Dirty Harry

The other day Kish and I watched Dirty Harry, the 1971 thriller starring Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan, the .44 magnum-toting cop who eschews political correctness, believes in using maximum force in bringing down criminals, and doesn’t care a bit about breaking the rules to do so.

146909The movie still holds up well, 45 years later.  In many ways, it’s superior to the current Hollywood product, because it doesn’t rely solely on car crashes and shoot-outs to sustain the plot and pace.  There’s a suspense element to it, from the initial scene where the Scorpio killer uses a long-range rifle to shoot and kill a woman on a rooftop swimming pool, to the later scenes where Scorpio tries to carry out his threats to kill others in order to be paid a ransom, to Harry’s long jog around San Francisco to reach different phone booths so he can deliver a ransom before a young girl hostage is killed.  And while Harry obviously is the best cop around, the rest of the police force and the mayor aren’t ridiculous caricatures or light comedic foils — which is standard fare in later cop movies — but competent people who obviously are trying to do their best to deal with a crazed killer.

The writing is good, too.  We all know the famous scene where Harry has a shoot-out with bank robbers while eating a hot dog that ends with him asking a wounded robber who is considering going for his gun “well, punk, do you feel lucky?”  But there are other pieces of crackling dialogue, too, such as the scene where Harry rescues a potential suicide standing on a window ledge by making him so mad that he physically attacks Harry, or the interaction between Scorpio and the guy he pays to beat him up and make his claim of police brutality by Callahan more plausible.

One of the more interesting elements of the film, considered against the ensuing 45 years of action movies that followed it, is that it doesn’t try to answer all of the viewer’s questions.  Sure, he’s probably called Dirty Harry because he does all of the dirty work in the department, but it just might be because he’s got a bit of peeping Tom in him, too. There are no flashback scenes to show us exactly how Harry got the way he is, and no effort to give Scorpio a back story or explain why he has decided to kill random strangers.  He’s just a disturbed lunatic, presented matter-of-factly as an unfortunate reality of modern life.

The fact that some key points are left for the viewer to wonder about is refreshing.  You can imagine people leaving a theater after watching Dirty Harry and actually talking about some of these issues, and others.  How many modern action films that you’ve seen in the past few years could you say that about?

Hopeless Hollywood Sameness

Yesterday Kish and I decided to go see a movie.  It’s been hot as blazes in Columbus recently, and humid, too, and the idea of sitting for a few hours in an air-conditioned movie theater watching an interesting film was very attractive.

We haven’t been to the movies in a while because, candidly, the array of films offered this summer hasn’t been very appealing.  We have a narrow window of consensus — Kish can’t stand sci-fi and superhero movies, and I groan at the idea of sitting through some deep study of dysfunctional families — but we thought we’d give Jason Bourne a shot.

rs-jason-bourne-ea2bec70-27d1-4c0a-abc0-dcd61b987aa9Several hours later, after we’d been assaulted by loud, chaotic, and grossly improbable non-stop action, we emerged with the realization that Hollywood apparently has run out of ideas.  I think I may have seen part of an actual Jason Bourne movie in the past, but I’ve definitely seen this movie before — over and over and over again.  The film is so trite and formulaic that it immediately seemed like I was watching a rerun.  Even Matt Damon, who typically makes interesting films, couldn’t salvage it.  If you’re considering going to watch it, save your money.

Take every car chase scene you’ve seen since The French Connection, Bullitt, and The Blues Brothers movie, make them louder and longer and more destructive, and move them to Athens and the Vegas strip.  Input a rote, duplicitous bad guy with absolutely no redeeming qualities as the evil head of the the CIA and expect the audience to root for him to be killed.  Take an ambitious female agent with ambiguous loyalties off the shelf.  Add in an unbeatable hero with superhuman intellectual and physical capabilities and have him tracked by another apparently unstoppable cold-blooded killer who he has to fight at the climax.  That’s the plot.  Sound familiar?

The summer movie season used to feature inventive, different movies, like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars and Forrest Gump.  That’s no longer the case.  Now we get sequels, remakes, and canned, tried-and-true formulaic crap.  It’s no wonder that the box office receipts are down this summer.  What we’re getting from Hollywood these days really sucks.

Blazing Saddles In A PC America

Tonight the CAPA summer movie series screens the Mel Brooks epic Blazing Saddles.  I’ll be joining a group of guys from the firm who will be going to watch the film that features the greatest fart scene in the history of American cinema.

blazesaddle129It’s pretty amazing that CAPA is showing the movie in this day and age, because Blazing Saddles has to be one of the most politically incorrect films ever made.  Released in 1974, and written by Brooks and Richard Pryor, among others, it tells the tale of an ex-slave in the post-Civil War American West who is appointed sheriff and, with his drunken gunslinger sidekick the Waco Kid, works to save the aghast and unappreciative townsfolk of Rock Ridge from the depredations of a carefully recruited gang of thugs — all as part of a deep scheme to drive the people out of town and allow a corrupt politician to cheaply buy land needed for a railroad.  Along the way, Blazing Saddles manages to skewer every racial and sexual stereotype, insult just about every ethnic group and sexual orientation imaginable, and hilariously spoof all of the hackneyed elements of the western movie genre.

I think Blazing Saddles is one of the funniest movies ever — which undoubtedly says something about my sophomoric sense of humor — but it’s hard to imagine it being made today.  Our modern time seems like a more brittle, more easily offended America, where colleges have speech codes, comedians are being censored on campus, and people often seem to be actively looking for ways to scale new heights of political correctness.  Perhaps the America of 1974, in the twilight of the ugly Vietnam War/Watergate era, was just more willing to enjoy a hearty laugh at the expense of racist townspeople and gassy cowboys.

