Category Archives: VINTAGE MOVIES

Vintage Movies: “Los Angeles Plays Itself”

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 ’00s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

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Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003, 169 minutes)

As the garish image of a ’40s strip club flickers across the screen,” Encke King, the deadpan narrator of this fascinating documentary, intones in a no-nonsense delivery, “Los Angeles is where reality and representation get muddled.” And it’s off to the races with one short shot after another that gets straight to the central nervous system of the City of Angels as well as any Beverly Hills neurosurgeon. Most of this is existing footage with some of it shot expressly for the project. The result is a wall-to-wall mindbender.

“A real movie shoot can create a better public spectacle than the fake movie studio tours,” says King as a city bus is hoisted by an industrial-sized crane and attached to the bottom of a large helicopter, a la the statue of Jesus flown through the Roman skies in La Dolce Vita. The images must speak for themselves as they come at you like logs rapidly floating downstream to a Canadian sawmill. Take them as they arrive as little explanation is given. “A place can become a historical landmark because it was once a movie location.” A sign explains that a Jackie Chan movie was once filmed there. The Ambassador Hotel has apparently been preserved as a film locale because it was the place where Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968.

Many L.A. locales are named after Hollywood celebrities, such as Bob Hope Dr. and a park called the Bette Davis Picnic Area. And a small bust exists near the Griffith Park Observatory, commemorating the site where James Dean once challenged a fellow high school student to a “chickie run” in Rebel Without A Cause.

Then there are the steep concrete steps covering at least four stories up a hill in Silver Lake, a Los Angeles suburb. They are now named “The Music Box Steps” after the 1932 short where Oliver Hardy is chased all the way to the street below by a runaway crate with a piano inside.

“Los Angeles may be one of the most photographed cities in the world, but it’s one of the least photogenic. It’s not Paris or New York.” A razor-sharp image appears from The French Connection of three four-story walk-ups across the street, framed by a rubble-strewn empty lot in the foreground and two gutted brick warehouses on either side. “In New York everything seems sharp and in-focus. In smoggy cities like Los Angeles everything dissolves into the distance. Even close-up stuff seems far away.” A smeared image from To Live And Die in L.A. looks like it could be washed away with soap and water. At first glance this may seem to be a hatchet job on old L.A. Instead it’s a passionate love story that makes you see the old girl in a new light.

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Vintage Movies: “Fay Grim”

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 ’00s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

FayGrim

Fay Grim (2006, 118 minutes)

Time marches on for the Grim/Fool clan in Fay Grim, the second installment of this sharp Hal Hartley trilogy, shot nine years after the opening volley, Henry Fool. The tone of the work hasn’t changed. It’s not ultra-realism or even pseudo-realism—more like some other, slightly uncomfortable, pressed off center realism. The only work that even comes close is Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich.

Henry Fool is presumed by the law to be on the lam in Europe, seven years after being smuggled out of the country with a fake passport, cooked up by his brother-in-law, Simon Grim, now serving time for aiding a wanted criminal. What Henry, who’s been incarcerated for being caught in flagrante delicto with a 13-year-old girl, is wanted for, this time around, is never made quite clear. Henry’s wife Fay (Parker Posey), is raising their son Ned, now 14, and there are problems. “Ned brought this pornographic device to school today and was caught showing it to other children,” says the boy’s principal to Fay. Ned shows his mother how to operate the Edwardian-era peep show device, something that wouldn’t cause a ripple in today’s sludge-choked river of bad taste.

Of course, there are also more serious charges leveled against the boy. Ned was recently caught getting a blowjob from two 16-year-old female classmates. Fay, whose hair style this time around is more flattering than the matted haystack she sported in the previous film, is being harassed by CIA agent Fullbright (Jeff Goldblum). Who knows why the Feds are after Henry, unless it’s become a federal offense to be a mediocre poet caught impersonating his brother-in-law, Simon, hailed the world round as a Nobel laureate, albeit in jail.

During visiting hours with her brother, Fay pleads with him, “Simon, you’ve gotta get outta jail! I can’t handle all this on my own. Ned needs a father figure, or something.” Simon (James Urbaniak) replies, “What do you want me to do, escape?” She tries to explain, her words bumping into one another. “You might be eligible for early parole on account of your good behavior.” “I won’t be eligible for that until a couple more years,” he says, breathing deeply.

