Tuesday, June 20, 2017

John Wayne in “This Little Bullet”

The other day, I was looking at the list of John Wayne's films on the IMDb and my eye stopped on an unknown title. I thought I had seen all of the Duke’s pictures. But there was one listed from 1970 that not only had I never seen, but also had never heard of.

Wedged between “The Undefeated,” from 1969, and “Chisum,” from 1970, was “This Little Bullet.”

On the page for the film, the IMDb noted it was an 88-minute American movie.

But, reading further, I learned “This Little Bullet” was not a John Wayne western. Nor was it a contemporary cop film, like the ones he made late in his career like “McQ” from 1974 and “Brannigan” from 1975.

In fact, it wasn’t a John Wayne movie at all.

It was an 18-minute gun-safety film featuring Wayne and produced by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

John Wayne, wearing a cowboy hat, western clothes and holding a rifle, introduces the subject which he then turns over to a shooting instructor. The instructor, Jack Ellison of the Arizona Firearms Safety Program, then runs through several demonstrations. Wayne comments on the demonstrations and warns of the power and destructiveness of one little bullet. He returns at the end for some parting comments.

This little film is packaged with two other safety films in a DVD, which must account for the 88-minute running time.

A viewer on YouTube remembered “This Little Bullet” being shown in schools throughout Arizona.

No matter which side of the gun debate you come down on, this safety film, and John Wayne’s presence in it, is worth a look.

And – because the makers of instructional and corporate films rarely get any recognition – the film was directed and edited by Wes Keyes; written by Bob Hernbrode; photographed by Davd Daughtry; and had Dale Dundas as technical advisor.

(For more posts on film and television, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

“Megan Leavey” is a Movie to See

A super, non-super-hero, movie opened locally and we caught one of the first showings. The film is “Megan Leavey” and it is a good one.

The story is based on the experiences of the real Megan Leavey who joined the Marines in the early 2000s, worked, worked out, and trained to be good enough to join the K-9 unit. There, she was assigned to the most vicious dog in the military kennel, learned to work with it as a bomb-detecting team, and was sent to Iraq where she and her dog conducted some hair-raising searches.

Kate Mara does a terrific job playing Megan Leavey. The actor and rapper, Common, is excellent as the sergeant in charge of the K-9 training program. And, director Gabriella Cowperthwaite, who previously made documentaries, does an excellent job here. The cast is strong, the action is well done, and the emotions are right up there, as you would expect in a dog movie.

If it is playing at a theater near you, go see it. If has not opened, keep an eye out for it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

“Lawrence of Arabia” before O’Toole & Lean

Last week’s post on the low budget 1944 film, “Action in Arabia,” drew an interesting comment from Sergio, who blogs at the terrific site, Tipping My Fedora.” He said the large scale shots of Arab fighters were filmed years earlier for a never-completed movie about T.E. Lawrence. This intrigued me enough to hunt for more about this early version of “Lawrence of Arabia.”

In a 2011 post on “Action in Arabia,” Mark Gabrish Conlan said Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack planned a Lawrence film after they finished “King Kong.” They took the first production steps, sending Schoedsack to the Middle East to shoot scenes of mounted Arab fighters. The Lawrence film was cancelled and years later, the scenes filmed wound up in “Action in Arabia”.


 The Cooper and Schoedsack production that almost happened makes for a great “one-that-got-away” story. Before making their now famous studio productions in Hollywood, the team made some fine documentaries in far off places during the silent era. A great one is “Grass” from 1925. Cooper and Schoedsack recorded the journey of a tribe of about 50,000 people and their livestock over mountains between Turkey and Iran to reach good grazing lands.

Another site, Crawley’s Casting Calls, provides the bumpy history of attempts to make a movie about T.E. Lawrence. Crawley’s says Cooper and Schoedsack also considered hiring Howard Hawks to direct Ronald Colman as Lawrence. Around the same time, producer Alexander Korda also wanted to make a “Lawrence of Arabia” with Leslie Howard playing Lawrence, which would have been excellent casting. Korda produced some big pictures with exotic locals around that time, including “The Four Feathers” in 1939. His Lawrence film could have been a Technicolor spectacular.