So tonight, as Lili von Shtupp cavorts onstage with dancing Germans, Mongo punches a horse and later expresses feelings for Sheriff Bart, the ungrateful people of Rock Ridge list their preferences for different ethnic groups, and a brawl in cowboy movie spills onto the sound stage of a musical featuring prancing, tuxedo-clad dancers, I’ll be mindful of the audience, too.  How many of the people in attendance will laugh at one of the stereotype-bursting lines — and then look around with a guilty conscience for having breached the invisible wall of modern political correctness?

The Best Action Movie, Ever

This weekend the CAPA summer movie series at the Ohio Theatre features Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I might wander over tomorrow afternoon to catch a showing of what I consider to be the best action adventure movie ever made, and watching it on the big screen will make it even better.  That’s if I can get a seat, of course — the last time the Ohio Theatre screened Raiders, more than 2,000 bought tickets to watch it.

I’m sure that some people will disagree with my assessment.  I guess it depends on how you define “action.”  Raiders isn’t filled with fight scenes, although it has some truly great ones, and if you’re looking for a huge body count, this film really won’t fill the bill —  but the people who do get killed tend to die in very novel and interesting ways, whether it’s getting pincushioned by poison darts or chopped to smithereens by the propeller of a plane or being melted by the Wrath of God.

raiders-of-the-lost-arkBut if you’re looking for action from beginning to end in exotic locations, with a very human hero and his two-fisted love interest mixing in a lot of laugh-out-loud humor along the way, Raiders is the movie for you.  The first scene alone, with Indiana Jones brilliantly avoiding countless traps, getting betrayed by his assistant, and barely avoiding getting crushed by a giant rolling stone in his quest to steal a gold icon, is worth the price of admission.

Then you follow it with appalling Nazi bad guys, Old Testament biblical stuff, and some of the greatest stunt work ever filmed.  We get to see Professor Indy in the classroom with his love-struck female students, then teaching the Washington bureaucrats what they should have learned in Sunday school, Marion’s drinking bout with Nepali goat herders, the monkey who gives the Seig Heil salute, an exhausted Indy’s decision to shoot down a sword-wielding giant, Marion’s encounter with the Nazi whose apparent torture instrument turns out to be a coat hanger, Indy and Sallah and Marion at the Well of the Souls . . . and you realize that there’s so much great stuff in this movie it blows away the competition.  And when the capstone shows the Ark of the Covenant being crated and stored in some unending government warehouse, you’ve simply got the greatest action movie, ever.  There’s really no argument.

Raiders is playing at 7 p.m. tonight and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. tomorrow.

Alzheimer’s Isn’t Funny

Last week there were reports that Will Ferrell was pursuing a new movie in which he would portray Ronald Reagan.  The project was pitched as a comedy set during Reagan’s second term, in which he is depicted as already in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease and an intern is charged with convincing Reagan that he is an actor portraying the President.  After an outcry about the insensitivity of the concept from Reagan’s children and others, one of Ferrell’s representatives said the actor wasn’t going to do the movie.

brain-tree-dementia-624x295I get why the Reagan children reacted as they did, and I think Ferrell was wise to back away from the project.  The reality is that Alzheimer’s disease really isn’t very funny.  Sure, many people who have had to deal with a family member with the disease probably have shaken their heads and had a rueful laugh about a particular episode that demonstrates how the ill person has changed — whether by repeating themselves, or by not knowing a friend or family member, or by showing radical changes to their personality as the disease ravages their brain — but it’s defensive humor, designed to help you cope with the realization that a person you know and love is falling into a black pit from which they will never emerge, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

I’ve read several memoirs written by children who’ve cared for parents with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  When the books share a “humorous” anecdote, as they sometimes do, it’s uncomfortable reading because the victim of the disease is inevitably the butt of the humor — because they’ve forgotten where they are, or have taken a shower with their pants on, or have used a word that they would never had said before in polite company.  It’s not really funny at all.  It’s tragic, and it’s not fair to the person whose intellect and personality and consciousness is being irreversibly stripped away, bit by bit, until only an unfamiliar shell remains.  They can’t help themselves.

I suppose a hard-bitten, cynical Hollywood agent might think a script about an intern deceiving a character in the grip of Alzheimer’s was a laugh riot, but only if that agent didn’t know anyone who had experienced the disease.  These days, there aren’t many people who fall into that category, and those who have been touched aren’t going to go watch a “comedy” that reminds them of the devastation the disease inflicted.  And if such a movie ever gets made, how many members of the audience are going to erupt in belly laughs about the lead character’s painful confusion?

My guess is that most people who watched such a movie would leave with the same fervent vow found among people who have dealt with Alzheimer’s in their families.  It goes like this: “Please don’t let me ever, ever get Alzheimer’s.”

Patty Duke

I was saddened to read of the death of Patty Duke this week.  From the tributes about her, it sounds like she faced difficult challenges in her life, and in her death, but it was encouraging to read that her son thought her death brought her peace.

While most of the obituaries emphasize her Oscar win for The Miracle Worker, I’ll always remember her for The Patty Duke Show, which had one of the greatest ’60s TV show intros of all time.  We watched the show as children and wondered: could there really be identical cousins?  It was one of the most implausible TV concepts ever — right up there with My Mother The Car — but Patty Duke somehow made it work, playing both genteel Cathy and rockin’ Patty.  She was a talent.