Out of the Blue (1947) (reviewed by Caftan Woman)
The story of 1947's Out of the Blue by Laura author Vera Caspary concerns a group of Greenwich Village apartment neighbours, bedeviled by the heat and frightened by the news of a serial killer at large. A put-upon husband steps out on his nagging wife and finds himself the prime suspect in a murder and with a body to hide. Prime noir territory, wouldn't you say? This story, however, is played for laughs and the director, Leigh Jason, was noted for such comedy-mystery stories as exemplified by The Mad Miss Manton (Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda), Wise Girl (Miriam Hopkins, Ray Milland) and Dangerous Blondes (Evelyn Keyes, Allyn Joslyn).
Nothing that happens in the apartment complex goes unnoticed by a couple of maiden ladies played by Elizabeth Patterson (Intruder in the Dust) and Julia Dean (The Curse of the Cat People). From the vantage point of their terrace, they can focus all their attention on the goings-on on the terraces of the 10th floor. One is occupied by a Bohemian playboy artist David Gelleo played by Turhan Bey (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) and his prize-winning German Shepherd, Rabelais, played by Flame. His next door neighbours are Arthur and Mae Earthleigh. The hapless Arthur is completely under the thumb of the domineering Mae. Heartthrob George Brent (My Reputation) plays Arthur and glamourous Carole Landis (I Wake Up Screaming) is the unpleasant spouse.
Two more of Hollywood's glamourous leading ladies are thrown into the mix when debutante Deborah Tyler played by Virginia Mayo (White Heat) proposes to our artist friend that his Rabelais would be a perfect match for her own prize-winning Shepherd. Her proposition gives David other ideas, more human in nature. David is not the only one with romance on his mind. Mae Earthleigh is out of town for the weekend and Arthur is on the loose and ready to howl. At a local tavern, he meets professional interior decorator and amateur souse Olive Jensen played by Ann Dvorak (Three on a Match). Arthur flirts with Olive. Arthur is not very good at flirting, but Olive thinks he's cute and happily returns to his abode where disapproving pictures of Mae squelch any starry-eyed notions.
|George Brent and Carole Landis.|
By now you have the idea that our leading actors are playing characters well removed from their usual fare and carrying it off beautifully: Turhan Bey a sophisticate, Carole Landis a nag and Virginia Mayo the society gal. Mayo, who played her fair share of molls and dames is absolutely adorable in a scene where her dainty deb pretends to be a crook. George Brent is a riot as a man buffeted by fate. He takes one step forward in ill-conceived shenanigans and always winds up two steps back. Ann Dvorak takes the comedy crown as Olive Jenson. Olive has no impulse control whatsoever and her stream-of-consciousness ramblings are the highlight of a very funny screenplay.
The comedy-mystery is a difficult sub-genre to pull off and this early Eagle-Lion release has everything it needs to be as memorable a screwball classic as any big name studio product with its very funny script and top-notch performances.
A New Leaf (1971) (reviewed by in so many words...)
A New Leaf is a film of the 70s, but one of my favorites of any era--a romantic comedy featuring a splendid cast of the sort you just can’t find anymore. Henry Graham is a spoiled dilettante, obnoxious, pompous and an egocentric snob of the worst sort--in the role, Walter Matthau is perfection. He plays a man who cares for nothing but his own comfort. Fastidious to the nth degree, every whim attended to by his butler/valet, Henry lives a sybaritic lifestyle in a luxurious Manhattan apartment--until the day he is informed that he no longer has any money. Not heeding his banker’s advice, Henry has been living on the capital and not on the interest, and you know how that goes.
|Elaine May and Walter Matthau.|
After a whirlwind courtship, Henry and Henrietta marry, while he plots to arrange for a convenient accident to befall his bride on their honeymoon.
This is a very special movie with a weird charm all its own. I’ve never forgotten it or the wonderful ending. Walter Matthau is superb; I would almost say he was born to play Henry. And Elaine May holds her own opposite Matthau, not an easy task. I’ve always wished there had been some sort of sequel.
Blue Collar (1978) (reviewed by Twenty Four Frames)
With 1978’s Blue Collar, Paul Schrader made his directorial debut. It was based on a screenplay he co-wrote with his brother, Leonard. The result was one of the bleakest, pessimistic films to come out of Hollywood since Taxi Driver, also penned by Schrader. Fatalistic, noirish, reflecting a working class trapped, kept down in its place with no escape.
It’s the story of three Detroit auto workers, close friends Harvey Keitel, Richard Pryor and Yaphet Kotto. Always in debt, never able to get ahead, they hatch a plan to rob the safe of corrupt union officials. It turned out to only contain $600. However, they also find a book filled with transactions on shady illegal deals. With the book in their possession, the three men take their plan one step further--to blackmail the union. The union leaders don't scare easy. For them, it time to crush these men, their friendship and their lives.
Blue Collar is the story of the have and the have-nots, the powerful and the powerless. Corrupt unions doing whatever possible to keep the working man in their place. A system beating you down, destroying your hopes, dreams and even your decency. In the freeze frame ending with Pryor and Keitel ready to tear into each other, we hear in voiceover Yaphet Kotto say: "They pit the lifers against the new boys, the young against the old, the black against the white, everything they do is to keep us in our place."
|Richard Pryor as Zeke.|
The union corruption theme is reminiscent of Kazan's On the Waterfront. It reflects how little has changed in the twenty-five years or so between the two films. Vincent Canby in his review called Blue Collar "a poor man's On the Waterfront...a movie that often simply--sometimes primitively--describes corruption in a Detroit auto workers' local without ever making the corruption a matter of conscience. Corruption is there. It exists. It's part of the system." Schrader makes it all seem so inevitable that you want to scream "power to the people!"