Saturday, January 2, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... SOMEONE I TOUCHED (1975)

Only now does it occur to me... that SOMEONE I TOUCHED is the disease detective melodrama we all need right now.

It opens with local county public health official Andy Robinson––whom you may recall as "the Scorpio Killer" in DIRTY HARRY or "the dad" in HELLRAISER––hunting down Glynnis O'Connor at a game of beach volleyball (!) in order to tell her she has syphilis. Talk about harshing the vibe!


Andy Robinson, who has played a raft of psychos, degenerates, and hapless bank robbers, is meant to be compassionate and reassuring in his demeanor, like Mr. Rogers. He's a good enough actor to pull this off, but the scenario still had me chuckling.

He tasks her with informing her sexual partners––namely, James Olson (COMMANDO, RAGTIME), a  suburban man she met at the grocery store where she works checkout. He's married, too––specifically, to Cloris muthafuckin' Leachman.

I know we've discussed my love for Cloris here––as a pistol-whippin' outlaw in CRAZY MAMA and as a crazed cannibal witch in Cannon Films' HANSEL AND GRETEL––but ya know what, I don't think I sing her praises enough.

Her character's pregnant, but she's still in the labor pool––she works in an editorial capacity for a small publishing company. I must mention that said company, run by THE PRODUCERS' Kenneth Mars, is seemingly dedicated to the worship of a particular creepy dummy. This one:

There is no explanation given here, just a creepy dummy sitting around the office. On the far wall, there's a crude sketch of the dummy as well.

WHY IS IT THERE? The film overtly refuses to broach the subject, which only increases my levels of curiosity. Perhaps there is no why. It just is.

Later, when Cloris packs up for maternity leave, she takes the dummy. Again, she does not mention its meaning or purpose. She just shares a tender moment with it and puts it in a box. This means the dummy belongs to her, and is not, like, the "corporate mascot" or something. WHAT IS GOING ON.

 

Anyway, urged on by Andy Robinson's disease detective, James Olson decides he must come clean to Cloris about the infidelity and the syphilis. He has to––it could even impact the development of the forthcoming baby. 

What follows is one of the greatest moments in TV movie history. He says, "I've got syphilis."

And Cloris internalizes this, agonizes over it.

 

She feels revulsion at his touch.

  

She backs away.

 

And she backs away.


And backs away some more.

 

And, my god, she backs into yet another portrait of the weird dummy! But I must say, it's one of those rare moments in film where the melodrama is patently, risibly ridiculous, and yet it's all rather deeply felt and performed. You see a half a dozen emotions play across Cloris' face as she categorizes every implication, relates it to her unborn child, relates it to her domestic life, considers every ramification, and plans her next move. All of this is apparent and subtly played, even in the face of the longest, slowest "recoil in disgust" moment in all filmdom. I love this.

Anyway, along the way there are twists, turns, catharses, prognoses, and all manner of movie-of-the-week melodrama. It even ends with a timely and, let me be the first to say it––legitimately poignant––finale which emphasizes that your personal emotions do not matter as far as contagious diseases are concerned. You simply have to do the right thing for public health and your fellow citizens, even if that causes you temporary discomfort or perceived embarrassment. Rise above your vanity, cause we're all in this together!

There's never an explanation for the dummy, though. Ah, well. Its mystery shall endure.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Television Review: CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1992, Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Stars: I dunno, 3? 3 of 5? Does that seem like too many?
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Dyan Cannon (DEATHTRAP, BOB & TED & CAROL & ALICE), Kris Kristofferson (ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, CONVOY), Tony Curtis (SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, SPARTACUS), Richard Roundtree (SHAFT, SHAFT'S BIG SCORE), Jimmy Workman ("Pugsley" from THE ADDAMS FAMILY and ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES), Sonny Carl Davis (TERRORVISION, THE 'BURBS). Cast by Jackie Burch, the legendary casting director responsible for the ensembles in PREDATOR, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, COMMANDO, FRIGHT NIGHT, DIE HARD, and COMING TO AMERICA. Music by Charles Fox (DEMOLITION MAN, 9 TO 5).
Tagline: "She's hungry for ratings... he's hungry for dinner... director Arnold Schwarzenegger cooks up a holiday hit!"
Best one-liner: "I'll be back!"

In a familiar, darkened alleyway: 

"So what are we doin' for the holidays this year?"

–"Nada mucho, good buddy. I'm afraid there will be no Christmas at Junta Juleil this year."  

