An excerpt from my piece on John Cassavetes making Machine Gun McCain magnificent. Playing tonight at the New Beverly. Read the entire piece here.
The way John Cassavetes seduces Britt Ekland in Giuliano Montaldo’s Machine Gun McCain is a three-minute Master Class in multi-faceted acting – multi-faceted acting in a potentially stupid scene.
Cassavetes plays Hank McCain, a tough, mysterious bank robber newly released from prison, out on the town alone, hungry for company; hungry for something (in one scene, he’s hungry for a hot dog, which he enjoys like a guy fresh from the joint: “Looks like you haven’t seen one of these in years” the hot dog vendor says. Cassavetes looks back annoyed). He skulks around the San Francisco Red Light district circa late 1960s with its enticing topless bars and sex shows, men milling about searching for a screw or a look, marquees blazing temptations like: “The Original Nude on the Swing, Hippie, Or a Fun Risqué Show!” He doesn’t look happy on this quest, more unsettled, uncomfortable. Not because he’s a square (a square he is not) but because that’s how a guy stuck in the slammer for over a decade would look and act upon release – uneasy, distrustful. You can see it on his face as he observes the changed world around him: He’s dissatisfied, lonely and a little awkward.
Why is this scene so good? Because, as stated, Cassavetes, that’s why. In another actor’s hands, it could have played simply studly – look at this big, bad criminal hooking in this hot mama. Score. There’s some of that unabashed cool here of course, but Cassavetes imbues the scene with enough longing and angst, even a kind of hatred for the drooling men (is this tough guy gallantry or self hatred?), that you roll with the instinct and curiosity of her going home with him. It helps that he looks like John Cassavetes and she’s whatever she’s supposed to be (she seems more miserable and lost than a good-time-girl), but the scene feels more interesting than that. Her rather clueless role in the movie is helped shaped by how good his acting is and by following his lead; he’s already defining how strange she is as his future accomplice. Even his potentially offensive rough lovemaking once they get down to it is more human than anything else: aggressive and scary, hungry and vulnerable, weird and real. Cassavetes moves through these varied states throughout the movie – a lone wolf, but a man in some kind of existential dilemma, fighting to maintain his own self in a fucked-up world. And, as cool as he is, he’s not gonna win that fight.
Read my entire piece here...