Monday, October 16, 2006

WELCOME TO THE ROBERT ALDRICH BLOG-A-THON



Welcome to the central hub of today’s Robert Aldrich Blog-a-Thon happening throughout the blogosphere. At the end of this piece you’ll find an ever-evolving list of links to all the fine writers who have chosen to participate in the day-long celebration of one of Hollywood’s true mavericks, a director who rarely hid the rough edges of his films or his sensibility, whose films teem with vitality and power even when they stumble and fall, who deserves a whole lot more recognition 24 years after his death than he has managed to muster among all but the most dedicated cinephiles, those who think of The Longest Yard as Aldrich’s picture, not Burt Reynolds’. I’ve already discovered a previously unseen Aldrich picture that I’d now consider to be among his finest achievements-- Hustle. Such is one of the many joys of revisiting a director’s work in bulk, and if my Netflix queue can be trusted, the investigation of unfamiliar Aldrich will not conclude at the end of this day.

(The upcoming Torino Film Festival has also taken steps to ensure that this relatively unheralded director will maintain that status for only a short time longer—they’ve scheduled a full retrospective of Aldrich’s films that will hopefully precipitate, at the very least, a new wave of DVD releases, at the very most a whole new avenue for appreciating the movies of this most American of directors.)

So, without further ado, I’ll kick things off with my appreciation of Emperor of the North, a movie I loved unconditionally when I saw it upon its initial release back in 1973. I was a little nervous about revisiting it 33 years later—I’d not seen it since. Would this movie, which I’ve never forgotten from one screening at a drive-in during a slight summer sprinkle, still seem like the masterpiece that has been floating around in my memory all these years? Or would I have to chalk my assessment of it up to the untrustworthy enthusiasm of a young man discovering just how thrilled he was with the movies?

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“1933—The height of the Great Depression. Hoboes roamed the land, riding the rails in a desperate search for jobs. Spurned by society, unwanted and homeless, they became a breed apart-- nomads who scorned the law and enforced their own. Dedicated to their destruction was the Railroad Man who stood between them and their only source of survival—the trains.”

So reads the title card that leads off Robert Aldrich’s Emperor of the North, a brutal, ghostly, propulsive distillation, and heightening, of the existentialist, masculine codes of behavior found entangled among the roots of earlier Aldrich action pictures like Attack! and The Dirty Dozen. Where those films depended largely on how men interacted within groups assembled in wartime who were compelled by a tangible purpose, a mission, which was also informed by Aldrich’s distinctly anti-authoritarian bent, Emperor boils the conflict and the character elements down to their sturdy bones and turns its qualities of moral purpose or righteousness on its ear. Aldrich, working from Christopher Knopf’s lean, spare script, crafts a narrative where, despite the film’s historical context, the primary event is ultimately only of importance to the three main characters, and perhaps the Greek chorus of hoboes and disenchanted railway workers who dot the landscape down the parallel lines and take bets on its outcome. Can the hobo known only as A-#1 (Lee Marvin), and the young ‘bo who imposes himself onto A-#1’s legend (Keith Carradine), succeed in riding the #19 under the nose of its murderous conductor, Shack (Ernest Borgnine), who, as one character correctly observes, “would rather kill a man than give him a free ride”? As an audience, we’re geared to root without hesitance against Shack when his compulsion to protect his railroad, and his train (apart from his murderous sadism), is the one that could be argued as being based in a moral position. A-#1’s actions, on the other hand, stem from personal pride, a desire to survive a deadly situation set into motion by acts he willfully undertakes himself, and whose moral righteousness is derived almost exclusively from the rootless existence imposed upon him not by his deeds but by a country slowly going to hell. When we are forced, as we are in Emperor of the North, to consider this dilemma of identification, we’re set up for the key question for Aldrich within this narrative— just what will victory mean to the survivor?

