Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.5

Crews and Reese discover a body in the trunk of a car that has been crushed. The investigation leads to online relationships that hide secret identities. Meanwhile, Rachel begins to talk again...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Walk Alone (1948) - Notes

The Noir Series 2011 is coming to a close tomorrow with a bang: Special Guest Charles Benoit and John Huston's heist thriller THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. Make sure you show up for that. It's been a great time through the whole series, and I can't wait to do it again.

In the meantime, here are the notes I prepared for last week's film I WALK ALONE, which featured the first teaming of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. I hope you enjoy:

Born about three years apart, and both in New York State, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster shared remarkably similar paths to stardom and shared the screen on several occasions. Lancaster was born in 1913 Harlem and Douglas in 1916 Amsterdam, NY, and both were exposed to the entertainment industry before they enlisted in the Armed Forces during World War II. After the war, they individually went back to the theater and were introduced to producer Hal Wallis by friends (Harold Hecht for Lancaster and Lauren Bacall for Douglas), who “discovered” them and took them to Hollywood.

Lancaster’s film debut was in the 1946 film noir classic The Killers, directed by Robert Siodmak. Douglas’s film debut was also in 1946 and also in a film noir, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, with Barbara Stanwyck. They went on to act in additional films noir. Lancaster was the star of Jules Dassin’s Brute Force, and Douglas supported Robert Mitchum in one of the finest noirs of all time, Out of the Past. And in 1948, the pair collaborated for the first time on an additional noir, I Walk Alone, for Byron Haskin, a former cinematographer. It was Douglas’s fourth film and Lancaster’s fifth, but they had already established themselves as Hollywood stars of the first order. The story about two bootleggers separated by a long prison sentence brought them together, but they didn’t become friends on the set.

The two men went on to their own careers, working in all kinds of films, including film noir. Lancaster, especially was drawn to this kind of role. Later in 1948 he starred in Kiss the Blood Off My Hands as an American on the run from an accidental homicide. 1948 also brought Sorry, Wrong Number with Lancaster as an unwitting conspirator in a plot to kill his wife, played by Barbara Stanwyck. In 1949, Lancaster starred in Criss Cross, one of his most under-rated films, as loser Steve Thompson, a man whose terrible decisions always bring him back to the woman he can’t forget, and a fate he can’t escape. Lancaster also went on to roles in films such as Jim Thorpe – All American, Trapeze, and The Kentuckian. In 1953, he earned his first Academy Award nomination as Sergeant Warden in From Here to Eternity.

Meanwhile, Douglas made his own way. 1951 saw the release of two films noir: Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival) and Detective Story. In the first film, Douglas starred as the unscrupulous reporter Chuck Tatum; in the second he is James McLeod, a cop with a vicious streak and a hidden agenda. Douglas also distinguished himself with roles in Young Man With a Horn, The Glass Menagerie, Ulysses, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was also in this period that he received all three of his Oscar nominations: for Champion (1950), The Bad and the Beautiful (1953) and Lust For Life (1956) as the great Vincent van Gogh.

Lancaster and Douglas re-teamed for Gunfight at the OK Corral, with Lancaster taking the Wyatt Earp role and Douglas at his side as Doc Holliday. It was on this film that their friendship really took off. They would stay up talking well into the night, on subjects of all kinds. It was only two years later that they were together again in the Revolutionary War film The Devil’s Disciple, opposite Laurence Olivier. And in 1963, Douglas played multiple roles in The List of Adrian Messenger, while Lancaster had a cameo.

Meanwhile, they continued to foster their own careers. In this time, Lancaster won an Oscar for Elmer Gantry and got another nomination for The Birdman of Alcatraz. His other films included The Sweet Smell of Success, Run Silent, Run Deep, The Unforgiven, Judgment at Nuremberg, and Visconti’s The Leopard. Douglas had his own string of hits with Paths of Glory, The Vikings, Spartacus, and Lonely Are the Brave.

The two actors’ next collaboration was the Rod Serling-scripted Seven Days in May. A taut political thriller about a potential military coup in the United States played on Cold War fears and the threat of a “military-industrial complex” at work behind the scenes. This was the actors’ last collaboration for more than twenty years, but they continued to be movie stars. Lancaster made The Train, The Professionals, The Swimmer, Airport, Local Hero, and got one last Oscar nomination for Atlantic City. Douglas went on to make In Harm’s Way, Cast a Giant Shadow, Is Paris Burning?, The Villain, and The Man From Snowy River.