“I can’t wait that long,” Fay groans. “They’ll send Ned to reform school. And he’ll be in prison before he’s old enough to get a driver’s license.” Simon shakes his head in resignation. “Look, if you need anything at all, just ask Angus.” Ned (Liam Aiken), who’s been sitting quietly all this time, pipes up: “She’s got a date with him. He’s taking her to the theater and supper afterwards. He calls her all the time.” Fay faces the boy and hisses, “Evaporate!” Veins deepen on Simon’s forehead as he asks, “You’re dating my publisher?” She snaps back, “You got a problem with that?!”

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Vintage Movies: “Henry Fool”

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.

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Henry Fool (1997, 138 minutes)

Fair Warning Department: The final film in Hal Hartley’s groundbreaking black-comedy trilogy that began with 1997’s Henry Fool and continued with Fay Grim in 2007 is about to reach critical mass with the April release of Ned Rifle. Those who want to catch up, or take a quick refresher course, have a couple of weeks to get it together. That’s about as much time as I had to plough through the first 50-plus episodes of Breaking Bad before the final eight chapters were telecast about two years ago.

After the morning truck full of recyclable garbage is unloaded, Simon Grim (James Urbaniak), dressed in a grimy, dark grey jumpsuit, punches the time clock and drinks a beer, all alone, for lunch. The stern-faced young man in the Buddy Holly glasses who looks as though he’s never laughed in his life, is shocked to see a young couple having sex right in front of him in one of the below-street level windows that surround the place where he works. The girl screams when she sees Simon, and the guy runs after him prepaired to beat his brains into pulp.

Safe at home back in Queens, Simon senses something big may be headed his way and puts his ear close to the pavement. Marching up the street as bold as Custer just before Little Big Horn, Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), in a three-piece suit, stops before the sign that reads “Basement Apartment For Rent” and struts right inside to have a good look around. He cranks up the gas furnace and turns to Simon, who’s followed him in. “Where do you have to go to get a six-pack of beer around here?” he asks, tossing the kid a crumpled bill.

Simon grabs a six pack of Bud from the cooler of the local convenience market as the two love-birds he’d interrupted earlier smirk at one another. She drops her panties then bends over and says, “Kiss my ass!” to Simon, while her partner heads off any possible escape. He grabs Simon’s head and yanks it toward his girlfriend’s bottom. The mute Asian lady behind the counter pushes the police alarm button, which triggers Simon to vomit all the clotted, spoiled milk he’d accidentally drunk for breakfast all over the girl’s rear end.

Back in the dingy basement apartment, Henry Fool carefully loads his books into a bookcase as Simon turns over the name tag on his suitcase. “Centuries ago, it had an ‘e’ on the end,” Fool remarks of his odd surname. “Where do you come from?” asks Simon. “Nowhere in particular,” replies Fool. “I go where I will, and I do what I can. That’s why I’m in trouble. I’m what you might call an exile. An honest man is always in trouble, Simon. Remember that.”

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Vintage Movies: “Kill Or Cure”

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.

KillOrCure

Kill Or Cure (1962, 98 minutes)

Gap-toothed, British comic genius Terry-Thomas plays himself, once again, in Kill Or Cure, a moderately funny, but none the less enjoyable, work from 1962, recently unearthed from the archives of its American distributor, MGM. And why not? Fifty years ago, he was the best thing going in a well stocked British comic pantry that also included Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness, Alastair Sim and Ian Carmichael. All Terry-Thomas had to do was look down his nose, past his time-worn RAF mustache, and snidely declare, “You’re an absolute shower!” at some poor sod, and he’d done the business.

He plays hare-brained private eye Capt. J. Barker-Rynde here, hired for some bloody reason to investigate a murder at a summer holiday retreat hotel nestled somewhere in the idyllic English countryside. Barker-Rynde’s photography shop in town has a posh-looking, high-street facade whose window advertises, “Weddings A Specialty.” The less conspicuous window of the second-floor office above offers the services of Barker-Rynde, Private Detective and adds a single line beneath: “Divorce A Specialty.”

