Category Archives: VINTAGE MOVIES

Vintage Movies: “Downfall”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Downfall

Downfall (2004, 155 minutes)

A very old woman speaks directly into the camera in German. “I should be angry with this childish young thing for not realizing what she was getting into. How could I have agreed to it so impulsively? When I came to Berlin, I could have said, ‘No,’ but my curiosity got the better of me. And I never thought that fate would take me somewhere I never wanted to be.”

In November of 1942, five young ladies have been taken under military escort to a heavily fortified compound in Rastenburg in East Prussia. Once they have been cleared to enter, they are asked to take a seat. “The Führer is feeding his dog,” says the officer with an SS insignia on his collar. “He says he will be with you shortly.” One of the girls asks, “Please, tell me, how does one greet the Führer?” The officer replies, “The Führer will speak to you first, and you just say, ‘Heil, my Führer.’” Another girl asks, “What about the Nazi salute?” “That won’t be necessary,” he replies. “The Führer isn’t recruiting you as soldiers. He’s looking for a secretary.” Polite tittering follows these remarks. “Behave normally. I’ll ask him if he has time for you now.”

He knocks on the heavy door of the adjoining room and announces to the person inside the office, “Mein Führer, the ladies from Berlin are here.” With no further ceremony, Adolf Hitler emerges from his office. He smiles and says, “I’d like to thank you for coming in the middle of the night, ladies. But in war, we aren’t always the masters of our time.”

He walks up to the first girl and asks her name. “Margarethe Lorenz, heil my Führer,” she answers boldly. “And where are you from?” Hitler (Bruno Ganz) inquires.” She says, “Fuld, heil my Führer.” He asks the next one, “And you?” “Ursula Puttkammer, heil my Führer.” “Leave that out, child,” he says of the salutation. “Tell me where you’re from.” Finally, he strides toward the fifth girl, taller than the others and quite good looking. “And you?” “Traudl Humps. I come from Munich,” she replies coolly. After five seconds of deliberation, he smiles at her and says, “So, fraulein Humps, shall we start?” Traudl (Alexandra Maria Lara) nods and follows Hitler into his office.

“Blondi won’t hurt you,” he says of the German Shepherd standing quietly next to a desk. “In fact, she’s more clever than most people are. She has a very sharp mind.” Gesturing to the desk next to his, Hitler says, “Just make yourself comfortable. Don’t be nervous. I make so many mistakes when I dictate. You’ll never make as many as I do,” he says, benevolently, as she sits down and rolls a single sheet of paper into a brand new Continental typewriter.

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Vintage Movies: “The Trouble With Harry”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

TroubleWithHarry

The Trouble With Harry (1955, 100 minutes)

Taking in a deep breath of the invigorating air of New England before plunging, a few years later, into the twisted murder of Psycho and The Birds (where nature would become the enemy), director Alfred Hitchcock let his eye wander over the riotous autumnal splendor of Vermont for a romantic comedy called The Trouble With Harry that would co-star Shirley MacLaine in her first screen role.

Arnie Rogers (a seven-year old Jerry Mathers, two years before he became the star of TV sitcom Leave It To Beaver) is wandering the back woods of Vermont, toting an oversized blue plastic raygun. He’s imagining he’s scouring the landscape for aliens in the Martian wilderness, when a man’s voice barks out, “OK, I know how to handle your type!” Two gun shots ring out, and Arnie dives behind the trunk of a towering tree whose leaves have gone crimson. When he regains his nerve, he trudges up the next hill and comes upon a man in jacket and tie, lying dead with a single bullet hole in his left temple.

The next hill over, Capt. Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn, who was Santa Claus in 1947′s Miracle On 34th Street) is muttering to his .22 rifle whose shoulder strap is made from clothesline rope. “Well, old faithful, that’s your shooting for the day. If we haven’t run up two rabbits, we deserve to go home empty-handed.” As the captain gets to his feet to retrieve the hare he thinks he’s plugged, he spouts, “Fewer things in life give a man more pleasure than hunting, and this plump rabbit’s waiting for the frying pan.”

