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Archive for the ‘Police Procedural’ Category

The Big Easy

21 Apr

The Big Easy – directed by Jim McBride. Romanic Police Procedural. 108 minutes Color 1987.

★★★★

The Story: An Assistant D.A. searches for police corruption in The New Orleans Police department, and falls for one of the cops

~

It’s not very convincing as a story, but as a movie it is fetching. Rash improbabilities sabotage our credence. But we have John Goodman in New Orleans where he made an even bigger impression later in Treme. And here is Ned Beatty in his heyday.

Ellen Barkin is here in all her sexy peculiarity. It’s had to believe in her as an actress because she seems so uncertain as to her effects, but there is something appealing about her asymmetrical face. Her whole face appears to be a scar. It isn’t, of course. But it makes her an actress who inspires not admiration but compassion. In this piece she is always slightly ahead of herself, jumping a gun that is never fired.

We also have Dennis Quaid with his clothes off. Quite rightly too, as he had a terrific figure. He is in his early 30s here and looks younger.

Dennis Quaid counts a good deal on a quirky charm and his supernal grin to pull him through the plot. But he’s always worth a visit as an actor. He can always summon the needful.

I have seen him completely naked more than once in films, and it suggests a quality he had and still has as an actor of knowing exactly what to do with a woman when he is with her, exactly what moves to make in front of her, exactly what shall come from his eyes in order to turn her on. He knows how to look at a woman and behave before her as though to convey just what it would be like for her to go bed with him. Now, in some men this might be sleazy, but in Dennis Quaid is ebullient. It is full of fun and wit and a delight in his life. It is a quality rarer in big star movie actors than one might suppose. Charles Boyer possessed it, Sean Connery and Jean-Paul Belmondo possessed it, Marlon Brando possessed it but was seldom called upon to use it.

In this film, this quality makes up the necessary. For Quaid’s sexual confidence, his willingness to drop his drawers, is the exact opposite of Ellen Barkin’s want of experience and total lack of confidence. The result is a chemistry so convincing you forgive the implausabilities of the plot.

Most interesting of all is the presence of the renowned Charles Ludlam, maestro and superstar of The Ridiculous Theatre Company. I remember him playing Camille there, with Garbo’s dresses and manner and a hairy chest topping her crinolines. It was one of the most moving performances I have ever seen. Here he plays a canny Southern lawyer and if you want to see what an actor can do to capture every trick and turn of a character and a type, Ludlam in The Big Easy is a lesson in point.

We also have New Orleans on display, always an interesting diversion, in which, with Barkin, Quaid, Ludlam, Beatty, Goodman and the others, one could do worse than wile away an easy hour.

 

True Detective

12 Apr

True Detective [Season 1] – directed by Cary Joji Fukunga. Police Procedural 8 Part HBO Series. Color 2014.

The Story: Two incompatible cops are assigned to solve a strange crime.

~

The film is a remarkable collation of production, writing, design, filming, direction, editing, and acting. With one exception.

Matthew McConaughey is not that exception. For if you ever wanted to know what power in acting looks like, here it is! Power does not require scenes of vocal range, emotion, or physical display. It may include them, but the sense always is that the artist is nowhere near the limits of his technique, but that the range accessible to that technique is without limit, given the material at hand, the canvas at hand, the occasion at hand.

Seeing him one would never make the mistake of supposing that McConaughey could sing opera or play King Lear. He is an actor who never tries to dupe us into believing that he is greater or other than he is. There are more kinds of great actor than Daniel Day-Lewis.

For, watching him, nothing comes to mind but the desire to continue to do so. We are not distracted. Instead, we sense we are in the presence of a rare opportunity an actor of rare and minute focus, of tiny gesture, each one emerging from his guts in a part perfectly suited to him.

Inside the actor one senses latitude without boundary, which means: the ability to release the material as he wishes, a fastidious rendering of the role’s structure, a sense of the proper size of the role, a sense of a cunning relationship to the architecture of the story as a whole. He understands the period. He understands the rubric of film. He understands the decorum of the character. He can create the titanic with perfect silence. Large or small in his effects he is relaxed. As an actor he is operating out of freedom and in freedom. So all this appears easy.

