Sabrina

  • Title:  Sabrina
  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Date:  1954
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Romance, Drama
  • Cast:  Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Oh, I’m not telling you that you have to be a cook as she was, or that I want you to marry a  chauffeur like me, but you know how I feel about it.  Your mother and I had a good life together, we were respected by everyone.  That’s as much as anyone can want in this world.  Don’t reach for the moon, child.”  Fairchild, Sabrina’s father

“It’s all beginning to make sense — Mr. Tyson owns the sugar cane, you own the formula for the plastics and I’m supposed to be offered up as a human sacrifice on the alter of industrial progress — is that it?”  — David

“So strange to think of you being touched by a woman – I always thought you walked alone.”  — Sabrina
“No man walks alone by choice.”  — Linus

Sabrina, cannot in truth be called a “romantic comedy”, because the storyline is, in many ways, quite dark, though the second half of the film does turn into a typical romantic triangle.  Hepburn is Sabrina, the daughter of the chauffeur, living on the very large, Long Island estate belonging to the Larrabee family. She’s quite young, and quite taken with David (Holden), the younger of the two Larrabee brothers.  David, however, barely knows she exists.  When Sabrina sees David romantically involved with another woman, she gets so upset, she decides to commit suicide.  And even though she’s scheduled to go to France for cooking school the next day, she goes to the garage, starts all the cars, closed all the doors and tries to kill herself, after leaving a note for her father.  Sabrina is rescued by Linus (Bogart) the older Larrabee brother, and nothing more is said about what happened.

After the incident, she’s sent off  to France, and cooking school.  In France, at first, Sabrina can think of nothing but David, and even her classes don’t distract her.  And given that the classes start with “How to boil water” and “how to crack an egg” – you can’t really blame her for being bored.  But soon she’s taken under the wing of an old baron who teaches her about style, and grace, and she returns to New York two years later an outwardly changed women – full of  style and sophistication.  But, inwardly, she’s still obsessed with David.  Upon learning he’s engaged, she still plans to ensnare him.

Sabrina’s plans, however, are somewhat derailed by Linus, the older Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart), who’s arranged his brother’s marriage to a sugar cane heiress to cement a business deal to make bullet-proof plastic from sugar cane.  (Don’t ask, just like you don’t want to try and figure out how the daughter of the chauffeur can afford the prestigious Cordon Blue cooking school in France).  Linus arranges his brother’s match, but playboy David thinks that this is one girl he’s not interested in.  And when he sees Sabrina in all her finery at the train station, he’s hooked.  But, Linus, most to save his business deal, and partially because he’s also intrigued by this sophisticated woman in his midst, also starts to date Sabrina.

And thus, we have the triangle, who will end-up with Sabrina?  Like many movies from the 1950s, it’s the men in her life — her father, the two brothers, and the two brothers’ father, who seem determined to make Sabrina’s choice of a husband for her, rather than letting Sabrina choose.  Still, it is a good movie anyway, and the first time I watched it I was genuinely surprised who she ends up choosing after all.

Billy Wilder directed Sabrina, which accounts for it’s dark tone, and I’m not just talking about the black and white filming.  Wilder’s direction is incredible, especially his use of deep focus and shots of the characters completely isolated from each other, surprising in a romance (but not surprising coming from Wilder – an accomplished Film Noir director).  Even in what would normally be a very romantic scene, Linus and Sabrina boating, she’s on one end of the boat, he’s on the other.  The boat’s only about 15 feet and the two “lovers” are sitting as far apart as they could possibly get without one of them being in the ocean.  When Sabrina confront Linus in his office – the lighting is used to great effect and further isolates the characters.

