Category Archives: VINTAGE MOVIES

Vintage Movies: “The Endless Summer”

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.

EndlessSummer

The Endless Summer (1964, 92 minutes)

Anyone looking for a cure for those high-blood-pressure blues should spend an evening with The Endless Summer, 92 minutes that document a pair of surfer dudes literally riding their long boards around the globe. Some may have thought the film, shot in 1963-64, was just an attempt to jump on the surf-rock band wagon fueled by hits from Dick Dale, the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean. This enduring work was nothing like that.

With a tasty instrumental surf-rock score by the Sandals, it looked spectacular on the big screen in the summer of ’64, even though it wasn’t shot with the latest wide-angle hardware employed by Hollywood at the time. But when a 20-footer looms up behind two guys trying to catch a ride, The Endless Summer becomes a hypnotic experience.

The narration by Bruce Brown—who also directed and edited the film and shot most of it—is priceless, flecked with deadpan, surfer-dude humor, previously displayed by Dean Torrence of surf-rock pioneers Jan & Dean. For example: “The only way to avoid a wipe-out,” quips Brown, “is to take this wide, stink-bug stance on the board. Spread your legs and hang onto your trunks as they split right up the back.” The ultimate trip is to ride your board as close as possible to the curl, the breaking white-water behind you, without being engulfed by it. “All maneuvers on the board—turning, trimming, stalling and walking the nose—are directed toward staying in the curl,” explains Brown.

The ultimate voyage for surfers would be to follow the warm weather and warm water of summer completely around the globe for an entire year. Along the way they could visit the unknown shores of western Africa as well as storied surfing locales off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand. That would accomplish, reckons Brown, what seemed an impossible dream back home in California: a truly endless summer.

As dream becomes reality, the stars of Brown’s global surf epic are Robert August and Mike Hinson, a pair of handsome Angelinos who’ve been planning this type of voyage for years. The pair, with film crew in tow, arrives in Dakar, Senegal, not knowing what to expect. They are shocked at being charged the local equivalent of 30 U.S. dollars per night for their hotel room. But the good news is they find a perfect set of waves breaking off a tiny island no more than 100 yards off the shore in front of their hotel. However, since Starbucks wasn’t even a gleam in anyone’s eye back then, the pair is also dismayed at being charged a dollar for a cup of coffee. But the dream continues next day, as Robert and Mike hire a jeep and move on down the virgin African coast to Accra in Ghana.

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Vintage Movies: “Elevator To The Gallows”

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.

ElevatorToTheGallows

Elevator To The Gallows (1957, 92 minutes)

There’s a glaring typo on the original Columbia CD version of Miles Davis’ groundbreaking 1958 album Milestones that might have driven the jazz trumpet legend to the corner of Assault and Battery streets. They list the lead-off track as “Dr. Jekyll” instead of by its real title, “Dr. Jackle,” a play on words from a tune originally written by alto-sax hero Jackie McLean. Nothing to do with Robert Louis Stevenson here, guys, sorry.

Davis’ edgy, bittersweet post-bebop—cut on a European tour accompanied by French tenor saxman Barney Wilen, pianist Rene Urtreger and American ex-pat drummer Kenny Clarke—plays a large part in setting the mood of 1957 French thriller Elevator To The Gallows. The debut feature by Louis Malle finds Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet), a former paratrooper, lured into a plot to kill the husband of his girlfriend Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau). The victim also happens to be Tavernier’s boss.

“Without your voice I’d be lost in a world of silence,” says Tavernier to Florence over the phone. “We’ll be free at last, Julien,” she says encouragingly, her eyes all aglow. “You know I’ll be right there with you,” she murmurs.” Of course, she won’t be right there with him. Tavernier will take all the risk alone in this daring scheme, something he’s planned well in advance.

He opens his desk and pulls on a pair of thin gloves, places a large pistol shaped like a German Luger into his jacket pocket and shoulders a stout rope with a grappling hook fixed to one end. He steps outside the window of his office onto a wide landing that surrounds his entire floor and glances down at the bustling city life, at least 10 stories below. Convinced no one will notice, he tosses the hooked end of the rope over the wall of the landing directly above his, then effortlessly rappels to the next floor with the grace of a cat.