He soon comes upon the same dead man that scared spaceman Arnie straight. “I’ve done him in,” moans the captain, inhaling deeply. “A harmless shot at a rabbit, and now I’m a murderer.” Getting up the nerve to poke through the dead man’s jacket pocket, he finds a wallet identifying the corpse as Harry Worp from Boston. “Well, Mr. Worp, you’re a long way from home, and it looks as if you won’t get back for Christmas,” says the old man. He begins to drag the body back to town, when he’s startled by a familiar female voice.

“What do you plan to do with him?” asks Miss Ivy Gravely (MIldred Natwick). “Please don’t say anything, Miss Gravely,” the captain begs. “It was an accident. He was poking around the clearing, and I thought he was a rabbit.” She replies, “Do what you think best, captain. I’m sure you’ve seen much worse.” The captain rambles, “When I was on the Orinoco, this Turk with a machete … ” Miss Gravely politely interrupts, “If I were going to hide an accident, captain, I wouldn’t delay. And perhaps you’d care to come over later for some blueberry muffins and elderberry wine.”

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Vintage Movies: “The Magic Christian”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

MagicChristian

The Magic Christian (1969, 92 minutes)

If Ringo Starr had somehow persuaded the other three Beatles to participate along with him in The Magic Christian, the movie might be looked upon today as a decent successor to their second film, Help!. But if John Lennon is unavailable, then Peter Sellers (a comedic hero of the “literary” Beatle) will do very nicely, not to mention a script by pre-Monty Python stalwarts John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Besides, the Beatles were through with group unity by the end of the ’60s, anyway.

As Badfinger, the under-appreciated Welsh combo recently signed to the Beatles’ record label Apple, bites off its Paul McCartney-produced “Come And Get It,” the film opens with a close-up portrait of Queen Elizabeth. The camera quickly pulls away to reveal it’s the engraving of Her Majesty as seen on a 10-pound note.

The narrative immediately splits in two, first following the filthy rich Sir Guy Grand (Sellers) awakening in his lavishly appointed London town house. Simultaneously, a just plain filthy drifter (Starr) is rudely poked awake with a pointed stick wielded by an ancient gardener working in the park where Ringo’s been sleeping rough for some time. Sir Guy slips a fiver to a strolling violinist outside his home as he fires up the longest limousine ever manufactured by Mercedes Benz. Ringo brushes his teeth using the slimy, algae-choked green water from a public fountain.

On the way to his sumptuous London office, Sir Guy crosses a bridge in a public park and notices a disheveled, unshaven Ringo feeding scraps of bread to the ducks below. “Good morning, feeding the ducks?” asks Sir Guy. “Yes, I feed them every morning,” answers Ringo. “Mind if I join you?” inquires Sir Guy as he removes a slice of bread from his wallet and begins tossing chunks into the pond. Eventually, Ringo gets the notion that this person is up to something more devious than feeding ducks and begins to briskly walk away. “Please don’t go!” begs Sir Guy, finally catching up to Ringo and matching his quick stride to explain in great detail what he has in mind for the two of them.

Sir Guy and Ringo, looking totally out of place with his straggly, unkempt hair and cheap sunglasses, stand across a large office table from a brace of obsequious solicitors and accountants on the other side. Sir Guy is handed a one-page document and a fountain pen for his signature to be affixed to the bottom of the page. He ceremoniously signs the paper, then passes both document and pen over to Ringo who also signs. “Well, Youngman Grand,” Sir Guy proudly addresses Ringo whose name has now been legally changed. Embracing Sir Guy as warmly as if he were the long lost parent he’s never known, Youngman replies, “Father!”

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Vintage Movies: “Petulia”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Petulia

Petulia (1968, 105 minutes)

It’s not very often that Hollywood uses a major cultural movement—in this case 1967′s still bubbling “Summer Of Love” rock trip in San Francisco—as the backdrop for a major motion picture, at least before all the life has been sucked out of the scene. Directed by Richard Lester, who’d struck gold four years earlier with the runaway success of the Beatles’ debut, A Hard Day’s Night, Petulia features a pair of A-list stars, Julie Christie and George C. Scott, a soundtrack score by John Barry, party music from Janis Joplin fronting Big Brother & The Holding Company and incidental appearances by all six members of the Grateful Dead.