Cooper and Schoedsack had also produced a version of “The Four Feathers” in 1929.

Too bad Korda, Cooper and Schoedsack could not have teamed up. They would have made a terrific movie. But, if they had, we may never have gotten David Lean’s great 1962 film.


And Lean’s casting of Peter O’Toole in the lead (although not his first choice), was pretty darn good, too.

(For more posts on movies and television, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Friday, June 2, 2017

No Beast So Fierce by Edward Bunker

Edward Bunker’s 1973 novel, No Beast So Fierce, is no book for the feint of heart.

This story of 31-year-old Max Dembo, who is released from prison after eight years and never wants to return, but cannot tolerate the rules, regulations, and boredom of straight life and returns to crime is filled with crude, coarse scenes, and language so raw, it must have curled the hair of readers five decades ago. (Of course, similar scenes and language are now accepted entertainment on cable TV.)

Max, who spent a good part of his life behind bars, from reform school, to county jails, to the California prison system, is released at the beginning of the book and he vows never to return. It is 1964 and he is going home to Los Angeles determined to get a job and live a straight life. But his plans have big flaws. Max does not know how to live a straight life. The only life he knows is crime, and the only people he knows are criminals. He finds it impossible to straddle the straight world and the underworld and after a short struggle, gives up and turns back to crime. He regrets not being able to turn his life around, yet he craves action and enjoys the outlaw life.

No Beast So Fierce starts off hard. The prison situation is hard, and the language of the men inside is hard. Once out and reverting back to his old ways, the story meanders a bit and introduces too many petty thieves, drunks and junkies. But Bunker’s purpose is clear, he is sticking the readers face into the hard realities of these character’s lives – the crummy living conditions, the edginess and violence around them, the day-to-day, hand-to-mouth existence. And he knows what he is talking about. Bunker spent time in reform schools and state prisons until he straightened himself out. He began reading and then writing. Every page has the odor of reality on it. This man knew what he was talking about.

Once Max gets to work robbing, the book picks up speed. He goes from a supermarket stick up, to bank robbery to a major jewelry heist. And when things start to go wrong, they really go wrong for Max, and the story flies to its conclusion.

No Beast So Fierce, like other Bunker novels, is a fast read, but a gritty, grubby one, which will leave you feeling like you need to go outside, breathe the fresh air, and thank your lucky stars you are not in Max Dembo’s world (at least, I hope you are not).

Edward Bunker was born in 1933 in Los Angeles. He died in 2005 in Burbank, California.

(To see my review of Bunker's novel Dog Eat Dog. click here.) 

 (For more posts on books this week, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

World War II Spy Film “Action in Arabia”

Last Sunday, as part of its Memorial Day weekend of war pictures, Turner Classic Movies showed a little, and little known, espionage film from 1944 called “Action in Arabia.”

The movie, made two years after “Casablanca,” owes a lot to that Academy Award winning Humphrey Bogart flick. While “Action in Arabia” could not hope to match the older film, it has plenty of intrigue and style.

George Sanders stars as a newspaper reporter in Damascus, waiting for a flight out of the region when a colleague is stabled to death. Sanders refuses to leave until he finds out why. He starts his investigation by searching for the woman his friend met and went off with. The antagonistic French authorities want Sanders to go home. American not-so-undercover agents want Sanders to go home. A sinister hotel owner wants Sanders to go home. And bunch of other people want Sanders dead as he gets too close to solving the mystery.

The mystery is not much of a puzzle. Nazi agents in the region are stirring up and recruiting Arab fighters to come into the war on their side.

The story line is corny and simple, too many characters are thin stereotypes, and most of the action scenes are just so-so, but the ever-suave Sanders brings a sophistication to the movie. He also wears a white dinner jacket well, as Bogart did in “Casablanca.”