Monsieur Carala is so absorbed in the details of his phone conversation that he barely notices Tavernier enter his office, offering a thin business folder detailing Project Pipeline to his boss. Thumbing quickly through the document, Carala finally looks up at his employee to find a pistol aimed directly at his head. “Is this some kind of joke?” he asks calmly. “It’s not a joke? What do you want, money?” Fully in control, he adds, “You don’t scare me.” Carala seems somewhat more alarmed as he utters his final words. “Who gave you my gun?” he demands. Tavernier makes certain he’s left no fingerprints as he places the murder weapon in the dead man’s right hand. He strolls out of his boss’s office and presses the down button of the elevator to meet his lover to let her know his mission has been accomplished.

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Vintage Movies: “Control”

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.

Control

Control (2007, 122 minutes)

Any art house looking for a third picture to run with Nowhere Boy and Love & Mercy as an “Early Days Of Troubled Rock Stars” spectacular featuring John Lennon and Brian Wilson, need look no further than Control to fill out its marquee. The short, miserable life of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis all but makes the difficulties of those Beatles and Beach Boys stars seem more like a catered picnic on the beach in comparison.

Control opens with the 1975 teenage marriage of Curtis (Sam Riley) and his bride Debbie (Samantha Morton) as they settle into a tiny flat in Macclesfield, a working-class town just south of Manchester, England. Curtis is so tightly wrapped, none of the clichés of young married life (airborne crockery, late-night screaming matches) take place. His nights out are all spent as the lead singer of Warsaw, the post-punk combo of guitarist Bernard Sumner and bassist Peter Hook.

The band astutely changes its name to Joy Division, signs a record deal with up-and-coming Manchester label Factory, and thanks to its unavoidably seductive sound—the metronomic guitar wizardry of Sumner and the doomsday baritone voice of Curtis—the British star-making machinery is set in full motion. It’s happening here just as it would with similar, slightly pressed off center U.K. acts the Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen, around the same time.

Joy Division might still be working shows for crowds of reminiscing seniors these days if the band hadn’t collapsed well before its time thanks to two major issues hidden from the public like dirty laundriy in the duffel bag of Ian Curtis. Problems begin with the road girlfriend, a scheming Belgian lass who never quite seems to understand that Curtis is more or less happily married and continues to suck him into her web. That one might have been managed in time. The second problem was the fatal blow to Joy Division.

Curtis had an ever-worsening case of epilepsy that struck him down to the ground, writhing in agony, when he least expected it, sometimes in the middle of the band’s set. Changing courses of medication, as suggested by his wife, seemed to do little good. The mounting pressure of Joy Division’s fast-approaching, two-week debut tour of the U.S. and Debbie’s decision to divorce him have driven Curtis to desperate measures. “I don’t even want to be in the band anymore,” he whimpers to their manager, at one point.

It’s the near perfect treatment of a band headed directly toward the crowded intersection of major success and total destruction, exactly rendered by first-time film director Anton Corbijn, that will make most other band biopics seem like last week’s spaghetti bolognese by comparison.

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Vintage Movies: “Zazie Dans Le Metro”

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.

ZazieDansLeMetro

Zazie Dans Le Metro (1960, 92 minutes)

Zazie tries to keep its focus on the frantic exploits of a 10-year old girl as Louis Malle’s 1960 caffeine-laced, jumping bean of a film finds our heroine arriving in Paris with her mother, who immediately departs at the train station for a 48-hour liaison with her new boyfriend. Zazie (Catherine Demongeot) has been left in the expert care of her uncle Gabriel (Philippe Noiret), as if that matters much. He couldn’t tie this kid down if he employed a platoon full of Texas rangers and green berets. She wears an apricot-colored mock-turtleneck sweater in almost every frame and has a Beatle haircut three years before even they had them. She displays her gap-toothed, Huck Finn-like grin every time she smiles—and she smiles almost nonstop. She also swears like a sailor (or at least a Sea Scout).