Benefitting “highway safety,” it’s one of high society’s fund-raising landmarks of the season at one of San Francisco’s poshest hotels. Not to say the upper crust isn’t slumming somewhat tonight as hippie pin-up star Joplin is wailing away to “Roadblock” backed by the gnarly sounds of Big Brother, whose personnel she once referred to as “the ugliest band in America.”

Dr. Archie Bollen is scheduled to award a shiny new limousine as the door prize to tonight’s lucky ticketholder. But he’s determined to bail out early if they can only find his raincoat at the coat-check desk. “You can’t leave, you’re an official host,” says Petulia (Christie) to Archie (Scott). He removes his name tag and begins to pin it on Petulia, a girl he’s never met before. “Careful,” she warns. “Can’t you tell I’m not wearing a bra?” “No,” he mutters, pretending not to show much interest. “Don’t think about it. It’ll only excite you,” replies Petulia with auburn curls piled high on her head and a pair of pearl-cluster earrings as big as her fist.

“That’s my husband David over there,” she says pointing at a young man in tuxedo and modified Prince Valiant bangs. “I’ve been married six months and never had an affair.” Archie mumbles, “Well, it happens.” Petulia rambles on, “He’s a naval architect, but we’re starving. You wouldn’t by any chance want to buy a 60-foot sloop?” “No,” replies Archie, improving every time on the delivery of his limited dialog.

“Archie, you can’t go. I’d be very disappointed,” says Wilma, a mean-spirited woman in dark curls clutching the doctor’s shoulder. “Who do you think I bumped into last week? Have you seen what she’s done to her hair? I said, ‘Polo, for heaven’s sake, you look like a teenager.’” As Archie prepares to leave, with Petulia now clinging to his arm, Wilma addresses her: “I don’t believe we’ve met.” Petulia turns around and says, “Get stuffed, Wilma.” Archie rolls his eyes and says, “You have now.” At the hotel’s front door, Petulia looks up at Archie and murmurs, “My name’s Petulia.” He looks down at her and replies, “I’m not surprised.”

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Vintage Movies: “Saps At Sea”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

SapsAtSea

Saps At Sea (1940, 57 minutes)

Stan and Ollie are employed as horn-testers by a horn factory called Sharp & Pierce. And the infernal racket of horns blaring all day and all night is finally getting on Ollie’s nerves. An ambulance just carted away another blithering fellow employee who couldn’t take it anymore. “That’s your fourth one this week,” notes the street cop. After turning up his hearing aid, the plant supervisor says, “That’s right. The G-minor horn always gets them.”

With his hearing aid turned off, the boss enters the testing room again and gives Ollie an order: “Make this horn a G-minor!” Eager to please, Ollie (Oliver Hardy) asks, “Were the others all right?” The boss answers, “Just fair,” as Stan (Stan Laurel) squeezes the bulb of an especially irritating horn that blurts out “Cuckoo!” and makes their boss’ hat pop up in the air.

Five minutes later, the foreman is barking at Ollie, “Haven’t you got that horn fixed yet?!” Exasperated, Ollie throws his hands in the air and pops his cork. “No, I haven’t got it fixed yet! And what’s more, I’m not gonna fix it! Horns to the right of me!! Horns to the left of me!!” The only time the din subsides is when he picks up the huge work bench and tips it over, sending dozens of horns scattering to the floor.

Sent home to wait for the doctor, Ollie has a cold compress over his forehead. “Why doesn’t this ice bag have any ice in it?” he asks. “We don’t have any ice,” replies Stan as the phone rings loud enough to wake the dead. After almost strangling Ollie with the cord, Stan picks up the call. “Hello, this is Dr. Finlayson,” says the caller. “Just a minute,” says Stan as he talks into a banana instead of the receiver. The doctor (James Finlayson) will be right over, Stan tells Ollie. “He’ll be here within either 15 minutes or a quarter of an hour.”

“What’s the matter with me, doctor?” asks Ollie weakly after the medical man has tested his lungs with an exploding-balloon device. “Just as I suspected,” pronounces Dr. Finlayson. “It’s a severe case of hornophobia, bordering on hornomania. What you need is complete peace and quiet with plenty of sea-side rest and a strict diet of goat’s milk.”

