Monday, August 18, 2008

DVD: The Roundup

Spent the weekend watching older films new or newly reissued on DVD.

Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955). Jack Webb’s jazz opus plays like the strangest episode of Dragnet ever. Not only because it’s written by series vet Richard L. Breen with the show’s trademark blend of melodrama and hardboiled pithiness. But because Webb, not an actor noted for his range, is essentially playing Joe Friday in period drag. Same haircut, same monotone delivery, same cheap shirts, only in 1925 Kansas City. I thought Webb’s plodding walk on Dragnet was an artistic choice speaking to the methodical nature of police work. Turns out that’s how he got around.

As a Dragnet fan, I thought the movie was fantastic. Others will not. Jazz fans, however, will want to check it out. There’s tremendous music throughout including performances from Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee, the latter netting an Academy Award nomination. Pete Kelly’s Hot 7 may be the toughest combo in history. I can accept Joe Friday. And on drums Adam-12’s Martin Milner, who also played a jazzman in Sweet Smell of Success. But Lee Marvin blowing clarinet? That’s pushing it, daddy-o.

Un Flic (1972). The final film from Jean-Pierre Melville is a mood piece riffing on his standard themes. I knew where it was going and didn’t mind; in fact, I relished it. Movies like this, with their familiar beats, are for me what superhero films are for so many others. You can have your costumes and secret lairs. I want trenchcoats and night clubs. I want the world where cop Alain Delon and criminal Richard Crenna can not only be friends, but both be in love with Catherine Deneuve.

Most of Un Flic is given over to two heists. The first, at an isolated bank during a raging storm, is a marvel of sound design. Due to budget constraints, the action in the second is filmed with a model train and a model helicopter. It’s a strange sequence to watch in the CGI era; you never forget that you’re looking at miniatures, but you’re never knocked out of the story, either. Crenna’s Hefnerian pj’s help.

Inglorious Bastards (1978). More model trains here. Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming WWII film only borrows the title and not the plot, about a group of stockade-bound Allied soldiers who make a run for Switzerland. It’s a film from the one-damn-thing-after-another genre that never stops moving for 100 minutes. It’s crap. Very watchable, highly entertaining crap.