Some of the movie is speeded up a la those silent films they showed in television’s early days. Some of it is shown at normal pace, but even then this movie makes the viewer’s head spin like the laughing stuffed clown at your nearest low-budget carnival. Much of it is shot from a mini-helicopter bobbing and weaving 20 feet above the action. Not really, of course, since nothing like that existed 55 years ago. Instead, Malle probably hired camera men willing to hang upside down from trees or balance precariously from Paris rooftops to get these shots.

One sequence finds our girl and her uncle careening down the spiral staircase from the top of the Eiffel Tower at a vertigo-inducing clip. Another has Zazie, unrestrained, standing in the back of a car that has been stripped down to its bare frame as it bobs and weaves through the notorious Paris traffic at a breakneck pace. As she tries to escape from her uncle by dashing through an open-air produce market, Zazie barely dodges an old lady who’s holding a large plaster statue of the Venus de Milo. Uncle Gabriel, in hot pursuit, barrels directly into the woman, dashing the crockery to pieces on the pavement.

It seems that all Zazie really wants to do is ride around all day on Paris’ storied subway system, Le Metro, but the underground conveyance is closed due to a labor dispute. Even when things slow down for a bit as uncle Gabriel takes her out to a lunch of mussels and potato fritte, she’s soon back on the run. Uncle Gabriel and his pal who drives an open-air taxi take turns mis-identifying famous Parisian landmarks—the Pantheon, the Invalides, the Gendarmerie, the Madeleine—as Zazie pops up from the back seat saying, “Hey, uncle, when you spout this crap, is it on purpose? Pull my leg, willya. You’re just a pair of old farts!”

But that’s our Zazie: Catch her if you can.

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Vintage Movies: “Buck Privates”

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.

BuckPrivates

Buck Privates (1941, 84 minutes)

From 1940-52, the comedy pair of Abbott and Costello were as big as it got on every media outlet of the day: stage, screen, radio and the early days of television. The duo had gone from vaudeville stars in the late ’30s to major players on the silver screen who made 36 feature comedies before the magic began to fade.

The pair was a complete role reversal from the legendary comic duo of Laurel and Hardy. With a pencil-thin mustache, Bud Abbott was the wiry wise-acre, and the chubby Lou Costello, the almost child-like fall-guy. The DVD of Buck Privates, their second film, also contains a fascinating documentary on the pair, narrated by Jerry Seinfeld. A huge fan, he notes that the duo split their earnings 60-40 in favor of Abbott. You could always find a comic, they reasoned, but a good straight man would make or break the team. The doc also presents the duo’s best known comedy routine, a baseball quagmire called “Who’s on first?”

True to the format of blockbuster comedies of the day, the film includes large scale musical numbers. The Andrews Sisters warble the upbeat “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (more recently covered by Bette Midler), “You’re A Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith,” and a heart-breaking World War II ballad, “I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time.” My wife’s auntie told her on many occasions how that song always reduced her to tears during the war while her husband served in the U.S. Navy on the bomb-disposal squad.

Buck Privates takes place in 1940, still peace-time for the U.S. But with Adolf Hitler on the march in Europe, President Franklin Roosevelt has just signed a conscription act to beef up America’s armed forces by inducting many of its eligible draft-age men. Abbott and Costello—as Smitty and Herbie—are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The boys are illegally peddling neckties outside the New York City draft board, and after being chased by the cops, they wind up in a line of men who’ve received their conscription notices.

As the recruits in front of our heroes are weighed by the draft board doctor, it’s apparent anyone 240 pounds and over is rejected for duty. If such a policy existed today, one should note, the U.S. might be unable to field an army of any size. Herbie sits on an unplugged wall heater, waiting to be weighed. Unknown to him, Smitty has plugged in the unit to sweat off a few pounds from his pal. “Have a good time in the army,” says Herbie to Smitty, patting his rotund gut and murmuring the magic number, “241.” The doctor beams as he announces to Herbie once he’s stepped off the scale, “Congratulations, my boy. You’re in the army by two ounces!”