The next day, Stan and Ollie, decked out in nautical, striped blazers and yachtsman’s caps have hired an ancient boat to follow doctor’s orders. They even have Narcissus the goat in tow to give plenty of milk (if he’d not happened to be a gentleman goat). That night, Nick Grainger, an escaped murderer, sneaks onboard the boat as the boys are snoring heavily. Nasty as they come, Big Nick (Richard Cramer) is packing a snub-nosed revolver called Nick Jr. in his hip pocket.

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Vintage Movies: “The African Queen”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

AfricanQueen

The African Queen (1951, 105 minutes)

To an outsider’s ear, an unholy racket streams from inside a rustic church constructed entirely of local reeds tied together with leaves gathered from the jungle surrounding the tiny African village. It’s really a Christian hymn being conducted by Reverend Samuel Sayer of the Methodist church of Kungdu, but sung by an all-black congregation of villagers with no ear for the European musical tone system.

Sayer’s sister Rose, the other half of this missionary tandem, plays a modest pipe organ and tries her best to overcome the massed vocal din by belting out the ancient hymn in a strong contralto. Suddenly the piercing whistle of the African Queen, a modest river launch, rises above the noise, punctuating the end of the church service. The boat’s skipper, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), tosses the butt end of his cigar to the ground as he walks toward the church, inciting a riot to retrieve the stogie among a dozen natives lounging around outside.

“Hello, reverend,” says the unshaven Allnut, grimy from his trip up the river. “Here’s your mail. Sorry I’m late, but you know how it is—or maybe you don’t.” “Good morning, Mr. Allnut,” beams Rose (Katharine Hepburn). “Ahh, they’ve come at last, my roses,” she says, accepting a dry, long-stemmed bundle from Allnut.

The Sayers invite the skipper to tea. Awkward among this company, Allnut’s insides begin to growl as Rose pours and offers him a biscuit. “Just listen to this stomach of mine,” he chuckles. “You’d think I had a hyena inside of me.” As he declines an invitation to stay for dinner, Allnut tells the reverend, “I guess I won’t be coming back this way for a couple of months.” “Really?! Why not? What abut our mail!” complains the pastor (Robert Morley). “Doesn’t look like there’s going to be any mail. The Germans will hold it up on account of the war,” Allnut explains. “War?! What war!” both Sayers demand, almost in unison. “Well,” says Allnut, scratching his beard to remember, “Germany and … England.” Very agitated, the reverend asks, “You really mean war?” Allnut answers, “Yeah, that’s what they tell me. The Germans say the English started it, and the English claim it was the Germans.”

“That’s all you can tell us? I wonder what our position will be as enemy aliens,” inquires the padre desperately. Trying to calm their fears, Allnut says, “What harm could anyone do the Germans in this God-forsaken place?” Rose bristles, “God has not forsaken this place, Mr. Allnut, as my brother’s presence here bears witness!” But she asks her brother as Allnut returns to the river and his boat: “Shouldn’t we try to get to Limbasi while we still can?” Her brother answers bluntly, “The good Lord doesn’t desert his flock while the wolves are on the prowl.”

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Vintage Movies: “Palookaville”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Palookaville

Palookaville, (1996, 92 minutes)

Three young men park their car at the dark end of the street late at night, and two of them open a concealed gate that leads to the rear of Lettieri Bros. jewelry store. They begin sledge-hammering an entrance hole into the ancient brick wall next to the outside vault with the jewelers’ name painted on it. The brick crumbles easily. They’re inside within 10 minutes.

Once they’ve entered, Russell (Vincent Gallo) slaps his forehead, “I don’t believe this!” he says as he eyeballs cart after cart after cart loaded with yesterday’s apple fritters, strawberry dream cakes and chocolate doughnuts. “We’re in the wrong place,” says Jerry (Adam Trese) already starting to devour a pastry. “I know we’re in the wrong place!” barks Russell, heading for the cash register to salvage whatever cash he can from this bungled caper.

Sirens begin to blare in the distance, and Sid the lookout (William Forsythe) starts jogging toward the getaway car. “Let’s get out of here!” shouts Russell as Jerry stuffs more pastries into his coat. But he’s too late. No sooner does he arrive at the entry hole than a cop’s flashlight is already poking inside the place. Jerry ducks behind a pastry rack as four policemen turn on the lights and look around. “Can you believe this?” says one. “I mean, who robs a bakery?” Another cop reveals that the till has been emptied, as his fellow officers help themselves to a light snack.