Whether he’s spying on some shapely girl’s second-story bedroom while perched high atop his collapsible, pocket-sized ladder, or selecting his stiffest cosh from a rattling, heavy bag of detective tools, Barker-Rynde is TT at his “chocolate teapot” best. There will be many bandages applied by the hotel’s medical staff to the shiny noggin of Detective Inspector Hook (Lionel Jeffries) before Barker-Rynde falls asleep again. After a quick assessment of the evidence at the hotel, Hook offers his verdict on the nature of the crime at hand. “Murder, sir,” he states to Dr. Julian Crossley (Dennis Price), the hotel’s owner. “According to our lab reports, there was some sort of poison called Ricin in the lady’s tin of carrot juice.”

As the tale unfolds, Barker-Rynde will acquire a bumbling “Watson” in his crime-solving slight of hand in the person of Rumbelow (Eric Sykes) who’s employed as the hostelry’s physical-training director. The pair decides to throw in together soon after they are caught red-handed, dressed like second-story men in dark hoods and trousers, independently sneaking around the cabin of the young lady who has somehow recovered from the work of the poisoner.

She has easily got the drop on both and is pointing a small pistol in their direction and saying, “Point straight and shoot.” Rumbelow nervously squawks, “This man is a paid assassin!” jabbing a finger toward Barker-Rynde. “Don’t be so ridiculous!” expostulates Barker-Rynde. “I’m a fully paid-up member of the Detectives Association.” He shows them both his membership card, then, flush with victory, accuses Rumbelow of the same foul crime. “Do you deny the deceased appears in your physical therapy files with the most curious notation ‘AV2′ added to it? Some deadly poison, no doubt.” Rumbelow smiles broadly and declares, “No, no, no! AV2! Apple vinegar, two squirts.”

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Vintage Movies: “Monterey Pop”

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.

Monterey

Monterey Pop (1968, 79 minutes)

There’s no better example of a musical golden age quickly falling into a period of wretched excess in the 20th century than to view a pair of documentaries, Monterey Pop and Woodstock, back to back. Both are flush with high-octane performances by the biggest pop stars of the late ’60s, with even a few overlapping artists. And that’s where the similarities end.

Woodstock, from the summer of ’69, appears to be a sprawling, barely controlled mess held out in the country, attended/invaded by well more than a million of the great unwashed. Once the gates were trampled down and it became “a free event,” it was anybody’s guess. And let’s not even mention the sanitary facilities that should have been in place for this mighty horde.

Monterey Pop, on the other hand, was a civilized, sit-down concert at the Monterey Fairgrounds, created by John Phillips of the Mamas & The Papas with a cross-section of talent that included soulful belter Otis Redding, folk-rockers Simon & Garfunkel and sitar legend Ravi Shankar. There were also debut U.S. performances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Who, alongside hip young California bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Mamas & The Papas, Country Joe & The Fish, Canned Heat and Janis Joplin fronting Big Brother & The Holding Company. Many top-notch acts didn’t even make the film’s final cut: Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, Johnny Rivers, Moby Grape, the Grateful Dead.

More to the point, the real stars of this movie are its attendees, shot for long stretches by D.A. Pennebaker. No better testament to the “Summer Of Love” vibe exists than the fresh faces, long hair and hip costumes caught here in June of ’67. Monterey Pop also captures the extremes of weather at the fairgrounds, as anyone who’s attended the on-going Monterey Jazz Festival can well testify. It’s shirt-sleeves, cut-offs and sunglasses weather during the daytime performances, but at night, it can turn as frigid as Candlestick Park in August with parkas and snow-ride blankets well advised.

So many little moments from this film stick in your mind for years: David Crosby of the Byrds remarking onstage, “Oh groovy! A nice sound system, at last”; Mama Cass, with no mean set of pipes, herself, clearly mouthing, “Wow!” after Joplin’s performance; the camera making it appear Airplane chanteuse Grace Slick is singing “Today” when the vocals are clearly those of Marty Balin; festival organizers sharing a laugh with Monterey’s Police Deptartment; Joplin doing a little skip of joy as she leaves the stage in her sharp Alvin Duskin pants suit; S.F. Chronicle music columnist Ralph J. Gleason wearing his trademark deer-stalker’s cap; a young girl explaining a “love-in” to a cameraman; and John Phillips trying to reach Dionne Warwick and being given the bum’s-rush by her people.

