MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: Planes, Trains and Automobiles; Eating Raoul… More



PLANES, TRAINS &  AUTOMOBILES (Blu-ray) (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.; John Hughes, 1987 (Paramount/Olive)

On a Thanksgiving holiday-party-bound plane, the world’s most obnoxious seatmate (John Candy), strikes up a conversation with one of the world’s most finicky nit-pickers (Steve Martin). This minor inconvenience soon turns into a major one when the two are deplaned, lost, stranded, and find themselves embarked on an odyssey of mismatched and increasingly accident-prone fellow-traveling, a bad dream that looks as if it may never end. Planes, Trains & Automobiles does end though, finally and surprisingly touchingly, with images that suggest Norman Rockwell, crossed with Carl Reiner — and I mean that as a compliment.

I’ve always thought that this nightmarishly building, wackily compassionate road comedy — with straight, wired-tight Steve Martin being driven progressively crazy by his unwelcome road partner, blowhard John Candy — was John Hughes’ best movie (just ahead of Ferris Bueller‘s Day Off), and one of the best American film comedies of the ‘80s. But I’ve also always thought that the show needed something extra: a few more scenes maybe, and a longer, stronger intro first meeting for Martin and Candy on the plane. Well, one L. A. night, I gabbed about it for a while with Candy, at the press party for Only the Lonely, and he insisted that there actually was a longer (and, in his view, better) version of P., T. & A.  — longer by at least an hour, and that it contained exactly the sort of extended intro-on-the-plane sequence I thought it needed.

John Hughes is gone, and so is Candy. But can somebody (Martin, maybe, or somebody at Paramount) get into the editing room sometime and give us an extended cut of this top-pop moviemaker‘s unsung masterpiece? Complete with intro? Or at least some deleted scenes? I‘m serious. (This edition, unfortunately, has no extras.)

EATING RAOUL  (Also Blu-ray) (Three Stars)

U.S.: Paul Bartel, 1982 (Criterion Collection)

Not many movie comedies about cannibalism and swinging are as funny as Paul Bartel’s mini-budget 1982 Eating Raoul, but then, of course, there aren’t that many movie comedies about cannibalism and swinging — especially one blessed with a leading couple quite like writer-director-actor Bartel and his near-constant costar Mary Woronov, the William Powell and Myrna Loy of the L. A. Semi-Underground (or at least its Eric Blore and Charlotte Greenwood).

Here, the glorious mis-mates play Paul and Mary Bland, two punctilious and hard-working but under-employed Angelenos who missed the last call to the Bacchanal, and are contemptuous of the hard-partiers who made it. Robert Beltran (the star of Haskell Wexler’s very serious Latino) plays Raoul, who begins as their thief, becomes their blackmailer, and ends up, maybe, as their main course, with salsa. Ed Begley, Jr., Buck Henry, Garry Goodrow and Edie McClurg are at the table (or on it), and the script is by Bartel and cast-mate Richard Blackburn, who also comments here, on the Criterion commentary.

Eating Raoul may be one of the most defiantly tasteless comedies (and titles) ever, but Bartel, Woronov and their friends give it a lot of low-rent high style. Bartel, who works in the tradition of the acidly eloquent Blore, and also of the majestically prissy Edward Everett Horton and other ’30s Astaire and Rogers stylish second bananas, drops poisonous bon mots with a surgeon‘s precision. (He‘s adept at both the elocutionary and culinary arts.) Woronov, as ex-member of the Warhol factory gang, is hugely sexy, a classy (not so) straight-woman. The movie, which cost half a million, has more verbal bite than visual style, but it still provokes and amuses. It also has the funniest and most shocking ten second hot tub orgy ever. It comes at the end of the movie‘s big climactic swinger’s session — and you won’t argue.

Extras: Paul Bartel’s short films The Secret Cinema (1966) and Naughty Nurse (1969); Interview with Bartel and Woronov; Commentary by writer-actor Richard Blackburn, production designer Robert Schulenberg and editor Alan Toomayan; Documentary Cooking Up “Raoul,” including interviews with Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran and Edie McClurg; Trailer; Booklet with essay by that first-rate vet David Ehrenstein.

REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (Two and a Half Stars)

France: Jean Rollin, 1973 (Redemption/Kino Lorber)

Requiem for a Vampire was the personal favorite of the filmmaker who made it: the very prolific, very odd French cult cineaste, Jean Rollin. It’s also one of the Rollin movies apparently most favored by his more intense admirers.

True — that’s not quite the recommendation it might first seem. Rollin was a fringe director, operating in a disreputable near-twilight zone of the underground French film industry. He made the kind of bad movies that are fun to watch and rarely boring. But that doesn’t redeem them from being bad films — movies with outlandish plots, paltry or flagrantly clichéd dialogue, mediocre if sometimes attractive actors, pretty good cinematography, and generally low if not non-existent production values. He’s not another Ed Wood Jr.; Rollin had taste (though he often ignored it), and talent (though he often misused it), and he would and could have made better movies if he’d had the means and the scripts. To be part of his cult, you have to have a forgiving nature — at least on the evidence of the few Rollin horror sagas I‘ve seen, thanks to Kino Lorber‘s Euro-horror offshoot, Redemption.

Requiem, for example, has a fairly shoddy story that begins with a bang and a bullet-riddled car-chase: Two sexy young French actresses (Marie-Pierre Castel and Mirielle d’Argent) are on the run from heavily armed pursuers, fleeing  in their car, which is driven by a clown in full costume. In rapid succession, the clown is shot, the car crashes, and the girls (with no explanation whatever) then take off on foot, running around the countryside, engaging in Lesbian high jinks and sneaking around a mysterious mansion that may be the site of a revived vampire congregation.

In the middle of all this, the movie descends to a mostly irrelevant scene where the girls are stripped and chained in a basement, and tortured by ghoulish miscreants, not very convincingly. (Merci, bon Dieu.) Rollin also speckles his movie with more soft-core sex scenes involving his tireless lady stars, none of then particularly credible or arousing. It seems clear that he’s shooting them to pacify his apparently lecherous producers, including this movie’s main job creator (and a frequent Rollin collaborator), an executive who proudly signs himself Sam $elsky, with a dollar sign.

This may sound silly and tasteless and unsavory– and it is. But the best possible arguments for the cinema of Jean Rollin, are in the long, well-written, fact-packed article by Tim Lucas that accompanies the Requiem DVD. Read it, before or after you watch the film. As Lucas recounts, Rollin began his career with arty black-and-white shorts, and eventually became a French specialist in low-budget sexy vampire movies from the ‘60s on, a cult director of a particularly bizarre and crazily amusing kind. His other titles, some but not all concocted by his American distributors, include his debut film Rape of the Vampire as well as Requiem for a Vampire, The Nude Vampire. The Shiver of the VampiresThe Demoniacs and Vampire’s Night Out. (Just kidding on that last one.)

Though he specialized in not very horrifying horror movies that mixed vamp attacks in dark French mansions and some fiddling around on the beach, plus a rite or two and some perfunctory pornography, Rollin’s own cinematic tastes ran to arty French directors like poet/artist/astonisher Jean Cocteau (Orpheus) and Georges Franju, the lyrical horror cineaste of Eyes without a Face. Left to his own devices, Rollin probably would have made films like Cocteau’s and Franju’s, or somewhat like theirs — or like his own two early shorts, The Yellow Loves (1958) and The Far Country (1965), the latter not to be confused (at all) with that fine 1955 Jimmy Stewart-Anthony Mann western, co-starring Corinne Calvet and Walter Brennan.

..Rollin’s visuals are moody, when they aren‘t sleazy, and his style has a certain deranged artfulness. His early shorts (available on the Redemption DVD of The Rape of the Vampire) are not bad, though they’re not exactly good either. But they aren’t boring, which means Rollin passes the first great cinematic test. As for the other tests, say of coherence or creativity or relevance or even sanity, well, it probably all depended on the weather and the actors and the mood of his producers. Rollin never gets you rolling on the floor, the way Ed Wood could, at his best, or worst. Compared to the auteur of Bride of the Monster. Rollin’s best is far better and his worst forgivable. But then, why are you watching a movie with a title like Requiem for a Vampire or The Rape of the Vampire anyway? Only Sam $lusky knows.