Recommendation:  See it! (At least once)
Rating: 3.8 Stars Out of  5
Next Film:  Same Time, Next Year

Running Scared

  • Title:  Running Scared
  • Director:  Peter Hyams
  • Date:  1986
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Action, Comedy
  • Cast:  Billy Crystal, Gregory Hines, Jimmy Smits
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I don’t mean be a cop, I mean quit, retire, be a regular person.”  Danny
“Regular people suck.”  — Ray
“Maybe. But they hardly ever get shot at.”  — Danny

“Careful gets you killed in this business.”  — Captain Logan

“47-63 — Pursuit has left the Interstate, now we’re on the L.”  — Danny

Running Scared is a fast, funny, buddy cop drama with plenty of action, shootouts, and a great car chase on an elevated train track. The film is mostly set in Chicago (and filmed on location in Chicago and Stokie, Illinois) with a brief interlude in Key West, Florida (also shot on location). Detective Danny Costanzo (Crystal) and Detective Ray Haughes (Hines) are two wise-cracking, wild and crazy Chicago cops. They bust a drug pusher with $50,000 and figure they can use him to get to Julio Gonzales (Smits) a drug kingpin with plans of becoming the first Hispanic godfather of Chicago. While taking the pusher, Snake, in; the two cops: stop at the aftermath of a jumper, stop by the funeral of Danny’s Aunt Rose, and nearly get mugged until they point out they are the cops.

Once Snake has been taken in to the station house, they convince him to wear a wire to set-up Gonzales. However, the planned bust turns into a disaster, when not only is Snake killed, but Danny and Ray walk into a DEA investigation and mess it up. Their captain, Logan, is ticked and gives the two detectives a month of forced vacation. Did I mention it’s the middle of winter? Danny takes part of his inheritance from his Aunt Rose and he and Ray head to Key West for some R & R. Danny even considers buying a bar in Key West and retiring there, giving up being a cop.

However, before the two cops can retire they have to return to Chicago. Once in Chicago again, they decide to finish the Gonzales case. Again, the two become wild, though Danny also starts becoming careful because he’s actually given his notice to retire in thirty days. Both the captain and his partner point out that, “Careful gets you killed.”

Meanwhile, Danny’s ex-wife, Anna, has told him she’s getting re-married to a dentist. Danny, clearly still in love with her, isn’t happy about the idea.

Detectives Costanzo and Hughes continue to work the drug case, now saddled with training their replacements, the two narcotics officers from the messed-up DEA bust. There is a fantastic car chase with Ray and Danny in their new undercover police car, a yellow taxi cab, which goes from the airport, down I-190, and on to the L tracks. The L chase feels like a roller coaster ride and is a lot of fun. The filming of the chase is also extremely well done. However, Gonzales decides to get rid of the two officers; his men find their car while they are on stakeout and flip the car into a garbage truck and crushes it. The detectives, however, are fine.

Then Gonzales takes Danny’s ex-wife hostage, demanding his stolen cocaine (which Hughes and Costanzo found at the airport) as ransom. The climax of the film is in a building identified as the Illinois State Building (but it looks like a really nice shopping center). Anna is in one glass elevator, and Danny has to take the other. Meanwhile, Ray sneaks in the back way, discovers all the county sheriffs tied up and has to use the window washing equipment to get into the building. There’s another huge shoot-out and Gonzales is killed. In the end, both Danny and Ray decide to stay in Chicago and continue to be police detectives.

Overall, this is a fun film. In definitely has roots in Beverly Hills Cop, The French Connection, and other buddy cop films of the time, but it’s still fun. Crystal and Hines have a great relationship; and the film is full of their wisecracks and jokes. Neither appear to be realistic Chicago cops; but the film is enjoyable to watch. The car chase on the L is also a definite must see.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
Next film:  Sabrina

Royal Wedding

  • Title:  Royal Wedding
  • Director:  Stanley Donen
  • Date:  1951
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, Sarah Churchill, Keenan Wynn
  • Format:  Standard, Technicolor
  • DVD:  R1, NTSC

“Do I look like a gentleman?” — Jaime, Anne’s father
“Jaime, you look like a banker.” — Tom
“But do I look like a gentleman?” — Jaime

