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Weekly Mishmash: July 11-17

poster_coltisA Colt Is My Passport (1967). Part of Criterion Eclipse’s acclaimed “Nikkatsu Noir,” a DVD set exploring director Takashi Nomura’s low budget action thrillers from the ’60s. A Colt Is My Passport stars the reliable, chipmunk cheeked actor Jo Shishido as a hit man who kills a mob boss. With his partner, the man hides out in a sleepy shipping port in order to make a hasty escape. Stung by the tragedy, the son of the victim comes to Shishido’s boss and makes a cash offer to have the man killed. With men coming after him, Shishido then plots an elaborate revenge. All told, not the greatest or most original story, but there are enough interesting elements to recommend it. First off is the strange score, seemingly inspired by spaghetti Westerns and Herb Alpert-ish American pop music. In the beginning there are a lot of cool camera angles involving the modern architecture’s boxy, harsh lines — then the film moves to the seedy hotel locale and gets somewhat dull. The film’s exciting climax, staged in a dusty field, redeems things somewhat. Worth a peek if you like unconventional ’60s Japanese movies (and really, who doesn’t?).
Criss Cross (1949). Another noir, closer to home but no less odd. The virile Burt Lancaster heads up Criss Cross as a man harboring an obsession with ex-wife Yvonne De Carlo, now linked with sleazeball gangster Dan Duryea. Told mostly in flashback, the film details Lancaster’s and De Carlo’s attempts to rekindle their flame on the sly as Duryea executes a tricky bank truck heist. A rather standard story gets illuminated by great casting (especially Duryea, doing the kind of reprehensible men he does best) and some excellently photographed shots of 1949 Los Angeles (Angels Flight! Bunker Hill! Union Station!). Yvonne De Carlo was really fascinating to watch — I don’t think she’s the greatest actress, but there’s something watchable about her here and apparently the director agrees, lavishing long takes on her while the actress is dancing in a seedy joint with an uncredited Tony Curtis. She’s one hot tomato, that Yvonne De Carlo.
Eurythmics — Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). I originally signed up on eMusic to get the 2005 reissues of the (personal fave band of the ’80s) Eurythmics’ catalog. The CD editions of these albums are so neatly packaged, however, that I decided to go with the tried and true plastic disc format. The liner notes for Sweet Dreams reveals an interesting story — by the time the LP came out in January 1983, Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox already released a flop album (In the Garden) and two underperforming singles (“This Is The House” and “The Walk”) to an indifferent world. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this album has an overall tone of resignation and icy reserve. In the Garden was a muddled, vaguely psychedelic mess with Lennox’s vocals buried too deep in the mix; with Sweet Dreams one could sense that they hit upon the simple equation of Soulful Diva Vocals + Chilly Electronics as the definitive Eurythmics sound. It’s a beautifully produced, hypnotic record, a bit repetitive at times, but sustaining a wonderful Euro-sleazy mood. The bonus tracks, mostly b-sides of the era, are lots of fun. I especially liked the 1991 remixes of “Sweet Dreams” and “Love Is A Stranger” and a brilliant cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” which sounds more like a Be Yourself Tonight-era outtake.
Four Jacks and a Jill (1943). Wartime musical trifle was the last viewing from my personal Anne Shirley film fest. Honestly, I saw this five days ago and barely remember it; the plot revolves around Shirley as a waif who is somehow adopted by a quartet of musicians led by rubber-limbed Ray Bolger. I vaguely recall gangsters and a prince disguised as a taxi driver (played by a young Desi Arnaz) running around, too. Your enjoyment of this film probably depends on how much you can accept forgettable tunes and the goofy Bolger as a leading man. Shirley is cute as always, and seeing Arnaz as a capable comic actor so early in his career was a nice surprise.
dvd_thirty1stthirtysomething: The Complete First Season. I was excited to see thirtysomething finally arrive on DVD. Although I was eighteen-something and working a night job when it premiered in 1987, I would try and watch the show whenever possible (especially the later seasons with Miles Drentell, Melissa’s gay friend, Nancy’s cancer, etc). Something about the way the characters naturally interacted with each other struck a chord; the characters tended towards the whiny and self-centered, sure, but aren’t we all somewhat like that? Watching this first season was an interesting experience. I don’t remember the show being so strongly centered on its “perfect” couple Michael (Ken Olin) and Hope (Mel Harris) at the beginning. These early episodes epitomize what the haters disliked about the show, with the characters less developed and at their most ’80s yuppie-ish. It quickly hits a stride by the time Elliot (Timothy Busfield) and Nancy (Patricia Wettig) separate at mid-season, however. It’s a hoot revisiting characters and episodes I barely remember. One of my favorite scenes here is the one in the pilot episode where Hope and Polly Draper’s Ellyn meet for lunch in a restaurant, only to have it cut short by Hope’s screaming baby. The two women have this implicit realization that a part of their friendship was severed because one married and had a kid, something that happens with every thirtysomething. I also identified with terminally single Melissa (Melanie Mayron) and her status as the group’s artsy pal; in one of the later seasons she said something to the effect of “being single means learning how to go to the movies alone and not feeling like a leper.” Totally, Melissa, totally. Going back to seasons 2-4 oughta be a blast.
This Above All (1942). Stirring romance with a WWII British backdrop plays like 20th Century Fox’s own Mrs. Miniver. Christopher found it hokey and stupid, I enjoyed it. Lovely Joan Fontaine plays a British blue-blood who upsets her family by joining the UK version of the WACs; she meets cute with Tyrone Power as a morose soldier on the run for desertion. The two take refuge in various inns while discussing their lives and the war in florid, important sounding language that could only have come from a best selling novel of the era. Excellent performances from both leads, as well as Thomas Mitchell as Power’s affable best bud. As an actor Fontaine tends to be either touching and meek or annoyingly prissy; here she’s a little bit of both (one can safely take a bathroom break during her “we must preserve England” speech). Power is surprisingly good despite having no trace of a British accent. Both work splendidly together and I completely believed in the couple’s starry-eyed sincerity amongst the bomb blasts.

3 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: July 11-17

  1. Eurythmics are one of my favorite bands “pre-Supremes/Motown” and they remain such to this day. I bought all of the 2005 reissue CDs a year or two ago and was very pleased to get all of their albums on CD. Enjoy ’em!

  2. Tim Halbur on July 19, 2010 at 1:16 pm said:

    Steven Soderbergh made a very good remake of Criss Cross called, for some reason, “The Underneath.” It’s pretty faithful, as I recall.

    And The Eurythmics! I remember clearly buying that cassette and listening on my Sony Walkman and being hypnotized by that chilly quality. Great album.

  3. I added The Underneath to my queue – thanks, Tim!

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