"But what about all the good times? REINDEER GAMES? DIE HARD? BATMAN RETURNS? CHRISTMAS AT PEE WEE'S PLAYHOUSE? ELVES? JINGLE ALL THE WAY?"

–"Why would you even mention JINGLE ALL THE WAY? I'm still a little pissed at you for making me watch that."

"But don't ya just associate Christmas with Arnold Schwarzenegger?"

–"What? No."

"Well, maybe you should. Cause I got a motion picture for ya here that's gonna blow your mind: CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT."


–"Isn't that that '40s movie where, according to the promotional materials, Dennis Morgan is gonna teach Barbara Stanwyck about men, 'the Navy way?'"

"Well, yes. But this isn't that."

–"There's another CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT?"

"So in 1992, TNT––that is, Turner Network Television––decided to finance a made-for-TV remake. The choice of director was... shall we say... unconventional."

–"WHAT?! Schwarzenegger? Are you JINGLE ALL THE WAY-ing me again?"

"Not exactly. Though JINGLE ALL THE WAY is an underrated movie, and the only one I can think of which features a Santa laying down smack with candy cane nunchaku. But let's focus on the film at hand. So Arnie was trying to figure out if directing was really for him. He'd already cut his teeth on a TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode in 1990 and was looking for something bigger."

–"Uhhh.... by 'bigger,' you mean a Hallmark-level rom-com?"

"Let's not peg the big guy down. Like Walt Whitman, Arnie contains multitudes: TOTAL RECALL and TWINS, THE TERMINATOR and JUNIOR."

–"Just tell me what we're dealing with here."

"Kris Kristofferson plays a heroic forest ranger who makes the national news after a dramatic rescue. Arnold really puts a lot of himself into his direction here, as we spend some time really getting to know Kristofferson as he silently works out in his cabin. Sorta like the prologue to COMMANDO.

–"Kristofferson really giving us some Chuck Norris-in-a-Cannon-Film vibes there."

"Meanwhile, in New York City, Dyan Cannon plays a Martha Stewart-esque lifestyle TV host. The twist is that she's only the façade of the program––she doesn't actually know how to cook or decorate. 

 

She's really a lonely, apartment-dwelling lady whose greatest passion is, I guess, Hummel figurines.

 Her world is ruled by her overbearing producer, played by Tony Curtis."

–"And Arnold worked with his daughter the next year when they shot TRUE LIES! I wonder if Jamie Lee is in that movie because of Arnold and Tony's friendship?"

"Who can say. Anyway, Tony Curtis, who has retained the oily smarm of his character from SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and fused it together with something like latter-day Liberace, is sort of the MVP of this whole strange affair.

Donning silk shirts, clutching pearls, and enjoying avocado-and-green-tea facials, Tony hasn't had this much fun since he was a pampered disco daddy in THE MANITOU."


–"Hey, like Martha Plimpton says in PECKER, 'No tea-bagging.'"

"Sure. So Tony Curtis sees Kris Kristofferson on the teevee and decides that he ought to be the special guest on Dyan Cannon's live Christmas special, to be filmed at a prop house in Connecticut. Dyan's media persona is, apparently, built on the idea that she is married with adult children and lives her life as a happy homemaker in New England. I don't know how this subterfuge is supposed to have worked, since, the first time it comes up in the film, her overbearing producer (Tony Curtis) suggests, in the spur of the moment, that he should play the role of her husband. Who's been playing that role up till now?"

–"Seems ill-conceived."

"Eh, it doesn't really matter. The whole thing would probably be easier if they just told Kris the truth, that he was appearing on a TV program governed by a certain amount of artifice. I guess it's more of a device so that Dyan Cannon has to pretend she's unavailable to Kris Kristofferson even though they have obvious and immediate chemistry."

–"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Schwarzenegger directs the scene in which they first meet with a deft directorial hand. You see, Kristofferson comes in the front door while Cannon is bending over and cleaning up some broken glass. He proceeds to check out her butt for an excruciating twenty-nine seconds."


–"That's, like, an eternity in TV time."

"Ya don't tell an auteur what to do. I've seen Terrence Malick contemplate the beauty of a reed rustling in the wind for twenty-nine seconds. Anyway, sparks continue to fly when Dyan Cannon watches Kris chopping wood."

–"Also like in COMMANDO!"