The movie begins with a device that ties it to its period and to the early days of the movies-- an iris that opens slowly out onto a train, which we will come to recognize as the Oregon Pacific & Eastern #19, moving down the tracks through the Northwest countryside. The opening montage of this relatively idyllic footage is set to a song called “A Man and a Train,” written by Hal David and Frank DeVol (who also scored the movie), a somewhat hokey ballad with lyrics that illuminate the elemental approach to the film’s action but betray its serious, hard-boiled one with gee-whiz orchestration and Marty Robbins’ earnest vocals. Throughout the movie, the music is the movie’s one serious tonal misstep, and its effect is quickly corrected when we see Shack quickly, and with no small amount of delectation, use his sledge hammer to dispatch a hobo who obviously is unaware of exactly whose train he has hopped. The man falls screaming beneath the moving boxcars, and the last we see of him is his body lying perpendicular across the tracks, bisected by the locomotive as it continues toward its final destination.
Our first glimpse of A-#1 (the only name by which we know Marvin’s character, by which we also immediately understand his earned status among the ‘boes riding the Oregon line) is as he emerges from the trees and eyes Shack, whose train has stopped near the hobo’s camp to make a track switch. Marvin’s world-weariness is marvelously encoded here as he trudges back through his camp, holding a live rooster by its legs— this is one of the actor’s truly great, iconic performances, and the introduction of Cigaret (Carradine), who attempts to raid A-#1 of that rooster (which the elder bum swings as a weapon to defend himself), ensures he’ll have plenty of opportunity to set his features in various degrees of stone-faced disbelief over the course of the film. Cigaret ends up following A-#1, and blowing his cover, into an empty boxcar on the #19. Forced to set the car on fire in order to escape after being locked in by Shack, A-#1 and Cigaret separate, with the young man immediately seizing the opportunity to brag to a group of railroad men about how he rode Shack’s #19 and lived to tell the tale, leaving the old guy he was with to burn to death in the car.

The word spreads to the hoboes near the yard that the railway men have discovered a new king of the road—Cigaret—and to counter the young tramp’s self-created mythology, A-#1 vows to ride the #19 all the way to Portland, proclaiming his intention in writing on the water tower outside the train station. Meanwhile, Shack himself interrupts the rail workers and their setting up a bet with Shack’s right-hand man, Cracker (Charles Tyner), a bet in which Cigaret would be used as a ringer. Aldrich expertly draws out Borgnine’s self-righteous villainy in this scene through a spectacular series of extended close-ups, emphasizing the tensile contours of the actor’s face and the lunatic fire in his bulging eyes, when Cigaret carries on his façade of arrogant toughness to the conductor’s face. Shack responds by nearly strangling the kid, until one of the workers rushes in to report that water tower message and that A-#1 intends to be on Shack’s train when it leaves at 7:00 the next morning.Thus is the movie’s central cat-and-mouse game set up— Shack’s mania to protect the ride, a locomotive aboard which his authority goes unquestioned, where he has total confidence in his ability to exercise power, a mania borne of equal parts professionalism, pride and perversity, versus A-#1, a drifter of legend (whose back story is left unspoken), who is the Emperor of the North Pole, the top of the heap, simply because those who ride the same line as he does say he is, whose only real dignity lies in the ability, even under such dire economic and personal circumstances, to do what he wants to do, what he says he’ll do, and thus remind himself of his status as a man.