It is not the same for Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is in a less gutsy role but a more emotional one. But Harrelson is given to a grotesque grimacing with his lower jaw. It is hard to watch and impoverishing to the performance. What is odd is that concurrent with this facial gesticulation is a good actor at work. He is not mugging, but it looks like mugging. Harrison is full of emotion, but releases it through a tic, which someone should be kind enough to ask him to stop. One turns one’s eyes from him, until McConaughey has occasion to call his character a moron, which, unfortunately is what the actor looks like!

It’s too bad, but it does not ruin a story that proves what others have said that the best film drama these days is on cable series TV.

If True Detective is typical, mini-series TV has also changed acting style. No longer speeded up by commercials or by a two-hour time limit set by cinema owners, actors now have space to slow down and open up their work. Golden Age Hollywood Crisp acting is nowhere on view in these mini-series. Nor is modern TV acting or movie acting what we see. No, rather it’s a style of acting with latitude of range, time, and silence. In its spaces we sit and contemplate the vast paradoxes that the art of acting has to reveal about human nature. No one on earth has a greater sense of this than actors.

I understand Season 2 has a different story and performers and that Season 1 is complete in itself. By all means, see True Detective Season 1.

 

FBI Girl

23 Oct

 

FBI Girl – directed by William Berke. Crime Fighting/ Police Procedural. Leafing through the fingerprint files, a clerk must trap the truth about a sordid senator. 74 minutes Black and White 1951.

★★★★★

Even in a pinafore, Audrey Totter always looks like the hostess in a West Virginia nightclub run by racketeers, and as such she is always a big plus to any film she appears in. Her mouth is so voluptuous that even when she is playing a good girl, as here, you think she must go bad by the next reel. It lends her roles a sumptuous ambiguity. I like her very much. As to the level of talent she possesses, this is not question one asks of such an apparition. It would be like asking the Angel Gabriel if he can type. Oh, no, one sits back and rejoices in the atmosphere her presence guarantees.

 

Such is also the case with Cesár Romero, except it is quite easy to see that he can act like gangbusters, which is, in fact the part he plays. Romero’s screen energy is always peppy, always out front, vigorous, and apt. He was a handsome man who never aged, who looked marvelous in clothes – and here it looks like he wears them from his 1,000 suits wardrobe. His beautifully tailoring does not suppress his vitality or his humor.

 

Romero was to make hundred of movies. He went on acting into his 90s. He played parts that Gilbert Roland and Anthony Quinn ditched. He didn’t mind. For he had also played with perfect confidence cads in a mustache opposite Getty Grable in her heyday, and added a lively foil to that fine entertainer’s ebullience. It’s always good to see him.

 

It’s never good to see George Brent, unless you find fascination in staring at wallboard. It is extraordinary how inert he is. Listlessness was his volcano. He played opposite Bette Davis in 12 of her pictures. Did that laminate him? The odd thing is that, off camera, he was evidently desirability itself. Set next to Romero in this piece, the contrast is destructive to a degree of Brent, and Romero is not attempting to steal scenes. Brent has the animation of a Steiff penguin, except that in Brent’s case, although the adjective is abused, he was life size and his suit didn’t fit.

 

Tom Drake, late of the boy-next-door roles, gives you a sense of the terrible destructiveness of cute youth. The boy-next-door, if he is this cute and this aware of it, is but one step, if even one step, away from the cad-next-door. And this is the part he plays.

 

If the movie is silly, it is held at anchor by the performance of Raymond Burr, the man you love to hate, a sort of male Eleanor Bron. For perhaps not the only time but at least here his performance is restrained, collected, interior, and, despite that he plays a vile and ruthless assassin, one cares about him, for some reason. Sometimes Burr was an actor, not just of a part, but of parts, and this is one of those times.

 

Though it says it is, it’s not noir, and the plot is not plausible. For belief cannot be suspended when one gazes upon the arresting gowns Totter dons as the customary evening attire of a file clerk. On the other had, she is even more out of place in an apron. When credibility knocks at the door in Hollywood, no body comes to answer.

 

Prisoners

27 Sep

Prisoners – directed by Denis Valleneuve. Police Procedural Suspense Thriller. Two little girls are abducted and cannot be found. 153 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

This picture trips up over the train of its final complexities. Even the great Melissa Leo cannot render the unnecessary exposition scene at the end. Motiveless malignancy is all you need. Rationales do not have to be given for human nastiness. Nastiness is a gift of God, and we all are capable of it, and that we are unites us with Medea, Richard III, and Iago in a way that excuses and personal history and reasons for villainy keep us away. Alibis don’t make an audience empathetic. They make us dismissive. Don’t tell me why Iago did it. He did it because, no matter what his “reasons,” he had the  means, the will and the bent to do it, just like the rest of us. If you find out his motives you diminish his size. Such is the case here.

