good try at playing down his attractiveness. In fact both Curtis and Lancaster are terrific and give memorable and lasting performances, which are among their best. The film rides on the attempts of Lancaster to manipulate Curtis into doing dirty deeds for him for a price. Lancaster usually wins but with some severe consequences. Curtis is also a big time taker and he’s willing to put up with an amazing amount of shit to get ahead. He’s derided and ridiculed and even physically hurt through the film but that doesn’t stop him. During the film Falco is called pretty, a poodle and is constantly referred to as less than a man. Lancaster who is sexless but seething and has an unhealthy relationship with his mink and meek beautiful sister played by Susan Harrison who came and went with this film. Harrison is in love with a Jazz Guitarist play by Martin Milner who gives what I think is the film’s weakest performance. This relationship is the crux of the film that moves it towards near tragedy.  As I said Curtis plays a big taker but he was also a manipulator and this can be seen in the famous “What I’m I a bowl of fruit scene between the great Barbara Nichols, Curtis and David White as Otis Ellwell another creepy columnist and arch rival of Lancaster’s. Nichols as the cigarette girl who is herself a bruised piece of fruit is superb giving a wonderful performance that only lasts  two scenes but was worthy of an Oscar. The film spills over with the great and biting words by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman whose novelette they based the screenplay on. Many of the lines are classics and in fact Barry Levinson has one of his diner guys constantly quotes lines from the movie. Quite a tribute. Needless to say the direction by Alexander Mackendrick is great. Mackendrick who made a few of those quirky and funny Ealing studio comedies in the late 40’s and 50’s which usually starred Alec Guiness. But here in this gritty American film does Mackendrick make his mark. This is his unexpected masterwork. A film that originally came and went quickly it’s now considered to be a great film by many critics, directors and people who love movies.  The city that the movie takes place in does not exist anymore, nothing stands where it once stood, and so what is probably the best film ever shot in New York City also serves as a mini documentary of what a part of New York City once was like.  You sometimes have to look fast but it’s there with the beautiful cinematography by the great James Wong Howe. The supporting cast is very good with excellent performances by Jeff Donnell (a stand out as Falco’s harried but loyal secretary) ,Sam Levene, Emile Meyer, Lawrence Dobkin, Lurene Tuttle  and Queenie Smith one of my favorite bit character actress in a tiny spot. Music is by Elmer Bernstein. The best film of 1957.

Torrid Zone. 1940
A fast and furious 88 minute Warner Bros. action comedy that features a great cast of WB contract actors. Set in a small Central America country with most of the action taking place on a troubled banana plantation the plot involves a not so nice Pat O'Brien who is the manager of the company and his efforts to get back his top banana foreman played by James Cagney who sports a sexy pencil thin mustache and wants no part of returning to the plantation to run things. Instead Jimmy is on his way to Chicago until O’Brien makes him an offer he can’t refuse and he gets a look at Ann Sheridan. Sheridan is her usual gorgeous self smooth and shinny with a voice to match her looks and delivers most of the good lines.  The beautiful Ann plays a nightclub singer and card sharp who is stranded in the town, and only wants to make a few bucks singing in the local club and cheating the men in cards so she can move on to greener cooler pastures. O’Brien who not only runs the company but also the town, takes a strong dislike to Ann and orders her out on the next boat. Soon they are all mixing it up on the plantation exchanging zingers which fly back and forth with the speed of bullets including many sexual barbs, and take note of all the homoerotic sexual innuendos between Cagney and O’Brien. Cagney- “Oh, Lee, (Sheridan)  if you see Case,(O’Brien)  give him a kiss for me.  Sheridan  “Not even a foreign general would kiss that guy!”  How these got by the censors I’ll never know.  Also in this Irish stew is George Tobias who plays a good hearted and somewhat lovable revolutionary who keeps escaping from prison. Andy Devine, Helen Vinson, Jerome Cowan and the always wonderful Grady Sutton round out the cast, and also look for a brief bit by George Reeves as member of Tobias’s band of bandits.  Shot by the great James Wong Howe on the Warner Bros. back lot the film looks good, in fact  better than it should with top notch art direction, (where did they get all those bananas?), and steady workman like direction by W.B in house director William Keighley

The Fallen Idol. 1949
Made a couple of years before his masterpiece “The Third Man”, Carol Reed's “The Fallen Idol” for most of its running time is a beguiling fairy tale of childhood magic and angst. The film covers a few days in the life of the privileged nine year old Phillipe who is the son of a foreign ambassador based in London. He’s a lonely child, spending most of his time by himself in the huge Embassy while his father is either busy or away. His mother who is never seen has been away for months being treated for an untold illness, and Phillipe's only two friends are his small pet garden snake McGregor and his beloved Baines the majestic butler played by the great Ralph Richardson. There is terror and danger in the young boy’s life mostly caused by the housekeeper and wife Of Baines who is straight out of a Grimm fairytale. Mrs. Baine played with rich nasty gusto by Sonia Dresdel is always on her husband or Phillipe's case running the beautiful embassy like a Nazi storm trooper. The story hinges on an affair that Richardson is having with the light, lovely and beautiful Julie a secretary at the embassy played by the very beautiful and appealing Michèle Morgan. One day Phile (that is what he is called) sees the couple in a tea shop having a romantic rendezvous and soon the deception and deceit is upon them and even though we know no good can come from this, we still hold out hope that our fairy tale will have a happy ending, (it actually does). Phile adores Baines and Baines adores Julie and they all hate Mrs. Baines, who of course finds out about the affair. There are two superb sequences in the film that I love, one is a beautiful nighttime game of hide and seek, played after a day at the zoo among the white sheet covered furniture in the temporary closed embassy that Phile, Baines and Julie play while the dreaded wife is supposedly away for a few days taking care of a sick relative. This game of our childhood is scary and threatening anyway and in this sequence we hold our breath because we know the evil that lurks. The other great sequence which follows the hide and seek scene is a brilliantly filmed nighttime escape by Phile in his pajamas and bare feet through the glistering cold London night. Reed shoots the sequence like a nightmare (and indeed that's what it feels like) as the young boy is finally rescued by a policeman and brought to the station where he is befriended by the local kind prostitute who seems to spend a lot of time there. This is the only comical and very British scene in the film. The cast of course is great, and special mention should be made of Bobby Henrey the young unprofessional child who plays the pivotal role of Phile, who is both charming and annoying and who by all accounts drove the director crazy during the filming. Filling out the cast is a bevy of wonderful British actors, Jack Hawkins Denis O Dea, Torin Thatcher and Bernard Lee as members of the police force who arrive late in the film. My only problem with this marvelous film is that it ends too abruptly and seems a little rushed. The screenplay which is tight and minimal is by Graham Greene who based it on his short story. With beautiful cinematography by the great Georges Périnal. Also of note is the elaborate embassy set designed by Vincent Korda.

The Year in Review. 2011

This was a very good year for me with regards to my art being published in many on line literary magazines and journals.
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