Not too many DVD's of note this week. Most exciting are Let's Scare Jessica to Death and two Fox noir titles--Vicki starring Jeanne Craine and Jean Peters and Fourteen Hours starring Paul Douglas and Richard Basehart and featuring two early screen entrances--Grace Kelly and Ossie Davis.
The man-on-a-ledge tension and expert camera-work of Fourteen Hours is really worth watching. Also excellent is noir scholar Foster Hirsch's illuminating commentary. He really digs into what's eating poor Richard Basehart. Hint: Barbara Belle Geddes isn't getting him hot and bothered (but then she didn't stoke Jimmy Stewart's fire in Vertigo either). Still...you catch my drift.
As for now, Three Obsessions:
1. The Ninth Gate A movie so underrated it’s almost maddening. I admittedly have a never ending love of Roman Polanski’s work (even Pirates), but so many critics missed the darkly humorous point of this picture. A wonderfully deadpan Johnny Depp stars as Dean Corso, a snaky rare-book dealer who is hired by a wealthy scholar of demonology, Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to authenticate a book of satanic invocation called The Nine Gates of the Shadow Kingdom. In Europe, he's to compare the book against two other extremely rare copies. And the investigation is pretty spectacular, right down to the Eyes Wide Shut -like moment (not at all intended to ape Kubrick’s film) during which devil worshipping Langella storms in on a group of supposedly scary Satanists and hilariously calls them a bunch of losers. Though much more understated than Polanski's greatest works of terror (The Tenant, Repulsion) and not as psychologically tumultuous, The Ninth Gate is nevertheless an engaging, beautifully photographed thriller with a stately, graceful style of pacing that feels drugged and otherworldly. And Emmanuelle Seigner, who I’ve been in love with since Frantic, is wicked sexy, even with messy hair, tennis shoes and beat-up army jacket.
2. Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Tennessee Williams knew all about the simplicity of Southern sexiness. His work inspired the cinematic images of macho Marlon Brando hollering “Stella!” in his ripped white tee shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire and Elizabeth Taylor slopping around in a form-fitting white slip in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Well, she wasn’t exactly slopping—more like slinking. Taylor’s Maggie --“The Cat” of the title -- is a sexual animal unfulfilled by her disinterested hubbie (which must have been torturous for her, given that her husband is played by Paul Newman). Liz proved again why she was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world and yet there’s something almost regular about her. Like she’s on the cusp of dumpy. But even dumpy (see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), she absolutely smolders. Taylor devoured her role with such gusto, that to quote another Tennessee Williams tale Baby Doll (one of my favorites), she makes the viewer feel a little “hysterical.” In Tennessee Williams territory, that’s a good thing. A bad good thing.
3. The drug freak-out in Riot on Sunset Strip Supposedly over the top, I completely relate to Mimsy Farmer’s full throttle acid attack in Riot on Sunset Strip. Dancing manically and endlessly she eventually flails on the floor in a mini skirt. Getting dosed is no picnic. And yet I love watching this scene. Another reason to love this movie (aside from Aldo Ray)? The Standells. Watch them perform “Dirty Water.”