After a curious absence from my usual triad of obsessions, I'm back at it, with DVDs I'm excited about and a few return offenders that are getting, as one horny old lady from Elvis: That's the Way It Is so eloquently put it, "my Phi Beta Kappa key a jangling" (You remember her, right?).
But, again, discs -- there's been some pretty choice DVDs released including The Bette Davis Collection, Volume 3 and last week's Gangster Collection, Volume 3 (finally, The Ladykiller!) as well as the new Bonnie and Clyde special edition. You can read all my DVD and Theatrical reviews at Strange Impersonation and check out whatever else I'm thinking at Pretty Poison.
As for now, Three Obsessions:
1. The Siren's Take on Jules Dassin's AP obit First Richard Widmark and Abby Man, and now Jules Dassin -- one of film's most inventive, raw, soulful, intelligent auteurs. With titles like Thieves' Highway, Brute Force, The Naked City and my favorite, Night and the City (featuring Richard Widmark's greatest, most desperate, most quintessential noir performance) and the brilliant Rififi and Topkapi, as well as Never on Sunday, a popular picture that served as a valentine to his talented wife, actress Melina Mercouri, Dassin was a seminal figure who deserves the respect of a Hawkes, a Ford, a Hitchcock or a Kazan. And speaking of Kazan...Dassin suffered the vile witch-hunt of HUAC, and was blacklisted from Hollywood after director Edward Dmytryk named him as a communist. Dassin would fashion his aforementioned greatest work -- Night and the City, in London, and later the influential Rififi, made in France. There's many terrific tributes to Dassin online, and I'm working on my own (I'm still reeling after Widmark) but I love (love, love, love) Self-Styled Siren's passionate objection to the AP's lame-brain Dassin obit. Sayeth Siren:
3. Born to Kill (1947) After re-watching the brilliant Night and the City twice in one week, taking in all of that "artist without an art" (such a great line) Harry Fabian, and feeling especially moved by not only the picture, but both Widmark and Dassin's recent deaths, I yearned for something I couldn't sympathize with. I wanted to feel hard. So who do I turn to for such necessary nastiness? That down and dirty mad dog hard-boiled hero Lawrence Tierney. Specifically, Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill. Violent, black-hearted and disturbingly sexual Tierney is at his brutal best, especially when paired with Claire Trevor, the amoral climber who falls for the similarly ruthless Tierney (their chemistry is deeply sick yet wonderfully sexy). Adapted from the novel by James Gunn and directed by Robert Wise, the picture utilizes everything Wise learned from Val Lewton to stunning effect with, not only gorgeous noir lighting but genuinely nightmarish, violent attack sequences. A scene in which Tierney beats up and kills his ex-girlfriend and her lover will shock you much more than your modern eyes would expect. And Trevor (whom I worship) -- is one sizzling snake. I love how she cooly discusses the pain of death, as if explaining dental work or a hat sale at Bloomingdales: "A piece of metal sliding into your body, finding its way into your heart. Or a bullet tearing through your skin, crashing into a bone."
The supporting cast is stellar (Walter Slezak, Esther Howard and the noir fixture Elisha Cook Jr.) but Tierney, good GOD, is he wonderfully evil here. Known to many (and to too many) as the rough talking oldster in Reservoir Dogs, young Tierney is a man with immense sex appeal, the ultimate alpha male, the ultimate tough guy just dripping with testosterone of the ticking time bomb variety. His flashes of anger are potently scary, intense and real. He's an odd cross between smoothness (his voice is more punctuated and level, not overtly gravely) and harsh moodiness ready to explode. And nothing he does seems fake -- especially killing. But we are talking about a guy who, in real life was arrested more times than the character he played (John Dillinger) and who was knifed in a bar fight. Aw, dammit...now I'm sad again. All of these guys really are gone. OK. We've still got Ernest Borgnine (and I'm counting him for The Mob, Johnny Guitar, The Stranger Wore a Gun, Bad Day at Black Rock and The Wild Bunch) but he's not really the same thing. Maybe everyone should have married Ethel Merman for 32 days just once?