Tom (Astaire) and Ellen (Powell) Bowen are a brother-sister Broadway act, with a hit show, “Every Night at Seven”.  Their show is so successful that their agent gets a call from England, an offer for the two to open their show in London in time for the summer Royal Wedding (of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip).  Aboard the steamer ship bound for the UK, Ellen meets Lord John Brindale (Lawford), and the two begin to date once the ship reaches England.  Meanwhile, on the first day of casting and rehearsals in London, Tom bumps into Anne Ashmond (Sarah Churchill), and they also begin to date.  Eventually, the show, “Every Night at Seven” also opens in London.  Tom has one of his contacts check out Anne’s American fiance’ who had returned to Chicago then failed to contact her – turns out he’s now married. This frees up Anne, and she proposes to Tom.  Meanwhile, Lord Brindale has also proposed to Ellen.  At first, Tom and Ellen are reluctant to marry and break up the act.  However, with “wedding fever” in the air because of  the Royal Wedding, they quickly change their minds and the film ends with the double wedding of Tom and Anne and Ellen and John.

Royal Wedding seems, in part, to be drawn from parallels to Astaire’s own real life — he got his start first in vaudeville and then on Broadway, with his sister Adelle as his dance partner.  When she left the stage to marry, he wasn’t sure what to do, before someone (thankfully!) suggested Hollywood, and the rest, as they say is history.  But by having Powell and Astaire playing brother and sister, rather than having them romantically linked, there’s a playful side to this film that is enjoyable.  Some of the scenes between the two are quite fun, and more of their teasing and kidding each other could have vastly improved the film. The problem with the film is that MGM and Arthur Freed apparently love to play with toys and don’t know when to put them away.  In one number, Astaire dances with a coat rack / hat stand and various pieces of gym equipment in the steamer ship’s gymnasium while waiting for Ellen to show for rehearsal.  In another, the floor Ellen and Tom are dancing on tilts wildly as the ship navigates rough waters.  And, finally, this is the film where Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling of  a room (as well as Anne’s photo). Astaire was a gifted, fluid, and graceful dancer — yet in the “dance on the ceiling” routine, he looks uncomfortable and like he can barely manage the moves — it’s painful to watch.  Astaire doesn’t need tricks – I wish MGM would have just let the man dance in his later films (this is also why I much prefer Astaire’s early work, especially when he was paired with Ginger Rogers).

Also, my copy of this film is in horrible shape.  There’s a “outdoor” scene between Powell and Lord Brindale which is very muddy and overly red.  Some restoration work wouldn’t come amiss at all.

Finally, Powell sings three solos in this film — and she can’t sing.  I just don’t enjoy her singing voice at all. I will say, though, that her few dance scenes with Astaire, despite make-up and costumes that seem designed to make both her and Astaire look terrible, are good.  I do think Jane has better chemistry with Astaire than Eleanor Powell did.  The Astiare/Powell brother/sister act is fun.

List of  Musical  Numbers

  • “Every Night at Seven”  — Astaire, Vocals; Astaire and Powell, Dance
  • Musical number and dance, no vocals (Astaire dances with hat stand, gym equipment)
  • “How Could You Believe I Love You”/”I’m a Liar” – Astaire and Powell, vocals and dance
  • “You’re the World to Me” — Astaire with Anne’s photo, dances on walls, ceiling
  • “I Left My Hat in Haiti” — Astaire, vocals and dance segues to production number
  • “Lovely Day for a Wedding” — Background
Recommendation:  It’s OK, but disappointing
Rating:  3 of  5
Next Film:  Running Scared

Cabaret

  • Title:  Cabaret
  • Director:  Bob Fosse
  • Date:  1972
  • Studio:  Allied Artists (DVD released by Warner Bros.)
  • Genre:  Musical, Drama
  • Cast:  Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You can’t stand Maximilian because he’s everything you’re not! He doesn’t have to give English lessons for three Marks an hour, he’s rich! And he knows about life, he doesn’t read about it in books.  He’s suave and he’s divinely sexy. And he really appreciates a woman!” — Sally
“Oh screw Maximilian!” — Brian
“I do.” — Sally
“So do I.” — Brian