Director Leonide Moguy gives this 75-minute, black and white film a smooth, slick, and very dark atmosphere. Russian-born Moguy, who directed films in France before going to Hollywood, makes the most of this little RKO production. It looks less like the usual Hollywood movie of the time and more like a European film. If the name Leonide Moguy sounds familiar, it may be because Quentin Tarantino used the name for one of his characters in “Django Unchained” as a tribute to a filmmaker whose movies he likes.

Early in “Action in Arabia,” Sanders’ character meets an attractive, mysterious woman, played by co-star Virginia Bruce, gambling at a baccarat table. A surprisingly similar baccarat scene was filmed 18 years later by director Terrence Young for “Dr. No.” Young’s scene introduced Bond, James Bond.

(For more posts on film and television, check out Todd Mason's blog.) 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Early police-procedural film, Naked City, holds up

Television’s “Law & Order” from the 1990s and 2000s, may owe a nod of gratitude to the movie, “The Naked City,” for showing how a fast-paced, no-nonsense, police procedural is done.

The 1948 picture is the granddaddy of police procedural films and TV, and all these years later it still holds up.

Like the film, “Law & Order” follows two detectives as they work a case, spending little or no time on their personal lives. Also like the movie, the show was filmed entirely in New York City.

At the time the movie was made, location filming was rare. Hollywood started doing more movies in real places after Louis DeRochemont, a producer of newsreels, made several features partially on location in the mid-1940s. But the extensive use of locations in “The Naked City” was unique enough to be noted in a voice-over prologue delivered by producer Mark Hellinger.

The location photography is a big plus for the movie. It gives the film a documentary reality. It also gives viewers today a glimpse of city life as it was nearly 70 years ago. 

In the opening, Hellinger, and director Jules Dassin present New York in a rough-edged travelogue. They show the life of the city during the day, then at night, and wind up in the apartment of a model. The model is murdered by two thugs, her body discovered in the morning by a house keeper. The police arrive, the crime scene unit goes to work, and the case goes to a veteran detective, Lt. Dan Muldoon. He is assisted by a young detective, Jimmy Halloran, newly promoted into the squad. Muldoon, played by Barry Fitzgerald and Halloran, played by Don Taylor, are the main characters. The filmmakers follow them as they work to find out why the girl was murdered, who did it, and were to find the bad guys.

Fitzgerald, the Irish actor best known for his parts in “The Quiet Man,” and “Going My Way,” seems like an odd choice for the lead role as a detective. But it was a canny choice. Not only was Fitzgerald a versatile actor, but he also brought warmth to the movie. Without him, its realistic story and settings could have been too coarse and cold. Don Taylor was another good choice. Taylor had been around a few years in small parts, but at the time of “The Naked City” he was starting to break through. He was a post-war every man and may be best remembered as Elizabeth Taylor’s fiancée in “Father of the Bride.”

Ted de Corsia plays the baddie the cops are after, and that is not a spoiler. Seen at the beginning, he also turns up at other times in the film, following the detectives’ progress.

When Halloran gets a break, learning where he can find the man he is hunting, he makes a mistake and goes after him alone. The picture winds up in an exciting chase around the tenement streets of Manhattan and onto one of its bridges.

Jules Dassin, who made a mark with noir films in the mid-1940s, does an excellent job in keeping this 96-minute, black-and-white movie moving. Soon after making “The Naked City” Dassin ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He found himself unable to work in America, went to England, and there made the Richard Widmark noir classic, “Night and the City.” Dassin then moved to Paris where he made the heist classic “Rififi.” Finally he moved to Greece where he married actress Melina Mercouri. Together they made several films including the social comedy “Never on Sunday,” and the comic heist film, “Topkapi.”

One of the writers on the picture, Albert Maltz, was later jailed for contempt of Congress by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was one of the famous “Hollywood Ten” – 10 writers and directors who resisted the committee’s insistence they confess to being Communists and accuse friends and associates of being Communists.

The other writer on the film was Malvin Wald, the younger brother of Warner Bros. writer and producer, Jerry Wald.

Before "The Naked City" was released, producer Mark Hellinger died of a heart attack in December 1947 at the age of 44. Hellinger, a famous New York newspaper columnist of the 1930s, went to Hollywood where he produced some great films like the James Cagney gangster picture, “The Roaring ’20s,” and the noir classic “The Killers.” Heard a second time in “The Naked City,” he delivers a spoken epilogue that has this classic closing line:

“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

(For more posts on movies and TV, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Excellent British Crime Series “Line of Duty”

My friend Col of Col’s Criminal Library put me on to a terrific British television series called “Line of Duty.”

This show is so good, I had to do my part and pass along the tip.

The first season (a five-episode series on two DVDs here in the U.S.) starts with a bang. A heavily armed police task force hits an apartment block, crashes in on a suspected terrorist, kills him in front of his family, only to find out it is the wrong address.

Blame flows down from the brass, landing on a young cop, Sgt. Steve Arnott. He is ordered to lie at an inquisition. He refuses and his career is over, unless he accepts the only position left open to him in the police department – an investigator in AC-12. This is the hated unit investigating corrupt cops.

Arnott’s new boss has a target in mind – DCI Tony Gates, a chief inspector with a track record so good, he must be faking it. Gates’ cases are complicated with plenty of room for the cops in his squad to fudge facts, bend the rules, and even commit crimes themselves.

With his only choices being investigate Gates or quit the force, Arnott is conflicted. He wants to work, but he also longs to be a regular cop and give the subject a break.

And that sums up the first 20 minutes of this five-hour series.

Steve Arnott is played by Martin Compston, a good actor I have not seen before. His boss is played by the Irish actor Adrian Dunbar who has been around a while, and who has a stare so steady in interrogation scenes you may want to do some confessing yourself. DCI Gates is played by Lennie James, a powerful and charismatic presence who will have viewers wondering if he is really guilty and hoping he is not. Fleming, another member of the anti-corruption unit is played by Vicky McClure, an actress with just the right amount of toughness and vulnerability to seem genuine in the part.

“Line of Duty” is not to be missed.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cary Grant & Audrey Hepburn in “Charade”

Over the weekend, I heard the theme from the movie “Charade” and that spurred me to watch it again.

I have seen “Charade” a half a dozen times over the years, and even though I know the story, know the mystery’s solution, know where the clues are planted, I still enjoy it.

While on vacation at a French mountain resort, Regina Lambert, played by the elegant Audrey Hepburn (in clothes designed by Givenchy) contemplates divorce from her shady husband. She does not have to think too long about it because he is murdered on a train by men searching for stolen money. The men and the husband were all in on the theft, but the husband made off with it, and now they want their share.

Regina meets a dashing, mysterious and somewhat older man, played by Cary Grant, who volunteers to protect her from the bad guys. Or, does he just want the money himself?

Grant was 25 years older than Hepburn, but that hardly matters since these movie stars are such charismatic superstars, complete with their own unique accents.

So right there, the movie has two of the most charming people ever to appear on the silver – or Technicolor – screen.

Hepburn and Grant are plunked down in Paris to solve the mystery, while trying hard not to be killed by three odd villains played by James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass. Into this mix comes a square, but humorous American government man, played by Walter Matthau.

For just under two hours, this group dodges, attacks, evades, and detects in a clever, intricate, and light script by Peter Stone and Marc Behm. The doings were guided by director Stanley Donen, in a departure from the musicals he made in the 1950s, many with Gene Kelly.

And talking about music, “Charade” has one of the best theme songs courtesy of the great Henry Mancini. If you don’t remember what it sounded like, click here and listen.

Now a question:

Was there ever a cooler, classier, comic-mystery-thriller than this 1963 film?

Maybe there was. “North by Northwest”? Perhaps. But for me, Hepburn and Grant were a better combo than Grant and Saint.

(For more posts on film and television, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“It Always Rains on Sunday” Kitchen Sink Noir

As a fan of British films, particularly those of the post-World War II period, I waited a long time before catching “It Always Rains on Sunday”.

The movie is a surprising combination of styles, one that was near its height when it came out in 1947 and another not quite a style yet. “It Always Rains on Sunday” is a crime picture, a thriller with film-noir touches, and an early example of “kitchen sink” drama, a style that would catch on a decade later with the “angry young man” dramas.

This film could be called an angry young woman film. In fact it has several angry young women in it.

Rose, played by Googie Withers, is a former barmaid whose boyfriend proposes to her just before getting arrested and shipped off to prison. She settles for a man 15 years her senior whom she marries. When the picture opens, she is living with him and his two grown daughters and little son in a tiny attached house. A good deal of Rose’s life, and this movie, is spent in the cramped kitchen which doubles as the dining room, laundry room, and bathroom – that is, the tub is in there, too. The other fixture, I am guessing, is out behind the house.

One night, Rose’s former boyfriend escapes from jail and hides in a shed in her backyard. She finds him, takes him in, feeds him and lets him sleep in her bed while the rest of the family is out on a rainy Sunday. But family members keep returning to the house, giving Rose and the con several scares and breaking up a rekindled romance.

In the meantime, one step-daughter is seeing a shady, married man. The shady man’s brother, a small-time gambler and fence of stolen items, is putting the moves of the other, more naïve step-daughter. And the married man’s wife, who catches on to the affair, is the fourth angry woman in this film.

This moody, edgy film has some unusual twists for its time. It is as crowded with story as its streets are crowded with people. In a subplot, three petty criminals try to unload stolen goods and immediately attract the attention of a police detective, played by Jack Warner (not the Hollywood mogul, but the British actor who looked a bit like Jack Hawkins). The detective is happy to pinch them, but he is busy on the trail of Rose’s old boyfriend. The circle quickly closes in on Rose and the con.

The man makes a run for it and Rose considers suicide in a subtle but horrifying scene in the kitchen.

This rough, crude drama winds itself up with an exciting finish in a railroad yard.

“It Always Rains on Sunday,” based on a novel by Arthur Le Bern, was directed by Robert Hamer, and was produced by Michael Balcon and Henry Cornelius at Ealing Studios. Ealing was famous for its Alec Guinness comedies, but the company produced a variety of very good dramas in the 1940s and 1950s. “It Always Rains on Sunday” was one of them and it is well worth seeing.

(For more posts on film and television, check out Todd Mason's blog.)

Friday, April 7, 2017

FFB: The James Deans by Reed Farrel Coleman

Moe Prager is a former New York City cop who left the force after a knee injury. He splits his time between the up-scale wine shop he owns with his brother, and the occasional private investigation job.

At the beginning of The James Deans, a wealthy man pressures Moe to investigate the unsolved case of a murdered intern of a state senator. The crime derailed the career of the politician, changing him from a rising star to a prime suspect. His wealthy backer wants him cleared so the man can continue his climb.

As a cop in Brooklyn ten years earlier, Moe Prager made the papers when he solved a missing child case. The rich man believes Moe is luckier than the police and the private investigators stumped by the case.

The pressure applied to Moe comes in the form of a state inspector arriving at his wine shop. The message to Moe is people with political pull can make his life miserable if he refuses to work the case. Moe agrees to take a look. A friend in the NYPD helps him with department information. But another former cop, the hard-drinking father of the dead woman, refuses to talk to Moe, which is a smaller mystery within the larger story.

Moe digs into the case, exposing other mysteries and placing himself, his brother, and his wife and child in danger.

The James Deans is Reed Farrel Coleman’s third Moe Prager mystery, but the first I have read. Meeting his cool, savvy P.I. and sampling his hard-edged writing style, I will be reading more Moe Prager stories, soon.

(For more posts on books, check out Patti Abbott's blog.)