Netflix Streaming Theatre Vol. IV
Thanks to overwhelming (or is that undemanding?) response, and in the interest of making Netflix aware that apropos transfers matter, here’s the latest round of streaming cinematic roulette:
WHAT’S UP TIGER LILY? (1966) – Woody Allen’s second feature is an unusual curio that nonetheless was a box-office hit and further established his witty surrealist satire. After AIP bought a Japanese James Bond-style action spy thriller called INTERNATIONAL SECRET POLICE: KEY OF KEYS in the hopes of selling it at the height of 007 fever, except the previews garnered only laughter which led to AIP to thinking the film could be re-sold as a comedy. So they hired Woody Allen, who came up with a new script and a cast of comic actors (Louise Lasser, Mickey Rose) to re-dub the movie. Allen complained the producers ruined the film with a derivative title, inserts of The Lovin’ Spoonful for no particular reason and unwanted overdubs, including his own voice at the end (a gag?). Despite that, WNTL is very funny, and there’s much to enjoy in this glimpse at Woody run culturally amuck. Even the Spoonful’s music is pretty cool. Some of my favorite film comedy moments are here, from Phil Moskowitz’s rabid leering at a keyhole to the immortal exchange over a map, “This is Shepherd Wong’s home.” “Shepherd Wong lives in that piece of paper?” And only Woody Allen could come up with a line like, “I’d call you a sadistic, masochistic necrophilliac — but that’s beating a dead horse.”
Oddly, KEY OF KEYS is intentionally campy, so even the Japanese version is a parody; I’m dying to see the original film (unavailable even in Japan) as it’s beautifully lensed in that great 1960’s Toho-Scope, and I like the shifting relationships of the cool leads. The climax has one of the most stylish shoot-outs in cinema history, and even Woody can’t make fun of the scene. Throw in sexy Godzilla/Bond actress Mie Hama (KING KONG VS GODZILLA; YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) and you have a terrific night at the movies. Netflix’s streaming transfer is the beautiful widescreen print, but it’s also the less funny “edited for TV” version that was included along with the theatrical release on the DVD.
THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (1956) – Dynamic classic rock n’roll comedy that I finally viewed or the first time on Netflix. Fortunately, they deliver with spectacular HD clarity. Director and co-writer Frank Tashlin blows up the Cinemascope palette, reminding people what television couldn’t give you at home. The Technicolors practically explode off the wide frame. The ultimate 1950’s rock n roll comedy epic deals with Tom Ewell, fresh from THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH to cement the Marilyn Monroe comparison, as a loser agent who is hired by gangster Edmond O’Brien (very funny) to make a star out of protege Jayne Mansfield. Amid the fast beat world of rock, hijinks and romance ensue. Groomed as Monroe’s replacement, Maynesfield is a delight and her entrance is wonderful. Though she’s saddled with the “I just want to be a housewife” bit, she’s strong and has no fear of telling off her gangster ward. The sexual innuendo is playfully obvious such as the compositional shots of her breasts, and mention by O’Brien as tiring of “all that foreign coozine.” Of course, Tashlin was a pop satirist but he beautifully stages the music scenes and it’s doubtful Little Richard ever looked more dynamic onscreen. I also dig how The Chuckles rock the house with “Lollipop Lies.” I love Tom Ewell here, and always responded to his 50’s lush swagger. Only The Cinema has a very good essay on the film and its charms, writing, “Tashlin has crafted perhaps the definitive cinematic representation of 50s rock culture.” And again, kudos to Netflix for a stunning streaming transfer.
OVERNIGHT (2000) – This is my idea of a horror film. Musician/writer Troy Duffy hit the Hollywood jackpot with the sale of his script THE BOONDOCK SAINTS to Harvey Weinstein who also offered co-ownership of the bar where Duffy had toiled. Along with all that, his band was signed to Madonna’s Maverick label. Duffy’s pals and band mangers documented the meteoric rise and flatline of his career in this chilling cautionary tale of ego and arrogance run amuck. While I’m the first to note that any footage can be manipulated, Duffy’s brusque persona speaks for itself. How to explain the rage after Duffy leaves a glib message on Kenneth Branagh’s phone, then hangs up and says, “Cunt.”
Unchecked fame going to his head, Duffy acts like the gang leader of a skeletal empire, and though we don’t get to see Duffy at work with Miramax executives, it doesn’t take a stretch to see how he could alienate people fast. He has not an ounce of humility and accepts that he deserves all he’s been given — to the chagrin of his neglected band and managers, who he tells point-blank that they deserve to share in money but that they won’t get it. How he escaped a pop in the nose is curious, but clearly his entourage are in awe and fear of him, traits that can pay off in Hollywood once you deliver.
