That ten minutes of in the middle of nowhere halfway through North By Northwest is one of my favorite scenes in a movie ever. Not sure why. I know exactly where it was shot, too, I mean exactly. Beyond Bakersfield a stretch, not far but a world away full of nothing but space and silence. I live surrounded by old movies here in Silver Lake, they filmed hundreds within just a mile or three of my pad. But a jillion things have happened since, a big crazy city full of big crazy Brownian motion all the time year after year after year. Nothing is as it was. But the fields surrounding Cary Grant in 1959 are still there, just fields, the horizon geometrically perfect and bare, the air still and hot, and distant cars spawning dust devils that swirl and spin and disappear as if nothing between then and now happened, nothing at all.
From Here To Eternity not on TCM and they don’t let Ernest Borgnine call Frank Sinatra a little wop. Instead his lips move like a puff of air. Remember Maggio? Monty Clift asks, all methody emotingly understatedly enraged. Ernest Borgnine exhales. Puff. As if puff was a word. It could be, why not? The Bushmen click, the Arabs gack, there are languages in the mountains of Southeast Asia that poing and bong. So Ernest Borgnine puffs. But it’s his penultimate puff. He dies a moment later with the last puff. Two puff’s worth of Ernest Borgnine, and no Italians offended.
Watched Tartars last night. It’s one of those sword and sandals epics, 1961, with an all-Italian cast and crew and extras. Well, the director was American, or maybe English, and had actually done a classic or two, of which this was not one. I recorded it solely for the leads. Incredibly Italian looking Victor Mature was the Viking chief Giuseppe the Red, though the only thing Viking about him was, well, nothing actually. Surrounded by extras with wigs plucked from the reject pile in a broom factory, he struts around in moccasins and short shorts, giving commands. An’ I told you ya gotta…, gesturing frantically, wassamattayou? Well maybe not wassamattayou.
Here come the Tartars, aka the Mongols, who look just like the Vikings, oddly enough, but for the black wigs. Their citizen Khan is Orson Welles, yes that Orson Welles, squeezed so tight into Mongolk armor he looks set to explode. He had make-up do him up so he does look creepily like, if not Genghis himself, then his son and successor Ogodei, who fat and merry and alcoholic as he was, conquered more of the world and killed more people than the Black Plague. You’ve never heard of him, though, because he died just as the Mongol armies were to about to reduce Western civilization to smoking ruins and pyramids of skulls, the way he’d left the Middle East, from which it never recovered. But the invasion was postponed until a new khan was chosen and by then the Mongols were more interested in China than Europe. Talk about luck.
Anyway, Orson Welles had himself made up to look remarkably like the portraits of Ogodei, and rendered his silly assed lines with terrifying enunciation and sneers of cold command and you realized that Orson Welles simply couldn’t act bad, no matter how lousy the movie. And this movie was lousy. Victor Mature throws himself into it too, and if all the rest of the cast had drowned in a tragic boating accident on whatever Yugoslavian river the Viking ships were floating on, it would have been a fun flick, just Orson and Victor Mature. Alas, two actors do not a historical epic make, and certainly not a sword and sandals action flick, so we get to see some feeble battle scenes and goofball catapult hi jinx, and unseen frantic steppe lust as well as an ugly off screen rape. Khans will be khans. The actresses all have those oddly blank and vaguely emotive expressions you see in European films back then and are impossible for an American to tell if it’s some sort of Bergmanesque understatement or just lousy acting. My guess is lousy acting. If only Europeans would smile. Sophia Loren smiled. Marcelo Mastroianni never smiled. Neither are in this movie however. But if Victor Mature could be a Viking, Sophia Loren would make a terrific Viking Queen. Marriage Norwegian Style.
I had completely lost track of the plot, if there was one, about a third of the way in, a manly Viking display by Victor Mature faded and suddenly we’re in Orson Khan’s stately pleasure dome watching one heck of a dance, hints of Bob Fosse, people leaping about swishing scary swords and culminating in a man and woman rolling across the floor in choreographed coital ecstasy. The dance ends in more leaping and sword swishing and the dancers freeze. Orson Khan glowers, his thoughts a menacing mystery. Rosebud indeed.
Then I switched it off.
I’m sitting here staring at a pair of Robert Benchley’s shorts.
“How To Start The Day” and “How to Raise a Baby”, both one reelers and both really funny.
But to be honest I only posted this because I wanted to write that I was sitting here staring at a pair of Robert Benchley’s shorts.
Burt Reynolds was bald. Way bald. Even the body hair was a toupee. Lonnie said so. She was mad at him and told everybody. I don’t think it fazed his image an iota. Like Cary Grant, Burt Reynolds’ image, that look, was hewn in marble, impermeable. It was hard to believe he was eighty two when he died. We can’t even imagine him old. His Cosmo centerfold sprung up like mushrooms minutes after his death till Facebook, like a high school principal in 1972, took them all down. It offended Facebook’s standards of decency, they said, though perhaps it was just enforcing Zuckerberg’s feelings of inadequacy.
But Burt really was bald. William Shatner bald, but much better toupees. Some guys can wear a toupee. I imagine he was the guy that customers in toupee stores said they wanted to look like. Skinny little guys, paunchy dumpy guys, they wanted to look like Burt. His hairpiece would do it, for sure. Laying across bed with a hand strategically placed and a hair piece. I hate to think how many of those old Polaroids have made it onto the web.
I loved seeing Burt Reynolds on the Tonight Show. Incredibly funny guy but better yet a total show biz anarchist. Once he came out and smashed a raw egg on Johnny Carson’s head, just because because he could. A super hunky Hollywood icon acting like one of the Marx Brothers. Then making toupee jokes.
Now that’s a movie star.
Watched the original Godzilla, sans Raymond Burr. Oddly profound flick, a giant monster movie that leaves you brooding and unsettled, unlike a zillion other Toho movies or, say, the Giant Claw, which left me wondering about the meaningless of a life spent watching The Giant Claw. Anyway, when the scientist with the eye patch (from the war, they say, something I don’t think is mentioned in the Raymond Burr version) drops the oxygen destroyer into the fish tank and reduces its occupants to skeletons I looked at our fish tank but they were still there fully fleshed. Relief turns to guilt a few scenes later as Tokyo is aflame again. First in 1923, then 1945, and now Godzilla. Everything comes in threes.
Watching Fantastic Voyage. Donald Pleasance is standing bald and evil next to Raquel Welch and if you squint your eyes they merge into three thirds of one organism. This film is the first half of Arthur O’Connell’s science fiction oeuvre; the second half being The Reluctant Astronaut. Had that film starred Donald Pleasance instead of Don Knotts it might have been a dark and brooding Dostoevskian study of the human condition. But it didn’t.
Oops, Donald Pleasance just got gooped to death.