“It’s also an established fact, Herr Ludwig, there’s also another well-organised group of which you’re obviously a member; the International Conspiracy of horses asses!”  — Brian

Cabaret as a film reminds me of quote from Bax Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge:  It’s the story of a time, it’s the story of a place, [and] it’s a story of love. However, the love stories in Cabaret are more complicated and end less happily than the story in Moulin Rouge. Set in 1931 in Berlin, Cabaret is the story of the people that meet, come together, and leave, at the Kit Kat Klub – a wild cabaret. The main story is about Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), an American Cabaret singer who wants to be an actress, Brian (Michael York), a British student who comes to Berlin with no money and teaches English to survive, Maximilian, a married, bisexual German Baron looking to find anyone to fill his bed, Fritz a friend of Brian’s who’s hiding a few major secrets, and Natalia a rich Jewish woman who falls for Fritz. At the club, the all-knowing EmCee (Grey) rules.

The film draws you in slowly to it’s story of these diverse characters. Sally, especially, is a fascinating young woman. The daughter of an ambassador, she claims, she may have grown-up with wealth and privilege, but she finds herself with a two-room apartment in a boarding house, working all day and singing at the Cabaret all night. Sally drinks, smokes, and fools around. In some ways, she’s the female counterpart of Joe Gideon in Fosse’s other classic, All That Jazz.  And Sally has no problems letting everyone know just how willing she is to sleep with men to get whatever she can. Quite by chance, she meets Brian, and the two become friends then lovers.

However, before long the two meet Maximilian. Sally immediately begins sleeping with him, simply because he showers her with gifts and money. Brian, who had explained to Sally that he had slept with three women before and all were disasters, and has now fallen for Sally, is also taken under Maximilian’s spell, especially when the three of them spend a “dirty weekend” together at Maximilian’s country house.

Brian also meets and befriends Fritz, a shy German, who comes to him to learn English. Fritz falls for Natalia, another of Brian’s students but it’s Sally who gives Fritz advice about how to get Natalia interested in him, since she keeps turning him down flat. Eventually, Natalia calls Sally to her house and confesses she is also in love with Fritz but the relationship is impossible.

Throughout the film, the action is intercut with the entertainment at the Kit Kat Club, all introduced by the mysterious EmCee, including Sally’s musical numbers. The Club will put anything on the stage — female dancers and singers; female mud wrestlers; a parody of German folk singers; a duet between the EmCee and a guy in a Gorilla suit dressed as a ballerina. Nothing is sacred and everything goes at the Cabaret. However, when the film does cut to the Cabaret, often whatever’s on stage parallels the dramatic storyline. This intercutting is Fosse’s true genius.

When Sally discovers she’s pregnant, she tells Brian, also telling him she will have to sell the fur coat Maximilian gave her to pay for an abortion. When Brian asks who the father is – Sally insists she doesn’t know. And considering she’s been sleeping with Brian, Maximilian, and other men she’s picked up at the club, she honestly does not. Brian proposes, and insists that he doesn’t care — he’ll help her raise the baby no matter what. They can return to Cambridge, and he will get his teaching Fellowship. At first, Sally agrees.

Meanwhile, Fritz and Natalia’s relationship is at an standstill, and Natalia insists it can’t continue. But Fritz admits to Brian that he’s secretly Jewish. When he came to Berlin, on the papers he filed, he had listed his religion as Protestant, but he isn’t. Brian convinces him to tell Natalia. Fritz does that, and Sally and Brian witness the wedding.

However, despite Brian’s wishes, Sally is full of doubt. She spends a night at the Cabaret, having an unheard conversation with the EmCee. When she returns to Brian that night, she’s without her fur coat. Brian badgers her until she admits she did have the abortion. Brian is livid – and decides to leave her. Before long, he’s returning to Cambridge. Sally goes back to the Cabaret, and that night belts out a triumphant version of the film’s title tune, “Cabaret”. We finally see just how much Sally loves the stage, as she comes to life on stage, more glowingly alive than at any part previously in the film — and this for an independently spirited woman who is the exact opposite of a shrinking violet. However, Sally’s pure happiness on the stage will be short-lived, the film ends with reflections seen through the glass side divider of the Cabaret stage of the Nazis in the audience. Soon the lives of everyone in the film will be in danger; and most of them, even Sally will probably be dead. It’s a haunting ending.