Next morning, the trio assembles at a local diner to evaluate last night’s failed mission. “You didn’t come out when I called you,” says Russell to Jerry, explaining why the getaway car left early. “I got caught up,” says Jerry. “He hid behind a mixer,” smiles Sid. “What’s so funny, Jerry? Our life’s on the line and you’re eating pastry?” says Russell. “You think that’s funny?” Jerry reveals: “I’m in there, right, all crouched down and everything’s sticky. And I start thinkin’ about Betty and the kid. What if I get caught? What happens to them?”

Russell spreads out his hands in exasperation, all bony fingers. “Why did this happen? Can the three of us analyze this for a moment?” he asks. Jerry has the answer. “The bakery made an ‘L’ behind the jewelry store. It was a total unknown. Maybe we should forget about theft, just rule it out,” he says, thinking of the big picture. Russell sighs and tries to tone it down a bit. “I’m not talking about a life of crime, just a momentary shift in lifestyles. Suppose you’re on the highway and everybody’s doing 80. Do you drive 55 because it’s the law? No, you go with the flow.” He tosses Jerry and Sid their share, $45 each. “Here, big shot,” he says to Jerry. “Go buy yourself a doughnut.”

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Vintage Movies: “All About Eve”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

AllAboutEve

All About Eve (1950, 138 minutes)

As theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) dryly narrates the “overnight-sensation” aspect to the current deification of Broadway’s newest stage star, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), with her acceptance of this year’s Sarah Siddons Award, it would be all but impossible to miss the icy glare coming from Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Odd, one might think, since Margo was the person most responsible for Eve getting her foot in the door of this august Broadway company in the first place.

A year earlier, Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), the wife of the playwright for Channing’s current dramatic triumph, took pity on the poor, rain-soaked young girl, waiting every night at the stage door for her idol to appear. “What do you do in between the time Margo comes in and Margo goes out? Do you huddle in that doorway and wait?” asks Karen. Eve replies, “Oh no, I see the play.” Surprised, Karen asks, “You’ve seen every performance of this play? Don’t you find that expensive?” “Standing room doesn’t cost much. I manage,” answers the shy young girl.

Karen takes Eve inside out of the rain and introduces her to Margo as she’s applying facial cream in her dressing room. Barely glancing at the new arrival, Margo is already feeling her fast-approaching 40th birthday as if it’s the solitary headlight of a runaway locomotive bearing down on what remains of her acting career. Eve tells her idol that she’s seen every performance of Margo’s current smash, Aged In Wood, and the star immediately takes notice with just a hint of pity for this young kid.

“I became the secretary of a local brewery. When you’re the secretary of a brewery, all there is to your world is beer,” Eve replies when asked how she’s managed to arrive on the Great White Way from a modest Wisconsin upbringing. “It wasn’t much fun,” she continues, “but there was a little theater. It was like a drop of rain in the desert. We played Lilliom for three performances, and I was awful.” She wound up in San Francisco just in time to meet Eddie, her young husband, on leave from the Pacific Front in World War II, she continues. “That’s where I received the telegram, forwarded from the War Office, that Eddie had been killed in battle.”

Eve decided to stay in San Francisco. “One night, Margo Channing came to town to play in Remembrance, and here I am,” she says quietly to a small audience she already has wrapped firmly in the palm of her trembling hand. It’s the performance of a young lifetime. Before the evening is through, Margo will offer Eve a job as her personal assistant. But Eve has already parlayed her good fortune into a higher rung of the ladder, quietly contemplating how she might become Margo’s understudy.

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Vintage Movies: “Fitzcarraldo”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo (1982, 157 minutes)

An Irishman dubbed “Fitzcarraldo” by the Peruvian locals has but one desire in life, now that his former pet project, the Trans-South American Railroad, has failed dismally. He’s determined to build the world’s greatest opera house in a place called Ixtuba, deep in the Amazon outback. And then he will enlist his favorite singer, Enrico Caruso, to perform at the grand opening. As the film opens, a tousle-headed, bleach blonde Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) is paddling a small boat up the Amazon with his paramour Molly (Claudia Cardinale), the proprietor of a local brothel, to hear Caruso sing in this thriving port city.