The two actors teamed one last time in 1986 for Tough Guys, the tale of two aging gangsters who no longer fit in the world after being released from prison. Burt Lancaster died in 1994 at the age of 81, but Kirk Douglas, despite suffering a stroke in 1995, celebrated his 94th birthday in December.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.4

Crews and Reese investigate a murder that took place in a recreation of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. Meanwhile, Captains past and present meet when Davis's new partner discharges his weapon and is brought to Tidwell for questioning.

This is one of the most important episodes in the series, as it explicitly underlines Charlie's situation, and his noir standing. There is a certain subset of noir that explores heroes who are forced to act like criminals, and the darkness they find within themselves as a result. DEAD RECKONING and DESPERATE, both 1947, are probably the best examples, but there are others. Some of the "bad cop" noirs of the 50s might be included. LIFE takes this concept and merges it with the ideas behind the Stanford Prison Experiment and a conspiracy storyline to create its meta-narrative

There are several scenes I want to point out in this episode. It starts out with this conversation between Charlie and Ted explicitly stating that despite his standing as a policeman, there are things Charlie does that are not legal:

This next clip not only demonstrates the mind-set of someone fully invested in the experiment, which mirrors Charlie's real-life experience, but it also shows the violence Charlie is still capable of:

This next line reflects what Kyle Hollis said in the first episode of the season:

So, if the perception is that all people who are in jail must have done something, whether or not it was the thing they were convicted for, how does one adapt to this new perception? They become the other:

And when one has successfully become the other, is there any road back? If you are offered a life-line, will you take it? This scene that immediately precedes the last suggests that the transition to becoming yourself is not so easy.

There is a lot of very noir-ish doubling in this episode, as students become guards and prisoners, and as the guards themselves become prisoners of the system:

Charlie, of course, is the ultimate double, as a cop who becomes a con who becomes a cop. And in this analogy, the professor becomes the warden, whether he likes it or not. This scene shows Charlie confronting him with the idea, as well as giving insight not only into what Charlie's worst fear is, but reflecting, through the entire episode, what his worst fear was, as a cop going into prison, and how he managed to survive for 14 years, not to mention another look at the violence that lives within him.

This last scene provides us with not only a glimpse into the lengths Charlie had to go to survive in prison (or was it just intimidation tactics he and Ted learned there) as well as giving us a final doubling, as the warden becomes the prisoner in his own jail.

And here's the philosophical coda:

In the end, the student became a killer because he "accepted that he was a convict," according to Reese, and killing was within his definition of a convict, in order to survive. Here, we see Charlie passing on advice, another clue to how he survived and, through his own doubling, a ray of hope that he may ultimately be able to find his way back to who he was.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.3

Crews and Reese investigate a "stiff" frozen solid in a medical lab. Meanwhile, Crews continues his surveillance and Dani finally confronts her father.

We spend a lot of time with Charlie, and think we know him pretty well. But we never really get inside him enough to know what his true intentions are, including his idea of justice after having spent 12 years in prison. In this scene, the silence speaks more than the words:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.2

Crews and Reese track a murder from the gangs of LA to its highest echelons.

The show-runners may have moved away a bit from Charlie's noir leanings in the second season, but they still allow him to be comfortable in situations other policemen wouldn't:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.13

Wow. I'm so glad to have these kinds of shows around. And to have FX to give them to me. I literally had chills at the end of this episode. I know it's chilly here in Rochester, but I'm inside. This one was good.

Jax has Abel back. Jax has Tara back. Now the club needs Jimmy, and Jax is at the crux, needing to find a way to please Stahl, the IRA, and his club, while getting them all off for their illegal activity. Needless to say, things are not what they seem...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Return of #16, #6 and #2

Tonight marks the second season premiere of FX's Justified, a show I like a lot and that provided three of my favorite TV characters from last year: Nick Searcy as Art Mullen, Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, and the fantastic Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder. They're all back this year and ready for more Kentucky-based Elmore Leonard action. I, for one, can't wait.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.1

The second season premiere introduces Donal Logue as the detectives' new captain, as Crews and Reese chase down a serial killer that puts their victims in trunks.

Even when Charlie isn't doing something to cross over legal and ethical lines, there is always the smell of criminality about him, from being in prison, as seen in this clip:

And it's not just that criminals that think so, either. It's the police, his comrades in arms. And since perception often forms reality, how is Charlie supposed to resist being what they see?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.12

Just back from Ireland, Jax and the crew need to track down the missing Tara, while maintaining the deal Jax struck with Stahl, and getting the dirt on Hale to disparage him in the upcoming mayoral race, which will keep Charming PD from being disbanded in favor of a county sheriff's office. Sound complicated? It is.