Archive for May, 2012

Charade (1963)

Posted in Films 2012, Uncategorized with tags on May 16, 2012 by tom

As much as I hate restating what others have said, I must agree: “Charade is the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made.

The cast is extraordinary, with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant starring. The supporting characters, anchored by Oscar winners George Kennedy, James Coburn, and Walter Matthau, really enhance the action.

And the action is superb. There is $250,000 missing, and five bad guys plus Cary Grant think Audrey Hepburn knows where it is. (Her husband was killed on a train, and he was supposed to have had it).

Audrey Hepburn falls in love with Cary Grant, then mistrusts him, then back in love, then back to not trusting. He goes through five or six different names.

The bad guys, though, start turning up dead. Then everything goes to hell. People you thought were crooks turn out to be legit, and vice versa, and there is so incredibly little I can say about this film without spoilers.

I’ll say this: I have seen a lot of films this year, and I can’t think of many I’ve enjoyed more. If you trust me, get a big bowl of popcorn, a nice big beverage, and enjoy. I had a blast with “Charade.” I hope you will too.

Grade: A

(note: Director Stanley Donen apparently screwed up with the copyright, meaning “Charade” is available free on Hulu, etc.)


The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on May 10, 2012 by tom

Film noir at its noiriest.

Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is a hard-drinking gumshoe, just trying to eke out a living on the foggy streets of San Francisco, the city by the bay. One day, a dreamboat dame (Mary Astor) comes into his office, showing her gams, and spinning a boffo yarn about a kid sister, shanghaied from the Big Apple by a mystery man named Thursby. When Spade & his partner, Archer (some guy who dies in the first 5 minutes) pour the dame’s story into a saucer, the cat won’t lick it up.

Archer eyeballs the hotel where Thursby is supposed to meet the dame. Instead, somebody yanks a gat and offs him, leaving “A $10,000 insurance policy, no kids, and a wife who doesn’t like him.” Rough break for Archer, with a coach seat on the Adios Express.

A friendly dick in the PD calls Spade, who hightails it to the scene. He gives a quick sniff for clues, but he’s stymied. He calls his girl Friday to break the news to Archer’s missus.

The next day, Spade meets up with the dame again, cracking wise, and getting the straight skinny. There is no missing sister, but this mysterious Thursby is a whole special edition of bad news, especially when he turns up shot up into a thug colander.

Next night, this dapper little gent called Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) pays a call on Spade. Cairo’s too uptown, with his tux and fancy walking stick. Spade gives him the business, and Cairo offers to play ball. Cairo’s big boss can’t put his hands on a stupid bird statue, and he wants it. He wants it $5000 clams worth ($450,000,000,000.74 in 2012 clams), with no questions asked. Spade smells a rat, but he’s willing to follow said rat to see where it leads him.

He rings up his Girl Friday at her desk, and tells her to go home. When he turns around, the odd Cairo gent has pulled a heater, and says he’s going to sniff around Spade’s office. He moves Spade to the middle of the room to frisk him, saying he’ll sling lead if Spade tries any funny stuff.

Sam Spade’s old lady didn’t raise him to get bamboozled. Spade grabs the gun with one hand, and knocks the little Beau Brummel out with a sock to the kisser.

While Cairo is out cold, Spade paws through his coat. Silver cigarette case, theater ticket, wallet with a couple large in greenbacks, and four passports, all from different countries.

Spade smells an even bigger rat, like a guinea pig-sized NYC sewer rat. When Cairo comes to, he and Spade put their cards on the table. Cairo says he thought Spade had the statue. Spade gave up that he didn’t. Cairo offers Spade a Benjamin retainer. Spade takes two.

Spade gives the little guy back his shooting iron. Cairo turns it on him, and insists on giving Spade’s office the once over. Spade is laughing too hard to stop him.

Later, Spade cottons to a goon in a trenchcoat and fedora, gives him the slip, and goes back to the dame’s hotel room. She pries, and Sam gets wise to the dame, throwing words at each other, and sucking a little face.

They get back to Spade’s office to meet Cairo. Spade quickly savvies out that the two have a past. The dame slaps Cairo, who starts toward her to rough her up. Spade tells him, “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it,” and slaps his chops forehand and backhand.

The dame’s tale keeps getting wilder and wilder. Sam sends her home with his Girl Friday to stash her away from the pack of cops and hired muscle after her.

Spade hears tell of “The Fat Man,” oddly named Gutman. Spade busts on one of Gutman’s goons, and sends him home with a message for Gutman. Mr. Gutman calls, and sets a meet-up with Spade.

Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet) pours them both a drink, and passes around stogies. Gutman gabs that, “(He’s) a man who likes to talk to men who like to talk.” Things go south, and Spade ransacks the joint, and storms out. On the way to the elevator, Spade grins.

Gutman’s goon cops an attitude: “You keep pushing me, and they’ll be picking iron out of your liver.” Spade takes his guns away, and slaps him around.

The fat man pours more high-class rotgut, and gives the skinny on the Maltese Falcon. Gutman plays dirty pool, and slips Spade a Mickey Finn, sending him to la-la land.

When Spade comes to, he heads back to his office, where a man comes in, with three slugs in his chest, drops a newspaper-wrapped bundle on the floor, and falls stone dead on the office sofa.

By now, everyone interested in the bird has a yarn to spin, and there are more knots than a macrame plant hanger. Gutman unwraps the bundle, and exposes the Falcon. He pulls out a penknife and scrapes away. It’s a bum falcon, no gold, no gems.

Gutman and his goons hightail it. Spade drops a dime, and they get picked up. He also gets the dame to spill that she killed Sam’s partner. He drops another dime, and the flatfoots come and take her off to the big house.

Spade and Gutman both laugh a lot. They’d be a swell team, but it isn’t in the cards.

Sam Spade lives to solve another case.

Roll Credits.

(Bogie, Greenstreet, and Lorre are especially good, and John Huston did a splendid job, both in adapting Dashiell Hammett’s novel, and directing. Beautiful film, one I can watch over and over, and still love)

Grade: A

Rock & Roll Heaven is A Little Fuller: My Summer Playing With Dylan and The Band (RIP Levon Helm)

Posted in Uncategorized on May 2, 2012 by tom

I have a confession. I always liked ABC. I liked Martin Fry’s voice, and the slick production. Here’s a link to “Be Near Me.”  Seriously, Martin Fry is debonair as hell, even if everyone else in the video must cringe at their hair and clothing choices.

I grew up in the 80’s. The music du jour was “New Wave,” or “Synth Pop.” Bands like Soft Cell, Human League, and Thompson Twins ruled the charts. I never bought Thriller or Purple Rain.

So much of the music was just synthesizers and drum machines; it struck me as artificial and somewhat sterile, like the cocaine everyone was doing back then.

When I was in high school, I played in a band. It was more a consortium of friends who had musical instruments, really. The drummer and keyboardist/bass player had talent. I had a 100 watt Fender Twin Reverb amp. What I lacked in talent, I made up for in tube-driven volume.We played a dozen times or so, then went our own ways. We were just guys playing blues and rock for the sheer, distorted hell of it: making noiseful joy. 

Back then, in our radio market, we had Top 40 stations and Classic Rock. When I was in eighth grade, I switched to Classic Rock, and I never went back.

There were some contemporary rock bands I liked okay: Triumph, Journey, Rush, et alia, but none of them made me want to pick up my Telecaster and play. 

Then I bought “Before the Flood,” a live album by Bob Dylan and The Band. This two-record set was just right. I picked up, plugged in, and played along. The summer of my junior year, that was my favorite album. I’d stand up, and play along with each cut, just like I was onstage with them. I’m sure my playing wasn’t spot-on, but it came from my heart.

Of course, I’ve never even seen Dylan or anyone in The Band in person. But I was jammin’ with them nonetheless.

The Band was talented, to be sure. Robbie Robertson is a fine guitarist; Rick Danko was excellent on bass, and the dual keyboardists, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, added a fullness to The Band’s sound. But the heart and soul of The Band–at least to me–was the drummer, Levon Helm.

Levon had a voice that had to come from the southern part of somewhere. His drumming was steady and sure, but that voice. It was full of kudzu and clay, of long humid nights with fireflies and cicadas, of moonshine whiskey and cigarettes and hard times.

THAT was the sound I wanted. I had live albums by CCR and Neil Young that I blasted as well, but I kept coming back to “Before the Flood.” The Band drove Dylan to be better, and Levon Helm drove The Band to be better, to keep it real. Robertson and Danko were the pin-up boys, but Levon Helm, folding his tall lanky self behind the drums, he made the band immortal.

I was thinking today that I couldn’t tell you what chords went with what song. I bet if you put a Telecaster in my hands, and played that record, muscle memory would get my fingers where they needed to be.

ABC and friends were coiffed, dressed to the nines, and spent more on hair products in one day than Levon Helm did his entire life. I love ABC’s sound, but I don’t feel it in my heart. It’s not me.

Somewhere in the center of my being, in one of those little boxes that define us, there are humid nights, a loud guitar, and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” sung by a guy who always meant it.

RIP, Levon Helm. Thanks for carrying The Weight so wonderfully. .


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