There is also a chilling scene earlier in the picture, on the way back from their dirty weekend, Maximilian, Brian, and Sally are at some sort of outdoor German festival. There, a Hitler youth stands and sings “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”, a patriotic German song. At first alone, soon others stand and join in. By the end of the song, nearly all the young people in the audience are standing and singing. Most of the older people remain sitting, however. It’s a frightening visual and auditory illustration of exactly what is happening in Germany. Brian, seeing the display, gathers Sally and Maximilian and leaves.

In another scene, Brian gets in an argument with his German co-boarders at Sally’s boarding house. He goes out in the street and a Nazi party member tries to foist a Nazi paper on him. Brian refuses it, yells at the Nazi, then knocks over the flag. He’s beaten senseless for his trouble.

The owner of the Kit Kat Club had also kicked some Nazis out of the club — he’s also beaten senseless for his actions.

But the brilliance of Cabaret is in it’s use of intercutting — the songs that Sally or the EmCee or both sing at the club are often intercut with and reflect the dramatic plot; but they don’t illustrate the plot. This isn’t a musical where plot points are sung – it’s almost as if the music at the club is the background to the storyline. And the club is a wild place, a place of the underworld, but a place of ships passing in the night. Also, throughout all the club numbers and performances – the audience sees figures walking between the camera and the Cabaret stage, almost as if we are in a club and people are moving around. There is also the sound of  talking, clinking glasses, clapping, laughing, etc. The people moving between the camera and the stage also provides a wipe point for editing.

List of  Musical Numbers

  • Mien Herr – Liza Minnelli
  • Everybody Loves a Winner – Liza Minnelli
  • The Money Song (Money Makes the World Go ’round) – Minnelli and Grey
  • Two Ladies – Grey
  • Tomorrow Belongs to Me – Hitler Youth (and it’s terrifying)
  • Cabaret – Liza Minnelli
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 Stars
Next Film:  Royal Wedding

The French Connection

  • Title:  The French Connection
  • Director:  William Friedkin
  • Date:  1971
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

The French Connection was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1972 (for the films of 1971) and won five. It’s on the AFI list of top 100 American films, and I bought it because it’s a well-known film I had never seen, and to be honest because Roy Scheider is in it, whom I really like as an actor.

I think the film really is a time capsule — it’s hard to tell how revolutionary the film would have been in the early 1970s, watching it for the first time in 2012. And it’s downright strange how this film seemed more odd to me than favorite classics of mine from the 1930s and 1940s. However, that doesn’t make it a bad film. It is a very good film, it’s just somewhat hard to relate to it. But it does explain a heck of a lot about 70s television — I can clearly see the connection between The French Connection and Starsky and Hutch, Streets of San Francisco or even The Professionals.

The film is based on a real case, one of the biggest Heroin busts in US history. That case inspired a true crime book called, The French Connection by Robin Moore. However, according to the various special features on the film, and the short/cut actor commentary most of the film was inspired by the technical advisers of the film, Eddie “Popeye” Egan and Sonny “Cloudy” Russo the two cops who made the case. Also, the director, Friedkin, and actors Scheider and Hackman spent considerable time doing research, preparing, and following Egan and Russo around on the streets of New York. That research combined with Friedkin’s background in shooting documentaries certainly added to the feel of the film.

The film does have a gritty, down and dirty, realism to it. Hackman’s Poyeye Doyle is not a nice guy — one of the issues I had watching the film was not just the swearing but the racist language used in the film. However, even with all his faults – Doyle is a good cop. He and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo have the highest number of convictions in the Narcotics department of the Brooklyn, New York, NY police department. Cloudy (Scheider in only his second film role) holds back Doyle, occasionally playing good cop to Doyle’s bad cop. But really, both are good cops — though realistically grim, gritty, tough, and nasty.