"Most things in life come back to COMMANDO. This, obviously, leads to a sequence which I would describe as 'Let Me Show You How to Cut a Tree.' It's no 'Let Me Show You How to Play Tennis,' but it works just as well in a pinch."

–"Romantic."

"I'll say. Finally, things come to a head once the live taping begins. A comedy of errors ensues with  problem after problem spawned by Dyan Cannon's fake family, her inability to actually cook, and zany/domineering producorial decisions made by Tony Curtis. 

Kris Kristofferson, the everyman, is quite confused by the whole thing,

and it's all nearly too much for poor Tony Curtis.


Oh, did I mention Richard Roundtree is in this, too? He plays a network executive whom TC (that's right, I have a new Tony Curtis abbreviation) interrupts mid-Mass––we're talkin' full-on mouthful of Eucharist––with a highlight reel on VHS."

–"What in the hell is going on here? Can we just wrap this up?"

"Oh, yeah––and you should know that Schwarzenegger puts a few more personal, directorial touches on the movie. First-off, like Alfred Hitchcock, he gives himself a cameo. He plays "Guy in Crew Tent on Phone With Winter Coat on His Knees."

–"Just like Hitch. I'm sure it's worth the price of admission."

"And I saved the best for last––he has Dyan Cannon's faux son-in-law (Gene Lythgow) dress up as THE TERMINATOR and say, 'I'll be back.'"

–"Gene Lythgow? Is that like an off-brand John Lithgow? Everything about this movie seems like it's slightly off-brand, ersatz. Oh, it's not that CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT. And it aired on TNT? TNT is such an ersatz network. Why not just put it on USA or TBS?"

"Doesn't seem like you're much in the holiday spirit."

–"I'm not. I'm a real grinch."

"I know what'll cheer you up. I'll let you in on a little secret. Remember REINDEER GAMES?"

–"I've been trying to forget REINDEER GAMES."

"Yeah, but whenever I'm feeling low, I watch that really heartwarming scene where Gary Sinise throws darts into Ben Affleck. Like Colt 45, I find that it works every time."

–"Whaddya know, I do feel better. Why, it's a holiday miracle––Merry Christmas!––God bless us every one!"

"It's the gift that keeps giving. Anyway, CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT, ladies and gentlemen."

Monday, December 7, 2020

Only now does it occur to me... EVERGREEN (1934)

Only now does it occur to me... that in the midst of an otherwise traditional 1930s musical (the British classic, EVERGREEN), we'd take a hard left turn into a World War I flashback fantasy

 
that's an extended homage to German expressionist auteur Fritz Lang––particularly his masterpiece METROPOLIS (1927)––




which feeds us this majestic sci-fi imagery for about two minutes, including one amazing tableau (women forged into bullets)


that may have even inspired the H.R. Giger piece, "Birth Machine" (1967).

For reference, the rest of the movie takes place pretty much on stage/backstage at realistically depicted British music halls from the 1930s.

Friday, November 27, 2020

R.I.P., Daria Nicolodi

I'm sorry to report the passing of Daria Nicolodi, a true titan of Italian cinema and a true giallo Hall-of-Famer here at Junta Juleil. In her capacity as a performer, a writer, and a muse, she left her mark on horror cinema forever. R.I.P.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Only now does it occur to me... THE BODYGUARD (1992)

Only now does it occur to me... that Kevin Costner's character in THE BODYGUARD hates boats because he's experiencing psychic reverberations of the trials he will endure in the future of... WATERWORLD.







Speaking of "psychic reverberations of the future," he's talking to Whitney Houston's onscreen son there, played by DeVaughn Nixon. Throughout this film, he must live in fear of an unstoppable killer who wants to murder his mom. Not unlike his performance in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, when a practically unstoppable killer (Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor) wants to assassinate his dad (Joe Morton's Miles Dyson).

I must also give a shout-out to two major nods to arthouse cinema: first, during Whitney's "Queen of the Night," she is done up like Brigitte Helm in the notorious "Whore of Babylon" dance sequence from Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS:


as scenes from the film are projected behind her:


 Secondly, Costner takes Whitney on a date to see Akira Kurosawa's YOJIMBO,

which translates to, in English, "THE BODYGUARD." They review the film as follows:
I wish this would happen more often. What if, in Paul Haggis' CRASH, Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard had gone to the movies and seen David Cronenberg's CRASH? What if, in Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, Viggo Mortensen had arranged a post-apocalyptic screening of Fellini's LA STRADA? Some good possibilities there. Anyway.