In their finest evening wear, the pair scrambles up the muddy banks of the river and down a rough street to the concert hall. They are barred from admission, however, by a security guard, since they don’t have tickets. Molly explains that Fitzcarraldo intends to build an opera house and the ticket-taker, touched by her story, relents and allows the pair to enter the performance hall. Fitzcarraldo later swears that Caruso has made eye contact during the performance, thus silently agreeing to christen the opera house he is about to build.

“When I have my opera house, you will have your own box seat,” Fitzcarraldo murmurs later to a manta ray the native children have plucked from the nearby river to his hammock. He swings the heavy tone arm of his ancient apparatus onto a 78-rpm disc of classic opera as the kids watch the platter turn round and round in amazement.

Later that evening, Fitzcarraldo pulls up a chair next to a loudmouthed man with a huge stack of cash in front of him, attesting to his luck at the gaming table. “Sit down, and play a hand with us!” he bellows, stuffing a few large bills into Fitzcarraldo’s jacket pocket. “There’s nothing like the thrill of losing large amounts of money!” He also assures Fitzcarraldo there’s no possible way he can obtain a patent on the ice he has lugged into his home. “If we did that, you could build a Trans-Amazon Railway on ski sleds and just push it across the jungle!” the man roars.

Next day, Fitzcarraldo is shooting the rapids of the Pongo River, listening to the pipe dreams of a rubber baron. If he could somehow find a way to get goods transported from this river to the Amazon, just over the hill, he explains, it would entirely change the economy of the region. He’s talking to the right man, one with the vision and the confidence that he can pull off such an impossible task. And one who also recalls the mock toast the previous evening by one particular non-believer: “To Fitzcarraldo, the conqueror of the useless!” And a broad grin begins to creep across his face.

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Vintage Movies: “Morvern Callar”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

MorvernCallar

Morvern Callar (2002, 97 minutes)

Morvern Callar has passed out on the floor of her flat in rural Scotland on Christmas Eve and doesn’t awake until Christmas morning. Instead of opening presents and enjoying a pleasant holiday breakfast, she finds, illuminated by the flashing light of her modest Christmas tree, the bloody corpse of her boyfriend lying next to her, sprawled halfway between the kitchen and the living room. Morvern (Samantha Morton) seems somewhat stunned by this turn of events, feeling for a pulse in his stone-cold hand.

Ignoring the behavior of any rational person—call an ambulance and the local police—she behaves almost as though this event is too large to grasp. She leaves the body where it lies and begins to make herself some breakfast. Then she sits down on the floor next to her Christmas tree and opens the presents from her boyfriend. The big bulky one is an expensive designer-made black leather jacket. Smaller gifts include a cigarette lighter and an audio cassette of music the boyfriend has made for her bearing his hand-printed label “Music For You.”

She seems to be trying to scrub this haunting event from her memory by having a long soak in the bath tub, spending lengthy periods of time under water. When she emerges from the tub, she mechanically begins to apply her makeup and paints her nails with sporty red polish. After getting dressed, Morvern notices the computer monitor is still turned on. It tells the rest of the story. Like a note from Alice In Wonderland, the screen says in bold letters: “READ ME.” She scrolls down to find her boyfriend’s last wishes. “Don’t try to understand it. It just felt like the right thing to do. My novel is on the disk. Put my name on top and print it out and send it to the first publisher on the list below. If they don’t want it, try the next publisher down the list. I love you. Be brave.”

This is all too much for Morvern, who looks in the closet for her oldest winter coat and walks down to the local train station, now deserted because it’s Christmas morning. She sits on a bench alongside a baggage trolley until the public telephone rings. Pausing over the phone, she debates whether she should answer it. She finally grasps the receiver and has a short conversation with whomever is on the line. This causes her to return to her tiny apartment. She steps around the body of her boyfriend, still lying in a pool of his own blood, sits down before his computer and inserts the disk containing his last work.

Before beginning the long task of making a paper copy of his novel, she types in the name of the author, as requested, at the top of the first page: “MORVERN CALLAR.”

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