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Vintage Movies: “You’re A Big Boy 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 ’00s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

YoureABigBoyNow

You’re A Big Boy Now (1966, 97 minutes)

Sporting an electric cast that includes Karen Black, Rip Torn, Geraldine Page, Julie Harris and Elizabeth Hartman—as well as an outstanding soundtrack by the Lovin’ Spoonful—it’s no wonder You’re A Big Boy Now was the first Francis Ford Coppola film to receive widespread distribution. Big Boy was also submitted as Coppola’s graduate thesis to the UCLA film school, where he once discussed career moves with fellow enrollee Jim Morrison. Coppola’s early gem can now be slotted between earlier British coming-of-age comedies (Billy Liar) and the more adult situations Dustin Hoffman would encounter in 1967’s The Graduate. In the ’70s, of course, Coppola would turn the film world upside down with The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.

A relative unknown, Peter Kastner, a wide-eyed, gap-toothed look-alike for pro golfer Tom Watson, is cast as Ben Chanticleer, a 19-year old virgin sent off to college in Manhattan by a fibrillating mother (Page) and a bully of a father (Torn). Bernard is pretty sure he really likes girls. He just doesn’t know what to do when Amy (Black), the loveliest of his father’s employees at the New York Public Library, falls for him like a ton of pretzels (her favorite snack food).

So, of course, he brushes off Amy and gets all worked-up over the wrong girl, Barbara Darling (Hartman), a hard-boiled, part-time actress/go-go dancer. Barbara wears Bernard around her wrist like a pet chameleon she won at the county fair. She convinces him to bring along his lovable, king-sized sheepdog and move in with her for a couple of nights. Since the facts of life discussion has apparently been overlooked by his parents, Bernard hasn’t a clue what this cohabitation business is all about.

Miss Thing (Harris), the busybody landlady where Bernard has rented an eighth-floor walk-up, has to dance adroitly around an angry chicken who’s been left the entire fifth floor in the will of the building’s former owner, her late brother. “He barely tolerates me,” says Miss Thing as the chicken scratches at her shoes. “But it’s the nylons of the beautiful young girls he really goes after.” That notion brings a broad smile to Bernard’s over-protective mother.

The next night, Bernard and Amy, one of those “bad” girls Miss Thing is on the warpath for, wander around the Great White Way, window-shopping. They enter adjoining phone booths to talk about their elementary school days. “Do you remember me from PS 109?” she asks. “No, I only remember the pretzels. They were five cents back then. Now they’re 15 cents.” Later, Amy says, “See you,” and hops on the 5 bus to 25th St. Bernard walks back to her seat window and says, “Amy I do remember you. I came into your class wearing my suit of Reynolds Wrap armor, one day. You were so ugly! Then.”

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Vintage Movies: “Nowhere Boy”

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.

NowhereBoy

Nowhere Boy (2009, 97 minutes)

As might be expected from its aping of the Beatles’ 1966 hit “Nowhere Man,” Nowhere Boy is yet another tunnel dug deep into the ant hill of the early days of the British musical legends. It focuses on the teenage metamorphosis of John Lennon: from raging adolescence to a young man about to have the entire world served up on a plate. It’s also the most accurate movie ever made about a music-biz mega-phenomenon that may never come this way again.

By trying hard not to mimic Lennon’s thick Liverpudlian accent, Aaron Johnson turns in a blinding performance. He’s no carbon copy of Lennon, but it doesn’t matter. John Lennon was raised by his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), whose no-nonsense upbringing helped the wayward teenager get his feet under him. His mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who would rather go down the pub with some young heart-throb than cook supper, contributed the artsy side to John’s genetic makeup—no mean feat.

Tragedy hits home when John and his uncle George are having a giggle at BBC’s The Goon Show on the radio just installed in John’s bedroom. “Come on, ye cheesy git. Get me in trouble with your aunty,” mumbles George as he snatches back a small flask of brandy from his nephew. George stands up, takes two steps toward the staircase and falls to the floor, dead as a hammer.

“Mimi, will he be all right?!” shouts John as she’s about to climb into the back of an ambulance. “He’s just had a bad fall,” says Mimi stoically. “He’ll be right as rain. Now, stop fussing.” Hours later, Mimi returns, faces John from across the room and says, “He’s dead.” John hugs Mimi from behind, sniffling, as she fills the kettle. “If you want to do that you go to your room,” she says. “It’s just the two of us now, so let’s get on with it, shall we?”

Lennon and his best mate, Pete Shotton, form the Quarrymen, named for their grammar school and influenced by the wildest American rockers of the day: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins. Their first gig finds them playing from the back of a lorry at a Sunday afternoon church social. As the band celebrates in the parish hall with beer, a pal named Ivan introduces John to his mate Paul who plays a decent guitar. Paul rips off a letter-perfect rendition of “Twenty Flight Rock,” which earns him the chance to give John a guitar lesson. “John, your little friend is here,” says Mimi, opening the front door for Paul. The pair plays a shimmering version of “Blue Moon” before taking a break. “If we’re really gonna do this, we should write our own stuff,” says Paul McCartney to John Lennon. And so they did.

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Vintage Movies: “Baghead”

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.

Baghead

Baghead (2008, 84 minutes)

While film directors Jay and Mark Duplass were driving through the woods after a day spent shooting their previous movie, they were deploring the sad state of big-budget horror movies. They asked the cast members they were transporting, “What’s the scariest thing you could put in a movie?” Someone piped up, “A dude with a bag over his head, looking in the window.” Bingo! The sprout for the brothers’ next film poked its head through the garden soil.

Four unemployed Los Angeles actors—Matt, Chad, Michelle and Catherine—watch a dingy little movie by Jett Garner at an indie-film festival. Garner reveals in the Q&A afterward that his entire budget was less than a thousand dollars. They wander over to the festival’s after-party, but the admission price is too steep. Michelle (Greta Gerwig) doesn’t let that stop her. Bold as brass, she sashays right past the ticket-taker while pretending to be talking on her cellphone. Chad (Steve Zissis) tries the same ruse and gets nabbed by security before he can even open the door.

In a bar later that night, while the girls are in the rest room, Matt (Ross Partridge) asks Chad, “What’s the last time one of us had a major role in a feature film?” Chad answers softly, “It’s been a long time.” “Never!” bellows Matt. “We’ve never had a role in a big film!” When the girls return, Matt and Chad reveal the new plan. “We’ll spend the whole weekend together and write a feature film that will make big stars out of all of us,” says Matt. “My uncle has a cabin up in Big Bear,” adds Chad. “I think we should leave tonight.”

They arrive at the cabin, deep in the woods, in the wee hours, open the beer and wine and try to brainstorm a script. Matt says, “Before we go to sleep, we’ll get the plot down. C’mon, Chad, what happens?” Gazing at Michelle, Chad strums his guitar and says, “I want love to happen.” Slurring her words, Michelle burps and retires upstairs. Chad follows her into one of the bedrooms. Putting her hair clips into his hair, she tells him, “I think of you as my brother, like one of the family.” Later that night, she awakens from a horrible dream, runs to the toilet downstairs and vomits.

Next morning, Michelle, Catherine and Chad are sitting at the kitchen table as Michelle tells everyone about her terrifying nightmare: a man wandering in the woods with a bag over his head. “Matt and I had some great ideas late last night,” says Catherine (Elise Muller). “I don’t know about this bag thing … ” Without warning, Matt appears outside, stumbling from the morning mist toward the kitchen window with a paper sack over his head—and everyone screams bloody murder.

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Vintage Movies: “L.A. Confidential”

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.

LAConfidential

L.A. Confidential (1997, 138 minutes)

Taking a chance on unknown Australian actors Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe for the lead slots in 1997’s L.A. Confidential, director Curtis Hanson and casting director Mali Finn also dug deep for Kevin Spacey, better known at the time for his live stage work, but hitting third here in what would become a powerful lineup of big bats.

Ed Exley (Pearce), Bud White (Crowe) and Jack Vincennes (Spacey) are Los Angeles Police Department cops in the early ’50s, each with a different agenda. Exley is trying hard to show he has the right stuff, much like his dad, LAPD legend Preston Exley, who was gunned down on the job. White goes out of his way to hand out rough justice to wife-beaters, and Vincennes is the pretty-boy technical adviser to Badge Of Honor, a TV cop show similar to Dragnet. All three men work under veteran officer Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), who bends the law like a five-cent licorice whip and knows where all the bodies are buried.

