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Flick Clique: February 5-11

He Walked By Night (1949). This past week, I stumbled across a display with those Mill Creek 50 movie-packs of DVDs at Wal-Mart for $10 each. I ended up buying the Mystery Classics pack, since it was on my Amazon wish list anyhow. I know that most of the movies on these sets are b-movies of iffy quality, but that’s part of what makes them fun (and for 20 cents each – whatta deal!). The proto-Dragnet L.A. crime drama He Walked By Night was one of the better-received films on this particular set, so I decided to check that one out first. Based on a true story, this one follows a criminal and petty thief played by Richard Basehart as he hides from the authorities after shooting an off-duty officer in cold blood. The film is shot mostly from the police department’s perspective as they use the latest technology to track down the man. They interrogate several witnesses as Basehart goes on a one-man crime spree, climaxing in an exciting film noir shootout in the subterranean drainage system below the L.A. streets. This was campy and dated at times, but enjoyable all the same. I’m glad I sprung for this set — one down, 49 to go!
The Informant! (2009). An uneasy mix of comedy, drama and bad facial hair from director Steven Soderbergh, The Informant! is a fancifully told version of a real scandal that rocked Archer Daniels Midland, a producer of animal feed additive lysine, in the 1990s. The film follows Matt Damon’s pompous Mark Whitacre as he alerts the FBI to illegal price-fixing activities (which he set up) at his employer, digging himself in a deeper hole as his lies grow to bigger and bigger proportions. The film was interesting, even though many of the elements aren’t totally successful. Damon’s performance is the best part. He gets at his character’s dimwitted myopia without going into an easy, overly jokey path. I also enjoyed the production design recreating a clunky, business-y version of Illinois in 1991-95 (how much fun would that be?). The overall feel is a weird jumbling of ’70s cop show music (via an overbearing score by Marvin Hamlisch), ’60s Austin Powers fonts and straightforward, serious dramatic scenes. The story was strong enough to overcome its shortcomings, however, and it was appealingly cast enough for me to enjoy it overall.
Mr. North (1988). A pleasant trifle set in 1920s Newport, Rhode Island, Mr. North is based on a Thorton Wilder story about a man whose ability to generate electric sparks from his fingers leads those around him to believe he has healing powers. I remember hearing a few good things about this when it came out, that it was a sleeper hit, etc. I found it kind of dull and pointless, however. Anthony Edwards has a curious lack of charisma in the title role (no wonder he never became a movie star), and the supporting players go all over the place, from somewhat decent (Mary Stuart Masterson as a sensitive deb), to noncommittal (Robert Mitchum and Lauren Bacall) to scenery-chewing (Twisted Sister video guy as Masterson’s father). The film itself is not very involving and ingratiating in its efforts to be heartwarming and cute. I blame director Danny Huston.
The Mysterious Lady (1928). Like Flesh and the Devil, another luxe Greta Garbo silent from the set that I bought in December 2010. This one has Garbo as a slinky Russian spy sent to World War I-era Vienna to get sensitive information from an Army captain, played by dashing Conrad Nagel. Nagel is immediately smitten by the alluring Garbo, even when he learns her true identity just before getting arrested and imprisoned. This one was done at the peak of the Silent era, and it shows. The spy story itself is rather typical, but MGM’s gloss is in full force and Garbo delivers more emotion in a sideways glance than many actresses do in their entire bodies.
Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinaire (2004). Impressively mounted Korean bio-pic chronicles the career and life of Rikidozan, a Korean-born wrestler who became a star in the nascent Japanese pro wrestling scene in the ’50s. A samurai school reject, Rikidozan eventually prevailed over a culture desperately in need of a powerful, virile hero in the post-WWII era (despite never revealing his true birthplace, since the Japanese had a prejudice against Koreans). A very intriguing film that delves into Rikidozan’s inner demons and slow, gradual decline. It definitely doesn’t indulge in the usual sports movie clichés, that’s for sure. I will have a more detailed review at DVDTalk soon.

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