Extras: Introduction by Jean Rollin; Documentary The Shiver of a Requiem; Interview with actress Louise Dhour; Trailers for Requiem and seven other Rollins films; Booklet with Tim Lucas essay.


PATTON (Blu-Ray) Four Stars

U.S.; Franklin Schaffner, 1970 (20th Century Fox)

George C. Scott, delivering General George Patton’s flag-backed, five-star, four-letter-word-packed speech to the troops, with fiery candor and no inhibitions, almost seems enough to win him his Oscar all by itself. The rest is good epic stuff, with lots of dynamic fierce-warrior emoting from Scott and a smart, absorbing, sometimes daring Vietnam-era script by Francis Coppola (and Edmund North). Also in the cast: Karl Malden as Gen. Omar Bradley (the more compassionate G. I.’s general) and Tim Considine (of “Spin and Marty”) as the soldier whom Patton roughs up.

Scott was at his peak as a leading man movie star here, though I still like him best as the icy or manic heavies of The Hustler, Anatomy of a Murder and Dr. Strangelove. Franklin Schaffner, one of the great ’50s TV drama helmer class — along with John Frankenheimer, Sidney Lumet, Robert Mulligan and Arthur Penn — is an underrated movie director. This remains his best (along with Planet of the Apes, of course.) And though it shouldn’t have beaten out M*A*S*H for the 1970 Best Picture Oscar, it’s still pretty damned good.




U.S.: Robert Siodmak, 2012 (Olive)



The Three Faces of Olivia de Havilland

In The Dark Mirror, a psychological thriller from director Robert Siodmak, Olivia de Havilland plays two twins involved in a murder. One of them is probably a killer, but neither we nor the investigators (Thomas Mitchell as a fatherly cop, Lew Ayres as a charming psychiatrist ) can be sure which one is which. And to complicate matters, the doctor is falling for one of the twins. But who? The lady? Or the murderess?

De Havilland played this plum role in the same year, 1946, in which also played another prize part — the self-sacrificing mother in To Each His Own — and won her first Oscar for it. The twins in Dark Mirror are collectively a trickier part, a double role in which the actress gets to play both good and evil, or maybe good or evil disguised, and in which the whole murder mystery depends on who is who, and who lies underneath. It’s so tricky you can see why the 1946 Academy voters preferred the empathetic role of the good mom in To Each His Own.

The late ‘40s were the heyday of Freudian psychoanalytic themes in Hollywood movies, and The Dark Mirror came only one year after the locus classicus — Alfred Hitchcock’s and Ben Hecht’s Freudian murder mystery Spellbound, about two psychiatrists on the run (played by the ultra-photogenic pair of Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck), with one of them (Peck) accused of murdering yet another psychiatrist. Film noir was the main repository for these Freudian currents and The Dark Mirror is loaded with themes of good and evil, doubling and secret lives..

Siodmak, along with Hitchcock, Wilder and Lang, was one of the ’40s masters of both film noir and psychoanalytic themes in movies. And in The Dark Mirror — as in Siodmak’s Phantom Lady, The Killers, Criss Cross and The Spiral Staircase — he‘s at his Teutonic-flavored best. The story is a little murky, but, like all the ‘40s Siodmaks, it’s a compelling show, full of visual webs and traps. And de Havilland, and the screen trickery that turns her into twins doubles her, is very good — though not as good as Bette Davis in her own good-bad twin roles in A Stolen Life and Dead Ringer. Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath) was Dark Mirror‘s writer (and producer) And a little more than a decade later, Johnson would return to the idea of psychoanalysis and doubling (or in fact, tripling), when he wrote, produced and directed the movie that won the young Joanne Woodward her Oscar: The Three Faces of Eve. The two faces of Olivia might not be as memorable as the three of Joanne/Eve‘s, but Mirror is the better, darker movie.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon