To You I Bring Cat Ballou

My dear old uncle Dave of Vermont recommended I add Cat Ballou to my film list. “Two Lee Marvins,” he said, “you can’t beat that.” I had only heard of Lee Marvin from his mentions in Terantino films, so I expected him to play a gun-slinging hardass like Mr. White, or the outlaw Josie Wales. While Lee Marvin’s character, Kid Sheleen, does play a gun slinger, “hard” is not the ass prefix I’d ascribe to him.

Drunkass. Slackass. Oldass. Those would work. This hokey, folksy film leans heavily on Marvin’s slapstick and alcohol abuse, as well as a pair of folk musicians–Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaybe–who pop up from time to time turning the narrative into song and creating, in real time, the American legend of Cat Ballou. It’s fun to find Nat King Cole, young and trim, waiting behind every scene with a banjo or sitting at a piano.

Thoughts on Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes

Finally, a film set almost exclusively on a train. From the opening scene showing a set of trains snowed in on some mountain clime, we know we’re in for some high railroad drama. We also get to see the fine dining available on the train for these wealthy Europeans, their cozy sleeping cars and aisles much wider than a bus’s or an airplanes’.

The movie starts in the fictional country of Bandrika, somewhere in the Alps between Germany, Italy, and France. Avalanches are common in this country, and the frazzled manager of the hotel where an eclectic crowd of visitors must stay and wait for the tracks to clear says, “even the trains disappear under the avalanche.”

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DeVito Throws Hitchcock from the Train

Last month, I wrote a blurb about Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. It’s a great film. So when I realized Danny DeVito’s Throw Momma from the Train was an adaptation, I got excited. But it’s apparent from the start of Throw Momma that the plot isn’t a copy of the original. And that’s okay. It’s different and good.

Danny DeVito’s character, Owen, is in Billy Crystal’s character, Larry’s, creative writing night class for adults, and Owen can’t seem to grasp the concept of “motive.” Going through his own difficulties after his ex-wife stole his novel and is making millions off of it, Larry won’t lie to Owen and tell him his writing’s any good. Seeking approval or explanation, Owen calls Larry at all hours and stalks him to all kinds of absurd places like a small-scale train in a park at night where Larry admits he wants to kill his ex and, just as he’s about to get to third base with his current love interest, hears the crunch of Owen’s popcorn two cars down.

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Yeah I watched Boxcar Bertha…

…’cuz it was on top of the rack when I went to the library.

This 1972 Scorsese film is loosely based on a true story about a group of union members and sympathizers who for a time make life hell for railroad tycoons. Strong-armed out of their union rights, Bertha and the man she loves, a union organizer, as well as a escaped convict black man and a fourth man of ambiguous southeast European descent,

No I didn't watch it in Japanese.

take up their guns and force the wealthy railroad families to share the goods. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the law catches up to them, but the gang of four show the desperate, even suicidal, attitude the lower class must take when thrown in front of omnipotent and suffocating wealth.

As you can see on this cover, the film ends with a crucifixion. I must believe, since this is a loose adaptation, that the final scene was a fabrication–it put the “fiction” in “crucifiction,” if you will. But damn, what a way to go. Railroad spikes driven through your wrists and ankles, hanging from the sunset limited and headed to that special place God put aside for those who kill the rich to replenish the poor.

The Homosocial Bromance of Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Look at the sparks flying between these two.

I have a confession to make. When I called Planes, Trains and Automobiles the best film ever in the introduction to my Haney on the Train promotional video, I hadn’t seen the movie in years, if ever. But hey, I was aiming for irony, and you can at least assume any film staring John Candy will be up there in the pantheon. And I knew how it ended, with John Candy coming home with Steve Martin for Thanksgiving, but when I popped in the DVD the other night and watched how they got to that point, John Candy’s gaffs and one-liners along with Steve Martin’s expressions and explosions, left me in a lump of giggles there on the living-room floor.

For one, the film is a total bromance. Candy and Martin – Dell and Neal – bumble into each other in a series of fortuitous encounters brought on by plane-grounding snowfall. The New York on which the movie opens is a manic free-for-all of business suits trying to hail taxis beneath skyscrapers. Neal, with a flight to catch, finally secures a cab but Dell slips in and speeds away, initiating a tension that ratchets up as the impossibility of getting home to Chicago forces the two to sleep in the same hotel bed that night. They wake up spooning, Dell with his arms folded around Neal and Neal holding Dell’s hand. Like true homosocialists, the two men erupt out of bed shaking off their willies and changing the subject to football. Continue reading

Thoughts on Strangers on a Train

Up until the other night, I had never watched an Alfred Hitchcock film all the way through. But the lists I found of the top films featuring trains consistently put 1951’s Strangers on a Train near the top, and since it was the only highly ranked train film available in the main branch of the Leon County library, I checked that sucker out.

To be fair, the movie didn’t feature trains all that much except for the long opening scene where Guy Hanes, a well-known, amateur tennis player, meets Bruno, a charismatic, murderous psychopath, and they make their tacit agreement to criss-cross applesauce murder each others’ problematic loved ones: Guy’s current wife who’s pregnant with another man’s child, and Bruno’s father who wants his son locked up. Thing is that tacit agreement happens only in Bruno’s mind as he fingers the lighter Guy, who thinks the arrangement a morbid joke, leaves behind in the train car. Continue reading