Much like the stock market, the underworld has periods of boom and bust, and things have been looking up lately for the tick-birds attached to the snout of the crocodile. With the recent incarceration by the feds of Southland crime kingpin Mickey Cohen for tax evasion, a vacuum has been created for many out-of-town thugs to fill. Smith takes a pro-active stance to this influx of criminal activity, using White’s muscle to discourage recent arrivals, something like a Welcome Wagon in reverse.

White reveals to Exley that he’s placed first of 23 candidates on the lieutenant’s exam and asks him which department he’d prefer to join. “I was thinking detective bureau,” says Exley. “You have the eye for human weakness but not the stomach,” says Smith, shaking his head. “You’re wrong, sir,” replies Exley. Smith reels off a few sample questions to justify Exley as a candidate for the detective bureau. “Would you be willing to plant evidence on a suspect you knew to be guilty to insure an indictment? Would you be willing to beat a confession out of a suspect you knew to be guilty? Would you be willing to shoot a hardened criminal in the back to offset his being set free by some high-priced lawyer? If not, for the love of God, don’t be a detective!” Exley replies: “Dudley, I know you mean well, but I don’t have to do it the way you did.”

Mere hours after the office Christmas Eve party has ended, it’s all hands on deck. Five corpses have been found littering the kitchen of the Nite Owl Cafe—and it’s happened with Exley as temporary watch commander. One of the bodies is that of Dick Stensland, White’s former partner, recently terminated from the force due to Exley’s testimony.

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Vintage Movies: “High Sierra”

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.

HighSierra

High Sierra (1941, 100 minutes)

Humphrey Bogart, about to turn 42, got second billing to Ida Lupino in film noir gem High Sierra. It was the last time he’d play second banana to anyone. His breakthrough performance as ex-con Roy Earle paved the way for every Bogey classic yet to come, from The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca to The African Queen and The Caine Mutiny. Only George Clooney, in recent years, has approached such a middle-aged bonanza.

The gates to Mossmoor Prison swing open and Roy Earle walks out, a free man. A mug in a battered coupe opens the car door for the pardoned man. “I was gettin’ kinda worried, Earle. Been waitin’ for over an hour.” Earle looks around and takes a deep breath. “I been waitin’ too—over eight years!” he says. “The park’s down there, ain’t it?” “The park? Say, Earle, you feelin’ all right?” Earle gazes up toward the blue sky and says, “I will be, soon as I make sure that grass is still green and the trees are still growin.'”

Earle heads straight for Big Mac’s place to get connected for some work. “Where’s Big Mac?” he barks at a face he doesn’t know. “Gone to California. I’m running things from this end now,” says a guy in a three-piece suit. “Who are you?” demands Earle. “I’m Jake Kranmer,” the man replies. “Copper, ain’t ya?” snarls Earle. “Used to be. I resigned,” says Kranmer (Barton MacLane). “Don’t worry about me. Mac wants you to start for California right away. The car downstairs is yours.”

“What’s the set-up?” asks Earle warily. “Tropico Springs, the richest little resort town in the world, they say. The hotel there gets all the sugar, and you’re gonna knock it off,” says Kranmer. “Am I?!” demands Earle. “Listen, Earle, you’re workin’ for Mac now. He calls the tune and you dance to it.” Earle takes the car keys, an envelope of cash and a map from Kranmer, then slaps him viciously twice across the face and slowly walks from the room, never looking back.

As Earle crosses into California behind the wheel of a ’38 Plymouth Deluxe coupe he begins to overtake an ancient Model T with three occupants, traveling at a snail’s pace. The old man behind the wheel suddenly veers to the left as a jack rabbit jumps into the road. Earle manages to avoid a certain collision by driving into hardscrabble beyond the road’s edge. He pulls into Ed’s Last Chance For 50 Miles filling station, followed soon by the Model T. “Wow, we made it!” says the old man to Earle. “I’d sure like to shake your hand, sir. I kinda lost my head back there, but you saved our bacon.” Grinning broadly, Earle shakes the old-timer’s hand and says, “I saved my own bacon, too.”

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