Continuing the challenge first suggested by Nathan Jones, I’m bringing to you the next three movies starting with the letters D, E, and F:
Day of Anger (I giorni dell’ira, aka Gunlaw, aka The Days of Wrath, 1967) Tonino Valerii (Arrow Blu-ray)
A young street sweeper (a somewhat nicer term for "garbage man") named Scott (Giuliano Gemma) is the butt of everyone’s jokes in the town of Clifton, Arizona in the Old West. When a famous gunfighter named Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef) rides into town, Scott immediately implores Talby to teach him how to become a gun hand and earn the town’s respect. Talby uses each adventure and dangerous situation as teaching moments. “Rule Number One….” followed by a pearl of wisdom, usually attached with a level of skill he must attain. Scott is hopelessly awkward and green, and we soon determine that he’ll have a long road ahead of him. But then again, maybe not.
The first half of the film is total entertainment filled with suspense and enjoyable (albeit sometimes unrealistic) gunfights. Scott’s character undergoes a personal transformation which becomes darker than some of the film’s earlier comedic moments might indicate. But then again, Italian Westerns (very popular during this time) sometimes play by a different set of rules. The Arrow Blu-ray I own contains both the 114-minute and 86-minute cuts. I watched the former. I enjoyed it, but my unfamiliarity with most spaghetti westerns (although I have seen most of the famous ones) probably keeps me from fully appreciating Day of Anger. Maybe I’ll hang onto it, yet this one may go in the “to sell” pile.
Eight Men Out (1988) John Sayles (MGM ex-library DVD)
I don’t know why I waited so long to watch this film by John Sayles, a director I have always admired. I also don’t know why Eight Men Out is not discussed more. Maybe that has something to do with being overshadowed by Field of Dreams one year later, or maybe because this was essentially the last nail in the coffin of Orion Pictures. Regardless, this is a terrific baseball/character study/historical film that should be better known. (Perhaps I should say “better watched,” because many people know about it.) The story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox scandal makes for a great story, but there’s more than just a historical film going on here.
The story hits the ground running, not in a frantic way, but allowing us to see that there’s discontent among a few guys on the White Sox team, mostly discontent of a financial nature. Team owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James) made monetary promises he apparently never intended to keep, despite the fact that his team is practically unbeatable. Of course this leads to corruption in the form of gambling, betting, and selling your soul. It’s not only a story about the manipulation of the uneducated by the wealthy and powerful (which is certainly is), but also disillusionment, corruption, and the tampering with things that in and of themselves are good, fracturing the always tenuous idea of the American Dream. It’s a tremendous film with exceptional period detail, talent in front of and behind the camera, and a wonderful script by Sayles and Eliot Asinof. The film runs a bit long, but there’s an awful lot going on here, including a trial (which can always run the risk of, shall we say, extra innings?). I hope to someday see a better presentation than the DVD I saw, and better than the Olive Blu-ray, which I've read has problems. Until that time, this one will probably go in the “out the door” pile.
Foolish Wives (1922) Erich von Stroheim (Kino DVD)
I don’t know enough about silent film to make an intelligent comment on the level of genius of Erich von Stroheim, since so many of his films were tampered with and beyond his strict creative control. With his third film, Foolish Wives was cut from 21 reels to seven, then later restored to the most complete version we now have at 143 minutes. The film is fascinating and very much unlike many of the typical silent dramas of the time, not only in it’s look (the most expensive Hollywood production at the time), but also in its examination of culture, morality, and high-society crime.
The film takes place in Monte Carlo where “Count” Vladislaw Sergius Karamzi (von Stroheim) is spending the summer in a rented villa with his cousins, Her Highness Olga Petchnikoff (Maude George) and Princess Vera (Mae Busch). It’s all a sham; they’re really a trio of con artists looking for their next big score. All they need is a rich chump to take to the cleaners. Enter American diplomat Mr. Hughes (Rudolph Christians) and his wife Helen (Miss DuPont), who’ve just arrived in Monte Carlo.
Sergius takes it upon himself to focus his attentions on Helen, which leads to many extraordinary situations and moments that touch on many aspects of desire, human nature, and more. Foolish Wives is filled with great scenes including those at a large casino and the spectacular fire sequence near the end of the film. (How did they safely do this?) The Kino DVD (and also the Blu-ray) contains an excellent commentary by von Stroheim biographer Richard Koszarski, which I sampled. I’ll keep this one.
Next time: G, H, and I