OVERNIGHT is a the kind of social trainwreck I try to avoid, and though it veers into reality show territory, as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, it’s jaw-dropping to watch Duffy torch bridges behind him. And it shows the level of industry syncophantry over a perceived “hot” item that few seem to call Duffy out for his behavior. Only his younger brother explicates his worry about the fame messing him up. And though it’s very sad to see his band and friendships break up, Duffy seems to bring much trouble on himself. Had he been more humble or gracious or even appreciative, he might have had a different career. But there always second and third acts, as Duffy’s sequel to THE BOONDOCK SAINTS opens next month…
THE DOMINO PRINCIPLE (1977) – Don’t know how anybody could resist a Stanley Kramer 1970’s conspiracy thriller starring Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen and Mickey Rooney, featuring Richard Widmark and Eli Wallach. Originally to be a three-hour epic about the mysterious “They” that acts as the touchstone of conspiracy theory, screenplay adapted by Adam Kennedy from his novel, the opening narrated montage is one of the most wacked in movie history. Basically the story of a Vietnam vet sniper and convicted murderer of his ex-wife’s husband pulled from prison to perform a presidential assassination, TDP is an interesting footnote to Kramer’s film career, long winded down by 1977. His earnest epic examinations of societal ills and mores had become dated, with R.P.M. (1970) being the nadir and BLESS THE BEASTS AND THE CHILDREN (1971) being the exception since it scarred a generation of television babies.
I adore Stanley Kramer and his films are always an interesting watch. Particularly this unheralded entry in the uber-70’s paranoia genre. The movie is almost a black comedy at moments, but that could be Kramer’s MO, since he enjoys the casual playful banter between foe and friend, witness the long crude conversations between Hackman and Rooney in their jail cell. Rooney is typically effortless and it’s cool to see him acting opposite Hackman. The sleazy agent in charge of overseeing his training is played with robotic brutality by Edward Albert (Oscar nominated for BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE (1970). He’s perfect and chilling here, and when Hackman finally unloads on him…nice. Candice Bergen is fairly wasted here (her part probably cut to the bone) and saddled with a wig as unbecoming as Julie Christie’s in HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978). Richard Widmark is stolid as usual.
But Gene Hackman is the red fuse that drives the film, and his nervous unpredictable character is always fascinating. He’s the most modern actor Kramer ever worked with, and the directorial style reflects the period, low key and naturalistic, with some pretty violent set-pieces. You can tell where sections of the film have been lopped; Hackman will end one scene in shorts and start another in suit, and the plot is all over, but the narrative thread remains: “They” will win in the end. This is a surprisingly good transfer but it would be nice to see a remastered version with the original three-hour cut. The best thing I can say about THE DOMINO PRINCIPLE is it would make a perfect double feature with Alan Pakula’s THE PARALLAX VIEW (1975), the best conspiracy film ever.
WHY DID WE LAUGH? (2005) – Sam Kinison made me laugh. The first time I ever saw him was in BACK TO SCHOOL (1985), and I had no idea who he was, I only knew he stole the movie from Rodney Dangerfield and I was laughing as hard as he was yelling. Then I found out and I became a fan, watching his cable specials and even buying his tapes. Kinison was quintessential 80’s, raunchy but thoughtful, crude yet honest, and sometimes just stupid. But he was cut from the same Texas comedy cloth as Bill Hicks, and though this documentary ignores their connection, they came from similar places of righteous rage at hypocrisy. Kinison clearly had the more powerful style in terms of oratory theatrics (but not content) thanks to his preacher background and his subject was more accessible to audiences than the more political Hicks.
This documentary covers his life in standard fashion, interviews with Rodney Dangerfield and Tim Matheson and others, but not having Howard Stern involved seems a curious lack, since they were friends and some of Kinison’s best moments were on his radio show. The documentary suffers from the same problems as others, an over-reliance of B-roll footage and bad music; and not enough footage of Kinison in other media such as his roles on MARRIED WITH CHILDREN or details on his unfinished Hollywood trajectory. The doc does go into good detail about his controversial AIDS jokes, which to me were honest observations of the confused era, not at all fag-baiting, as he regularly mocked fools and bigots. It’s hard not to be moved at the end, just when his life seemed back on track, to have it end by the car of drunk driver. This documentary was a nice reminder to that flickering neon comedy period and I was laughing at Sam Kinison all over again.