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Vintage Movies: “Smashing Time”

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.

SmashingTime

Smashing Time (1967, 96 minutes)

All right then, who else do you know who would heartily recommend a British comedy that isn’t really all that funny? The casting folks must have thought they’d scored a major coup for Smashing Time by landing both Lynne Redgrave (who starred in Georgy Girl in 1966) and Rita Tushingham (who won BAFTA’s best actress for 1961’s A Taste Of Honey). Both women got raves in Girl With Green Eyes in 1964. Trouble is, those previous kudos were earned for their work in films with at least a modicum of sensitivity. None of that happening here.

When the two chicks arrive in London, gaudily dolled up in what they believe to be hip threads, they begin their search for Carnaby Street to get jobs as fashion models. But they decide to count their money before buying breakfast. Brenda (Tushingham) immediately falls into a mud puddle. As financial manager, she fishes from her purse the 23 pounds that took the girls months to save. While she doles out a small sum to Yvonne (Redgrave), the rest of their cash is knicked from her purse by a wandering hobo. Then Brenda falls in a mud puddle for the second time. Hmmm.

Leaving her chum to pay for their meal, Yvonne swans off to begin her life as a runway pro and to find them a hip flat to rent on Carnaby Street. With no cash, Brenda is left to wash towering stacks of dirty dishes in a particularly foul high-street cafe. That’s when the fun really begins, some might think. A disgusting, no-dialogue food fight ensues between customers and the cafe’s staff using large squeeze bottles of everything from super-bubbly dish soap and artist’s dayglo paint to ketchup, mustard and liquid horse manure meant for the home garden. Everyone gets as filthy as if they’d been working at the local sewage treatment center.

So what’s the matter? You’re not laughing, I can sense it. You see, you can’t really judge this movie by its sorry attempts at slapstick. It falls flat at a genre best left to those who knew how to pull it off: Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy.

Smashing Time‘s trump card lies in the fact it was shot in 1966-67, right at the same time the Swinging London/Carnaby Street phenomenon was really happening. All the kooky art galleries, old-school pubs and trendy boutiques you see on location here are the real deal. The splendid mod clothing, swell parties and the raving, high-octane sounds spilling from smoky, uncomfortably small night clubs are exactly what they seem to be. They’re not some set decorator’s attempt at recreating an era never experienced first-hand. You might even look at this as a documentary of a long-gone time that will never come again—because that’s what it is.

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Vintage Movies: “Amadeus”

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.

Amadeus

Amadeus 1984 (151 minutes)

Tom Hulce hit the jackpot early in his career with key roles in a splashy pair of movies. He was Larry Kroger, one of two wide-eyed pledges to Delta Tau Chi in 1974’s Animal House, which absolutely nailed an out-of-control, keg-swilling, early ’60s college fraternity. It was done so well nobody has even attempted to do it since. Then there was Hulce’s career zenith as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus, a lavish costume drama depicting the young man who was at once a baroque musical prodigy and a foul-mouthed womanizer. With the titles of both movies filed under the letter “A,” Hulce’s career, unfortunately, never made it to “B” and “C,” let alone “X, Y or Z.” But it was a hell of a start.

Amadeus, meaning “one who loves God.” opens with Mozart’s musical rival, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), now an old man near death living in an insane asylum after a failed suicide attempt, confessing the murder of the brilliant young composer to a priest, after which Salieri begins a winding narrative.

The highlight of Salieri’s early encounters with the “boy genius” is Mozart’s arrival at the court of “the musical king,” the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II. “Young man,” says the emperor (Jeffrey Jones), ‘we’re going to commission an opera from you. Have we decided whether it will be in German or Italian?” the monarch asks the kapellmeister and other musical dignitaries. “I believe it was to be in Italian, sire,” says one. “Oh, German, please let it be German,” begs Mozart. “I’ve already found a libretto that is quite amusing.” His interest piqued, the King commands, “Tell us the story.”

