Friday, May 28, 2004

Movie: Suddenly (1954)

Frank Sinatra’s other political assassination film, made eight years before THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. He plays the heavy here, the leader of a trio of hit men who take over a house in the sleepy town of the title. It’s classic B-movie filmmaking, with the bulk of the action taking place inside a living room with a view of the train station where the President will make a brief stop. Like many films of the era, some then-newfangled psychological concepts are laid on a little thick. But the movie itself doesn’t seem to trust them; when Sinatra’s asked if he has any feelings, he replies, “No, I haven’t, lady. They were taken outta me by experts.”

Sinatra’s loathsome character mentions the Silver Star he won in the war anytime he’s accused of cowardice. Even more chilling, he has no idea who’s paying him to kill the President and no interest in finding out. The climax is a knockout, and should be studied in film schools the world over. Screenwriter Richard Sale plants critical pieces of exposition so subtly that their significance isn’t apparent until the movie’s almost over.

TV: Celebrity Poker Showdown

The first run of this series made for a pleasant diversion. Big time gambler Ben Affleck was knocked out in the first round, and the ultimate victor (MAD TV’s Nicole Sullivan) came as a surprise. But Bravo’s screwed up the second season by giving us too much of a good thing. Each episode is now padded out to two hours. New host Dave Foley is an affable guy, and certainly the only person on TV cracking George Cukor jokes. But Kevin Pollak had more of a Las Vegas vibe, and he could say “Somebody flopped a boat!” with a level of excitement that recalled Howard Cosell.

Producer Joshua Malina (of THE WEST WING) recently compared this show to BATTLE OF THE NETWORK STARS. Sorry, Josh, but that won’t wash. Where’s the simmering intensity of staunch competitors like Gabe Kaplan and Robert Conrad? Where’s the dunk tank?