CADDYSHACK (1980) – Speaking of Rodney Dangerfield, I was happy to see this raunchy hit pop up on Netflix in a good widescreen version. CADDYSHACK came on the rise of the NATIONAL LAMPOON/SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE/SCTV movie nexus, written by Brian Doyle-Murray with ANIMAL HOUSE co-writers Doug Kenney and Harold Ramis, who also directed for the first time. I missed this in the theaters as I was too young, but I recall its network TV debut replete with all the drug humor excised that even the commercials showed. I immediately liked the film solely for its opening salvo, with Kenny Loggin’s purring multi-tracked voice over the popping sprinklers, leading to the famous gopher and the catchy theme, “I’m Alright.” The tone of the credits felt like summer vacation and youthful abandon. Michael O’Keefe, fresh from his triumph in THE GREAT SANTINI (1979), stars as the caddy who hopes to win the golfing scholarship at snobby Bushwood Country Club.
There’s no need to go into plot as the movie is a series of loose skits simply highlighting these comics at their best — or worst, depending on your wont. I think this is Chevy Chase’s funniest role and his sole movie appearance with Bill Murray is some kind of classic moment. Murray cemented his scene-stealing status here as the deranged groundskeeper, Carl; he even manages to go toe-to-toe with John Dykstra’s wily gopher. Ted Knight is the perfect snob villain, with just the right amount of pompous hysteria. And Rodney Dangerfield boosted his film career by stealing his own scenes with lines always quoted at my high school (“Go get yourself a real haircut.”) Everybody has a funny bit or two, and Michael O’Keefe holds his own with Chase, Murray and Knight. Although ANIMAL HOUSE was typed as a crude comedy, CADDYSHACK has the real gross humor and lacks the wit and style of John Landis’ campus phenomenon. And I still love it. Which is nice.
FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964) – Based on H.G. Well’s fanciful Victorian novel (the first steampunk?) about an inventor creating an anti-gravitational substance that allows him and others to journey to the alien-infested moon, this is one of stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen’s best overlooked films, if lacking in non-stop sfx action. Well’s pacifist theme is not watered down; the stop-motion alien Selenite’s dialogue on war and peace with the delightful Lionel Jeffries is seminal sci-fi cinema. Directed by Nathan Juran, who also helmed the superior THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), this was Harryhausen’s first and only foray into widescreen Panavision, which he didn’t care for due to technical reasons. But it’s apropos for such a cosmic adventure and as shot by Wilkie Cooper, quite lovely in Netflix’s decent anamorphic transfer.
BLOOD FOR DRACULA (1974) – The next Andy Warhol produced perversion of gothica was filmed at the same time as FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, both directed by Paul Morrissey. These outrageous camp horror fests would be an influence on John Waters with over-the-top gore and ludicrous sexual situations. Udo Kier becomes one of the screen’s most anemic and pathetic vampires as his ward earnestly seeks out “weergens” from the local village. Joe Dallesandro also stars as the hunky stable-man who espouses communist philosophy (in Brooklynese) while contemptuously using the sisters of the manor. Beautifully shot by Andrew Braunsberg, featuring Morrisey’s ridiculous dialogue, the film is fascinating and repulsive, and Roman Polanski’s cameo is very amusing, especially since he’s the best actor in the film. Originally rated “X” for obvious reasons, the Netflix transfer looks to be Criterion’s excellent 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Now, how about releasing FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN in its original 3-D?
BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963) – Not one of my favorite musicals but one I have fond nostalgia for and it looks fantastic on Netflix’s streaming transfer. A parody of Elvis Presley and his magnetic sexual effect on youth, the Hollywood version of the hit 1961 Broadway show was altered substantially for the screen. Dick Van Dyke complained the film was being turned into “The Ann Margaret Show” which this certainly is. She’s dynamic here and one of the main pleasures of the overwrought film. It’s great to see Van Dyke do his famous “Put On A Happy Face” number even though he gets lost in the shuffle a bit. Honestly, the next best thing here after Margaret is the great Paul Lynde reprising his stage role, especially in his hilarious “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” paen to Ed Sullivan and his show-stopping “Kids.” And then there’s Ann Margaret…
SHAMPOO (1975) – Warren Beatty starred in and produced this archetypal 1970’s New Cinema classic, written by Robert Towne and directed by Hal Ashby, based on the exploits of a Hollywood playboy hairdresser. Set on election eve in 1968, Towne’s smart script takes a look at the self-absorbed privileged of Los Angeles before Nixon’s reign, but Ashby and Beatty are empathetic to their fucked-up characters. I love Hal Ashby and his direction here is his usual subtle, compassionate work. Lazlo Kovacs did the excellent photography, well represented here on Netflix’s anamorphic transfer. Phil Ramone was the music advisor and the background 60’s cues are indeed impeccable. Paul Simon contributed the low-key score that would later be expanded into the song “Silent Eyes.” The whole cast is terrific, from Goldie Hawn to Jack Warden, and this is one of my favorite Warren Beatty performances. I particularly like the quiet final confrontation between Beatty and Warden, a reminder of the skills of all involved in this excellent cultural character study.