Mozart stammers, then emits an insane cackle, “Well, well, it’s, it’s, it’s…It takes place in a harem, Majesty.” The gasps in the room feel as though someone has opened a window. “You really believe that subject quite appropriate for a national theatre?” asks the monarch. “It’s not indecent, it’s full of German virtues,” responds Mozart. Salieri, the court composer, asks what those might be. “Love,” Mozart responds. “Ahh, of course, we know nothing of love in Italy,” quips Salieri, a transplanted Italian, to much laughter. “Ah, well, let it be in German,” decides the emperor, a native German as is Mozart.

Salieri has written an homage, a welcoming march, to the precocious musician and plays it perfunctorily on the keyboard. When Mozart critiques the melody, the King asks him to play it on the harpsichord and hands him Salieri’s transcription of the piece. “It’s all up here,” replies Mozart, pointing to his head. He sits down to play the simple tune as the Italian has written it, then proceeds to embellish the work with every show-stopping element in his arsenal, leaving Salieri feeling like a horsefly squashed by a coach’s windscreen.

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Vintage Movies: “Apocalypse Now”

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.

ApocalypseNow

Apocalypse Now (1979, 153 minutes)

You have to remember one important difference between harrowing recent film portrayals of Middle Eastern combat, such as The Hurt Locker and American Sniper, and Apocalypse Now, a terrifying look at the Vietnam War. Troops seen in the first two films all volunteered for service, but most of those sent to Vietnam were there against their will, victims of a hungry, ever-expanding American draft. With this war’s reason for being getting murkier by the year, one thing was perfectly clear: President Lyndon Johnson refused to be the first American chief executive to lose a war. As it turned out, he, himself, would die in 1973 before this insane conflict would finally end in 1975 with the fall of Saigon.

The first thing you hear as you awake from a self-induced coma is the “thwip thwip thwip thwip” of those damn helicopter blades, cruising the jungle all day, dropping tons of napalm bombs on the Viet Cong in a fiery barbecue that would rival hell, itself. Then it’s Jim Morrison singing the first chorus of “The End,” the Doors’ addictive death knell: “This is the end, my only friend, the end, of our elaborate plans, the end, of everything that stands, the end, I’ll never look into your eyes again.”

The helicopter blades have turned into the insistent ceiling fan of a steamy, cheap Vietnamese hotel. Lying on the bed, staring upward, is Captain Benjamin Willard, a U.S. Army officer recently returned for another tour of duty, who’s beginning to regain his senses after a rough night. “Shit! I’m still only in Saigon!” says Willard (Martin Sheen), waiting for a special-ops mission. “Every minute I stay in this room, I get softer,” says Willard to himself. “And every day Charlie squats in the jungle, he gets stronger.”

Willard’s mission comes sooner than expected when two soldiers report to his hotel room with orders to transport him to the air field to meet Lt. General Corman. “It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I’d never want another,” says Willard, narrating the scene. Col. Lucas shows Willard into the general’s office where Corman rolls a tape of the voice of Col. Walter E. Kurtz, a maverick Army officer now operating without authorization in Cambodia.

“Walt Kurtz was one of the most outstanding officers the Army’s ever produced,” says the general (G.D. Spradlin). “But in this war, things get confused. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature.’ Every man has a breaking point, and Walt Kurtz has reached his.'” Col. Lucas (Harrison Ford) steps in, “Your mission is to proceed up the Nung River to infiltrate the colonel’s team and terminate his command.” A man in civilian clothing addressed only as Jerry, adds gravely, “Terminate with extreme prejudice.”

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Vintage Movies: “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”

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.

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One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, 133 minutes)

It’s funny how things can fall into your lap just because you write for various indie-rock magazines—MAGNET being top of the heap. In 1994, I got a free pass into an all-star benefit concert for storied San Francisco rock promoter Chet Helms, the Texas transplant who ran the Avalon ballroom back in the ’60s, in competition with Bill Graham’s Fillmore auditorium.

While sipping a beer in the dressing room of Big Brother & The Holding Co., 25 years after their lead singer, Janis Joplin, flew the coop, a grizzled, muscular guy walked up to me and introduced himself. It was Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion, as well as the former leader of a loose-knit entourage calling themselves the Merry Pranksters, a vital part of the early SF rock scene, before LSD was declared illegal. I didn’t think to ask Kesey if he liked Jack Nicholson’s performance in Cuckoo’s Nest, but I can’t imagine he didn’t dig it.