But I go on too long, for otherwise what else but praise can be due to the director and writer for bringing this marvelous picture show to us. And what good fortune to have Roger Deakins film it in dank color. What a pallet he has! What a way of harvesting light.

The performances of all – Leo, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, and Maria Bello are terrific. They rise to the writing like the grateful actors they are, recognizing good material at long last.

And to carry the sleigh we have the tandem horses of Jake Gyllenhaal as the investigating detective and Hugh Jackman as the father.

Jake Gyllenhaal is as moody as his sister is merry. He is the knight of doleful countenance, a melancholy Dane for our time. It is always necessary to see any picture he is in. He has that in common with few other actors of his generation – perhaps only Joaquin Phoenix. Gyllenhaal grounds the detective in personal probity – a quality scripted for the character but which he plays without irony opposite Wayne Duvall, cogent as the sloppy captain of the force. But there is something inside Gyllenhaal which animates this probity, a search for gutsy justice against exhaustion, failure, and opposition. He irons everything out.

What mainly needs ironing out is the father played by Hugh Jackman. This is the surprise performance of his career, and he has never to my knowledge demonstrated himself to be an actor of genius. Always good, mind you, always juste in his craft.  Never have you seen Jackman at this pitch. Never have you seen him capture a character particular – not general – and an American particular, but also, never have you seen him go to such extremes as you might only find in a female actor, in Geraldine Page, perhaps, or Anna Magnani. He is something to behold, and I hope you do behold him. He is extraordinary.

The film is thrilling.

And beautiful.

 

The Street With No Name

20 May

The Street With No Name –­– directed by William Keighley. Police Procedural. An FBI agent imbeds himself in a bank robber gang and almost doesn’t make it. 91 minutes Black and White 1948.

★★★★★

This good film is listed as a Noir, which it is not. It is not, because in Noir the protagonist much have something wrong with them, and there is nothing wrong with Mark Stevens at all. He is a good-looking honest-John male period.

The person who has something wrong with him is Richard Widmark who once again plays the psycho thug, which he began his career with by pushing Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs in Kiss Of Death while snickering. He did this sort of thing in a number of pictures in the ‘40s until he put his cloven-hoof down – but, in fact, he is much better as psychopaths than as a leading man. Here, thank goodness, he is a violent closeted homosexual.

Mark Stevens plays the agent who infiltrates Widmark’s gang, and to say he is too straight to be the hero of a Noir is not to diminish his gifts, for his playing is smart. He makes the character blithe, as though he didn’t have a care or worry in the world. He flirts with Widmark and sails into the harbor of the gang without a glance to the left or right. It’s a shrewd acting move, and Stevens is good at it. He laughs his way through peril. At least that is what he does while others are around and until the thrills start.

A word about such actors. Nice-guy actors form a blank which audiences fill in with themselves. The actor just stands there in his masculinity and his decency, and you do the rest. You find this all the way through literature, from Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince Of Tyre to Dickens’ David Copperfield to almost everything Gregory Peck ever did. These good-guy actors sometimes seem to almost have no temperament as actors, no human imagination, although lots of moral imagination, which is why they crowd together as leading players in Westerns. There are too many of them to list. They provide an empty upright outline which it is the audience’s mission to flesh and fill, a job the audience readily adopts because such actors are always in heroic roles.

A word about Noir style. It’s easy to mistake such a picture as this as Noir because of the way it looks. This one looks terrific, and that is because it was filmed by Joe MacDonald, a master of city streets at night. He would film Sam Fuller’s remake of it, House Of Bamboo, and Kazan’s Panic In The Streets. You might say that the story is really told by the way Joe MacDonald lights and films and moves it, that the narration is really in his hands, rather than the director’s, although the direction is good. The astonishing shoot-out in the immense factory at the end is an example of Joe MacDonald’s extraordinary ability to make a story happen. Someone should fo a study about the narrative power of such photographers as William Daniels, Ernest Haller, Joe MacDonald and other master photographers – although it’s probably already been written, ignoramus as I am.

The film is an A level crime film, with Lloyd Nolan, John McIntyre, and a teen-age Barbara Lawrence, in a gorgeous performance as Widmark’s beard-wife.