The plot involves trying to catch a French godfather who’s sending in multi-million dollar Heroin shipments into New York every six weeks or so. He uses a French actor to get a car in to the US, and the drugs are hidden in the rocker panels (floor boards under the car doors) of the car. But it takes a while for Doyle and Russo to put together what’s going on — and I had to watch the film twice to figure it out (though the second time I had one of the two commentaries on, so I wasn’t paying as close attention to what was going on, on the screen). The film shows the cops on long stakeouts and tails where not much happens until they spot one of the principals meeting a known drug kingpin. This gets them two wiretaps, which leads to the Frenchman calling to set-up a meeting. Before long, the case is coming together.

One of the best scenes in the film is a cat-and-mouse scene between Hackman and The Frenchman at the heart of the case on a subway. The two jump on and off and on and off a subway car – but in the end the Frenchman escapes. However, he puts a hit on Doyle.

This leads to the other big scene in the film, and the one it’s famous for — the car chase. The chase starts when a sniper shoots at Doyle, hitting an innocent woman, and causing havoc. Doyle finally gets to the roof, finds the guy’s rifle, then sees him fleeing the building, and gives chase on foot. When the sniper jumps a elevated train, Doyle commandeers a car and gives chase. The chase is pure chaos and incredibly done considering it was all practical. No computer-generated effects here, and no carefully plotted storyboards either. Just a gifted stunt driver, a car with a siren, and a few (though not enough) blocked streets. Most of the exciting parts of the chase were stunts, however, at one point a civilian car pulled out and hit Hackman while he was driving the car as fast as possible. Hackman was pushed into a metal support beam for the L. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident. However, the chase was put together in pieces:  a stunt driver named Hickman; Hackman actually driving with a camera car besides him; Hackman driving with a cameraman in the car. A stunt woman played the woman with the baby carriage that Doyle nearly hits. Meanwhile, on the train, the sniper is causing panic – taking over the train, shooting a train worker, and causing the driver of the train to have a heart attack, before crashing the train itself into another train. But the sequence is breath-taking. The chase ends with Doyle cornering the sniper on the stairs to the L station (which go sharply up because it’s an outdoor elevated train and station), and he shoots the now unarmed sniper in the back.

The film doesn’t have a lot of exposition explaining what’s going on — it trusts the audience to follow along for the ride. It’s also not a film filled with stunning visuals, or “movie moments”, rather it’s a grim, gritty, dirty, realistic-looking, almost documentary style of film. The film is so rough at times it’s almost uncomfortable to watch it. But it’s also stunningly compelling – and Hackman and Scheider are both brilliant.

Throughout the film there’s a huge, brown, Lincoln – by the end of  the film it’s almost menacing. Doyle and Russo manage to confiscate the car, get it stripped at a police garage, and finally when they’ve almost given up, locate the Heroin in the rocker panels (the floor boards under the front doors). When the French actor shows up to claim his car, they give it back, complete with the Heroin so they can make the bust. I honestly don’t know where they got a second, identical brown Lincoln, because the one they had was trashed.

The cops follow the Lincoln to an abandoned building, there’s a shootout and total chaos. But the brilliant bit is the ultimate end  — Doyle enters the building alone in search of the Frenchman. Russo, after aiding in the capture of the bad guys, goes in after his partner. Doyle’s so tense he nearly shoots Russo, but Russo warns him off with, “It’s me, it’s me!” FBI agent Mulderig isn’t so lucky — thinking he’s the Frenchman, Doyle shoots him. But the last shot, of Doyle walking though this dark, mucky, dirty, corridor-like building, walking into the distance, then there’s a gunshot, and the screen goes black, that’s brilliant, and makes the film worth watching and re-watching.

There is character in the film, and an interesting relationship between the two cops, but really I could have done with a lot more of that. Still, definitely worth the time to watch, and re-watch, and own.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 Stars
Next Film:  Either Royal Wedding or Cabaret which I also recently bought