Saturday, July 17, 2004

Miscellaneous: In-Flight Announcement

Flight Attendant: We are about to land into John F. Kennedy International Airport. All cell phones must be discontinued.

The first sentence is just poorly phrased. The second may have been a call to revolution. But as the airlines don’t feed you anymore, I was too tired to act on it.

Movie: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

I prepped for my trip by watching the New Yorkiest movie ever made. Robert Shaw leads a cabal of criminals holding a subway train full of passengers for ransom. Walter Matthau (with an assist from Jerry Stiller) is the transit cop on the case. A perfect snapshot of the city in the ‘70s, the film bristles with attitude and excitement. It’s ridiculously entertaining. Featuring a note-perfect ending and great music by David Shire.

This movie and another by director Joseph Sargent, the bleak SF thriller COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970), were regular TV staples when I was a kid. Sargent went on to a storied career directing prestige TV movies for ‘Hallmark Hall of Fame’ and HBO, like MISS ROSE WHITE and the recent SOMETHING THE LORD MADE. These productions may rack up Emmys, but they have none of the juice of Sargent’s early features.

Then again, he also directed JAWS IV: THE REVENGE.

Movie: Madigan (1968)

I’d bet if you pitched this movie, an engrossing potboiler tracking New York detective Richard Widmark and police commissioner Henry Fonda over a weekend, to a studio now, you’d get no takers. Too much like LAW & ORDER, they’d say. People can see this stuff for free at home. That’s exactly why I’d also bet that it would make a fortune.

In 2002, when Tom Hanks was named the recipient of the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, a movement sprang up pushing for Widmark to receive the honor. Why hand trophies for career achievement to whelps like Hanks, the argument went, when there are plenty of older performers who should be acknowledged while they are still with us? Widmark, who will be 90 this year, deserves the honor for his debut as KISS OF DEATH’s giggling psycho Tommy Udo alone. So far, the AFI has resisted the pressure. They’d rather toss the award to a big name in the hopes of driving up the ratings for their basic-cable kudocast. I hear Heath Ledger will be next year’s honoree. If the push for Widmark begins anew, I’m ready to enlist.

Movie: The Girl Hunters (1963)

It’s risky enough hiring an author to adapt his own work. But to let him play the lead, too? Mickey Spillane is Mike Hammer in this low-budget effort from Roy Rowland, who directed many of Robert Benchley’s classic short films of the late 1930s and ‘40s. Spillane may look the part, but his voice sinks him. He sounds too much like Tony Bennett. Shirley Eaton, who would later be painted to death in GOLDFINGER, is the grieving widow who plays all of her scenes in bikinis. The movie uncannily recreates the feel of a Spillane novel, in that halfway through I had no idea what the hell was happening and no interest in finding out.

You don’t see many authors-turned-actors anymore. Stephen King hammed it up in CREEPSHOW and Richard Price occasionally turns up in bit parts, but it seems more an affectation among tough guy writers like Spillane and Norman Mailer. I’d like to see it come back. Where’s John Grisham as a genteel Southern attorney, or Tom Clancy as the gung-ho Secretary of Defense?