In an opening sequence, parodied five years later by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining, a car is seen in the distance far below, winding its way through rugged, dew-soaked Oregon back country early in the morning. Instead of a luxurious ski resort, the car pulls up in front of a mental hospital just as the morning shift is reporting for work, and the driver opens the door for a handcuffed man in a knit cap. “OK, my friend, let’s go,” says the driver, leading the man inside.

A sugary female voice over the hospital PA announces, “Medication time,” as if instructing a kindergarten class. The stupefied inmates line up to take their morning meds under the watchful eye of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). A crazy half-laugh reverberates from the rotunda stairs above as a few of the inmates observe the new arrival, J.P. McMurphy (Nicholson), as he’s signed into the joint for what he believes will be a short stay. One of the uniformed guards removes the manacles from McMurphy who promptly jumps up and down, screeching like a baboon, then grins at the other guard and kisses him squarely on the cheek.

McMurphy is brought to the office of Dr. John Spivey (Dean Brooks) for evaluation. “What a pleasure it is to meet you,” says Mac. “Sure, pull up a chair and let’s talk,” replies the doctor. “That’s a helluva fish, there, doc,” says Mac, noting a photo on Spivey’s desk. “It took every bit of strength I had to hold it while they took the picture,” says Spivey, reviewing McMurphy’s rap sheet. The doctor says, “You’ve got five arrests for assault. What can you tell me about that?” Running his fingers through greasy hair, Mac answers, “Five fights, huh? Rocky Marciano’s got 40, and he’s a millionaire.”

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Vintage Movies: “Laura”

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.

Laura

Laura (1944, 88 minutes)

Otto Preminger’s Laura fits squarely into film noir’s pigeon-hole, but it’s done with a more lyrical touch than usually seen in this genre. Not to say it doesn’t have a hard-boiled mug as Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), the cop assigned to investigate the grisly shotgun murder of socialite Laura Hunt. Maybe it’s the haunting David Raksin melody bearing the film’s name that sands off any rough edges.

“I shall never forget the weekend Laura died,” intones NYC newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), musing aloud about the death of his friend. “A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. I felt as if I was the only human being left in New York City. With Laura’s horrible death, I was left alone. And I was the only one who really knew her.”

Lydecker’s reverie, trying to soak away this devastating event while sitting chicken-chested, pecking away at a manual typewriter set up on the side of his bath tub, is interrupted by McPherson’s arrival. Aided by his notes, the columnist begins to repeat the statement he’s already given to two investigating officers. “Laura phoned and canceled our dinner engagement at precisely 7 o’clock. After that I … ” McPherson finishes the alibi for him: “You ate a lonely dinner, then got into the bath to read. Why did you write it down? Afraid you’d forget it?” Lydecker’s story lies limp, like a washcloth on the bathroom floor. “I am the most widely misquoted man in America,” he sputters, fishing for a valid explanation.

The journalist dresses quickly as McPherson plays a kid’s game, trying to get four tiny ball bearings to settle into holes in the four bases of a pocket-sized baseball diamond under glass. “Something you confiscated from a raid on a kindergarten?” Lydecker snipes. “Takes a lot of control,” says McPherson. “Would you like to try it?” “No, thanks,” replies the older man.

Out of the blue, McPherson asks, “Were you in love with Laura, Mr. Lydecker? Was she in love with you?” As he inserts a carnation into his lapel, Lydecker answers, “Laura considered me the wisest, the most interesting man she’d ever met. I was in complete agreement with her there. She thought me also the kindest, the gentlest, the most sympathetic man in the world.” “Did you agree with her there, too?” asks the cop. “Let me put it this way,” says the writer. “I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbor’s children devoured by wolves.” On that cryptic note, Lydecker asks if he can accompany McPherson on his round of interviews with possible suspects. “I should like to study their reactions,” he says. “You’re on that list, yourself, you know, ” reveals the detective. “Good. To have overlooked me would have been a pointed insult.”

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