 

He Walked By Night

22 Aug

He Walked By Night – Directed by Albert Werker & Anthony Mann. Crime Drama. A sociopathic cop killer turns invisible until the L.A. Police doggedly track him down. 79 minutes Black and White 1948

* * * *

The picture begins rather flatly, even photographically, though shot by the mysterious John Alton. Then, except for a few scenes here and there, it takes off, and one detects the hand of Anthony Mann running the entertainment at us with his welcome and usual ruthless competence. Roy Roberts has the lead as the police chief in charge of finding the brilliant and elusive killer. He is assisted by Scott Brady playing the dumb cop who finally gumshoes the clues into the light of day. The film is an all-male suspense thriller, and it is riveting. On one side it is documentarian, but on the other, strange scenes follow one another in rapid order, creating a skewed sense of a loose-cannon killer holding a cannon – for instance, the long odd scene in which the killer enters the house of someone he knows, Whit Bissell, and beats him up for money. and a scene where the killer operates on himself to remove a bullet. These scenes and Alton’s treatment of them give the killer an unhinged interior for which Richard Basehart is perfectly cast, since he always looked nuts anyhow. (His apogee as an actor was the screwy tightrope clown in Fellini’s La Strada.) Here he is ingrown, mean, paranoid, and resourceful in all situations. Like the big chase scene at the end of Side Street, Mann mounts a stupendous chase through the storm sewers of Los Angeles. The excitement of these scenes completely obscures the fact that one does not care a fig for any of the characters, and that the director’s interest in the killer, signaled by the fact that only his own dog loves him, is purely for his entertainment value as someone as extreme in his attack in the film as the director is with the film itself.

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T-Men

18 Aug

T-Men – Directed by Anthony Mann. Undercover Operation Drama. Two Treasury agents disguise themselves as gangsters to expose a forgery ring. 92 minutes Black and White 1947.

* * *

Supposed to be noir, but not noir, although filmed like all get-out by John Alton who makes something baroquely mad out of a routine story. Dennis O’Keefe plays the government agent going into mufti as a gangster to uncover a counterfeit operation. Having once seen his Hamlet, it’s good to see Alfred Ryder on screen as the sidekick. Wallace Ford plays The Schemer and sweats a bucket doing so. He’s really wonderful; he always is. The story is supposedly authenticated by the presence of the actual TreasuryDepartment head, but this only lends a fussy lecture to the piece. Clearly more money has been poured into this than in previous Mann films of this era, and it pays off in sets and set decoration. O’Keefe is a decent bloke surrounded by violence. (Noir is not about decent blokes.) Mann is more interested in the violence than the decency, and, even when O’Keefe finally shoots down the rat with many shots, Mann brings neither moral nor emotional suasion to the deed. But Mann is a director of remarkable poise in the face of danger. He will keep at it until the deed is done.

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Gorky Park

24 Jul

Gorky Park – Directed by Michael Apted. Police Procedural. A Russian cop discovers an international smuggling plot and his true love in it. 2 hours 8 minutes Color 1983.

* * * * *

William Hurt certainly is a curious bloke. He gives off the same brain-dead emanation as John Malkovich. This quality serves him perfectly in the plot of this superbly suspenseful and remarkably well-directed piece. Filmed in Moscow itself, Helsinki, and Stockholm, we are never on the pinpoint of a sound-stage but always believe we are in the full impersonal latitudes where the film shows us to be. This is not film noir in color. Film noir is mostly every-spare-has-been-expensed, made on the cheap, that black lighting arranged to shade out the paltry sets. Here instead we have the big and unsettling panoramas of foreign unvisited countries and the ominous fall of snow. All exquisitely filmed by Ralf T. Bode. The set decoration by Michael Seirton and the costumes by Richard Bruno are splendid. And all this fortifies the distractions needed to veer us off course as the characters veer off course in proving what we know from his first appearance before us that Lee Marvin is the evil doer. How could it be otherwise? His self-possession is unequalled in all Christendom. I liked the way the story spreads out. It’s not based on concentration of scent, as in Sherlock Holmes, but on the appearance of random elements in a landscape ultimately making sense as belonging there. Michael Dennehy and Richard Griffiths lend their substance to the doings, and one roots for them. Ian Bannen brings his kindly presence to the task, and Ian Mcdiarmid nibbles the scenery nicely as the strange professor. I felt well-treated by the movie. As I opened its continually unexpected wrappings, I was always held by the next unfoldment, and the next, and the one after that.

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In The Heat Of The Night

24 May

In The Heat Of The Night – Directed by Norman Jewison. Police Procedural. A Negro detective from the North is waylaid in a Southern town to solve a murder. 109 minutes Color 1967.

* * * *

The police procedural aspects of this film fall flat as the plot brings on a bunch of over-acting tertiary players as thugs, the town tart, and an impossible culprit, thus ending it in inconsequential confusion. It should have stuck to its genre and completed its obligations honorably. It would have better served the inner shift in the principals, played by Rod Steiger and Sydney Poitier, both of whom grow up into humility because of one another.  Still one follows along. The secondary actors are superb: Lee Grant (as usual, always mistakenly wearing a wig that looks like a wig), William Schallert remarkable as the mayor, Warren Oates as a dumb Kopf cop, Larry Gates as he who gets slapped, and Beah Richards, trim and crafty as the abortionist/conjure woman. Steiger won an Oscar. So did the film. So did its sound. So did Hal Ashby who edited it. Sterling Silliphant, who won the Oscar for screenwriting, wrote it in a series of hills and dales which are disappointingly similar to one another. But along the way he enters some wonderful byways, such as the scene in Steiger’s house where Poitier and Steiger share confidences. Haskell Wexler also won an Oscar for filming it, and he has a great many interesting things to impart in the Extra Features. Steiger was the most self-indulgent actor to ever draw breath, and he draws it, as usual, far too often in scenes of competitive rage, which never work because they are technical and unmotivated. It is not those scenes for which he won the Oscar, but for scenes of doubt, dismay, embarrassment. It’s lovely to see him in these –­ to see what sort of an actor he could be. Poitier is not a great actor. He is very beautiful, of course, which counts for a great deal. But what he actually does is something else. What he does is produce A Presence, which remains the same from film to film, a star turn, if you will. He does so by establishing a few eternal constants within him. They consist, first, of his eyes, which are always seeking, no matter what the scene may be. And he does so also by always remaining in reserve, which gives him a dignity that plays off against his seeking eyes in a combination that produces a tension in him and, for us, a waiting to see who will or will not take offense at him. This confines him somewhat vocally, and we are never in the presence of one who is vulnerable, which is all right, but it does limit his chances to actually act. Thank God for him, though. He remains the Jackie Robinson of movies, exactly the right person for the job, for he can hold the screen like nobody’s business. The blatant extremes of racial prejudice here now look goofy; they were probably no help then, either. Only in Larry Gates’ orchid scene do you see a subtle alternative. Otherwise the racial conflicts are garish. The film, however, operates on another level, and still works very well as two men coming to maturity in one another’s natures, both of them smart, ruthless, and alone.

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Butterfly Collectors

05 Mar

Butterfly Collectors — directed by Jean Stewart — 2 Part TV Police Procedural. A detective becomes partisan to a crime suspect. 150 minutes Color 1999

* * * *

What gifts bring an actor to the fore? Here we have Pete Postlethwaite playing opposite a very beautiful young man, who is also a good actor, Jamie Draven. And yet if the director were tempted to put them both in the same frame at the same time, one would not watch the beautiful young man. Put Edward G. Robinson on the stage with the most beautiful actor in the world, as Richard Burton said, and you would not be able to take your eyes off Edward G. Robinson. Postlethwaite’s face. Wide-spaced large blue eyes filled with uncertainty and searching. A ruddy complexion. A wide expressive mouth. A hatchet face marred or made by time. An incipient bald spot. A sense coming off of him that you do not know what he is going to do next, and whatever it is, you might not like it. A lower class affect. It would be hard to imagine him in a leading tuxedo part. He has, however, toured in King Lear playing all the parts, which means he played the dukes and the king and evidently all the princesses too. Emotionally he seems to have that rather rare quality in an actor –—Toshiro Mifune had it — of being able to turn on an emotional dime, a faculty which saves directors and screenwriters an enormous amount of time. He’s of middle height. Slender. Moves well. Can smoke innumerable cigarettes. Can give over to being entirely, deeply internal. Does not seem to act for the camera or for the second balcony, as Ingrid Bergman did. And a curious, distinctive, and well-placed voice. Does this help? In any case, here he is in a big long principal role in this two-part detective film. One of the great actors of modern times. I owe to myself to see him wherever I can, and to bring him to you, so that you may wonder and delight.

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