Yet Aldrich never emphasizes the crude sentimental streak that courses just underneath such a conceptualizing of these characters. He resists that temptation through his own fierceness and muscularity as a filmmaker, which thrives on seeing both Shack and A-#1 as larger-than-life archetypes brought to the level of mythology (whether self-imposed or granted them by others) and as players in a larger game whose futility is the stuff of bitterness, not tears. Of all the Aldrich films I’ve seen (and I’m still missing a few key titles in his filmography), Emperor of the North looks, to these eyes, like the director’s most sustained, well-paced, crisply edited and viscerally imagined film, surely the zenith of his career as an “action director.” Notwithstanding that overly grandiose song that opens the movie on a rather discordant note, there are few, if any, of the overripe touches that mar some of the director’s other pictures, touches that often get Aldrich, whose films are as tough and calloused as the director himself purportedly was in his life, written off as a simple, vulgar misanthrope. A masterpiece like Hustle is full of crudities that don’t fly in the eyes of those who like their policiers smoother, more even-handed, tonally consistent, and Aldrich hits like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, The Longest Yard and even Kiss Me Deadly (not to mention The Grissom Gang and The Choirboys) seem inconceivable without their wild streaks of vulgarity. Among these, Emperor of the North has an almost classical beauty, enhanced, of course, by the spectacular Oregon locales (the film was shot in and around the greater Cottage Grove area, where another classic of the rails, Buster Keaton’s The General, was also made), but also by the streamlined visual iconography of the train itself, as elemental a force as either Shack or A-#1 (sans any symbolic baggage courtesy of the writer or director), and the tracks stretching through canyons, across bridges, into the forested horizon and out of sight. And Aldrich himself, who may have taken the project on as a potential commercial picture in the wake of several flops which brought down his own independent studio, gives the movie the weight and clarity and fervor of his most personal projects through his brutal, sensitive, consistently compelling mise-en-scene, which takes advantage of all the opportunities afforded him by the film’s central vehicle and the rich locations, including brilliant exploitation of the geometry of the underside of a bridge in one of the film’s signature suspense set pieces.

It may be the director’s visual acuity, or the central metaphor of two men riding the rails, their destination meaningless in the shadow of the ride itself, but from the moment the #19 sets about pulling out of that train station, in a wonderfully sustained sequence which finds the immediate area of the train station blanketed in an eerie fog (“Sounds like a ghost story to me,” intones A-#1 to Shack, who he faces off on the tracks before slipping off into the mist, awaiting his opportunity to board the locomotive), a certain malaise begins to tinge the edges of the crisp, forceful action. Shack’s violent insistence on maintaining his dominant position as an unbeatable lineman has an almost religious intensity, enough to make one speculate as to whether he could or would feel the need to sustain this kind of intensity in whatever life he might have away from the train. (Aldrich and Knopf, of course, offer no clues themselves.) Conversely, A-#1 must keep moving, in part because of the disaster of the Depression and the level to which it has brought him (and all the men who ride the rails in search of a way out of their particular misery), but also because the mythology of being Emperor of the North Pole (the film’s original title during it’s New York run, before it was inexplicably trimmed, presumably by the Fox marketing department) gives him the only sense of himself that means anything to him—not that he’d ever admit to holding to a concept even as slightly romantic as that one. "Don’t ever grab on unless you’re sure you can hold on,” he tells Cigaret, who takes his advice only as far as it serves him in the moment. But A-#1 has the deliberate carriage of a man who fully subscribes to that notion, and who has seen that it can serve him well. But that little matter of destination haunts the blue skies and gorgeous scenery upon which the film’s central battle finally comes to a head, and much of the power that Emperor of the North delivers, apart from the violence of its visceral action, the sounds of chain and wood and hammer on flesh, comes from contemplating the degree to which any victory claimed by the end credits is profoundly hollow.

Perhaps even more satisfying than the moment when Shack takes his fall from the flatcar (“You ain’t heard the last of me!”) is the one immediately following. Cigaret, who has passively watched A-#1 fight for his life, offering no help, waits until Shack is not longer a threat before jumping down, laughing, and proclaiming his grand plans for their future together on the rails. But A-#1 has held his last session as mentor for this unrepentantly opportunistic kid and unexpectedly tosses him off the train and into the river below. As Cigaret gasps and treads water down at the bottom of the gorge, A-#1 shouts a rather long speech denouncing him and proclaiming his own triumph, continuing long after he (or any audience) could reasonably believe Cigaret could still possibly hear:

“Stick to barns, kid! Run like the devil! Get a tin can and take up moochin’! Tackle back doors for a nickel! Tell ‘em your story! Make ‘em weep! You could have been a meat-eater, kid, but you didn’t listen to me when I laid it down! Stay off the tracks! It’s a bum’s world for a bum! You’ll never be Emperor of the North Pole, kid! You had the juice, kid, but not the heart! And they both go together! You’re all gab and no feel! And nobody can teach you that! Not even A-#1! So stay of the train! She’ll throw you under for sure! Remember me for that! So long, kid!”

His voice booming, receding as the train pulls further down the track away from the camera, gaining a slight echo, as if he were proceeding out of this reality into some other, less-defined place (which is another way of saying that place that exists, if it exists, past “The End”), A-#1 continues on so long after Cigaret is out of range of hearing his voice that it’s not hard to assume that A-#1 is crowning himself at this point, trying to eke out some meaning to the course he has set and fought for, hoping the thunderous echo of his voice against the rattling boxcars and the whooshing pines will be enough to convince himself, if no one else. Aldrich never tips his own hand, despite the film’s apparently conventional “good” over “bad” conclusion—he’s a director with enough confidence to serve up a diamond-cut genre film imbued with enough ambiguity to make the film’s bitterness linger far beyond the final frame. Emperor of the North Pole is a sterling example of Robert Aldrich, perhaps more consistently overlooked and underrated that any major director, at his most brutal, insistent and confident as a storyteller.

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The following films directed by Robert Aldrich are available on DVD: Apache (1954), Vera Cruz (1954), The Big Knife (1955), Kiss Me Deadly (1956), Attack! (1956), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), 4 For Texas (1963), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Flight of the Phoenix (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Killing of Sister George (1968), Too Late the Hero (1970), The Grissom Gang (1971), Emperor of the North (1973), The Longest Yard (1974), Hustle (1975) and The Frisco Kid (1979).

Aldrich’s first film, Big Leaguer (1953), shows up occasionally on Turner Movie Classics.

Still awaiting DVD release from the director’s filmography: World for Ransom (1954), Autumn Leaves (1956), The Angry Hills (1959), Ten Seconds to Hell (1959), The Last Sunset (1961), Sodom and Gomorrah (1961), The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968), Ulzana’s Raid (1972), Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977), The Choirboys (1977) and …All the Marbles (1981).

I highly recommend two volumes that were very useful to me in preparing for this blog-a-thon: Robert Aldrich Interviews, edited by Eugene L. Miller, Jr. and Edwin T. Arnold, an endlessly valuable collection of interviews with the director spanning from Big Leaguer to …All the Marbles; and Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich? His Life and Films by Alain Silver and James Ursini. A third volume, Body and Soul: The Cinematic Vision of Robert Aldrich, is unfamiliar to me, but likely not to some who may be reading this. I’d love to know if it’s as worth reading as these other two!

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The blogsphere is alive with great writing in association with the Robert Aldrich Blog-a-Thon, and it is my pleasure to provide for you this ever-evolving list of links to the wealth of Aldrich appreciation available today. This list will undoubtedly grow throughout the day as I receive word of other pieces coming in from far-flung places of which I as yet know nothing. If you’ve posted a piece on Aldrich today and would like to be linked to this blog-a-thon hub, please drop a note in the comments column, or simply e-mail me at powser2@earthlink.net and I will hook you up. For now, here are the names and the movies that are making this a great day for celebrating the films of one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated giants:

That Little Round-headed Boy had his contribution ready to go on Friday, and he highlights a typically insightful piece entitled “American Craftsman: The Sturdy Art of Robert Aldrich,” featuring detailed and very thoughtful looks at 4 For Texas, The Flight of the Phoenix, Vera Cruz and Hustle.

John McElwee posted the first of his TWO entries for the Aldrich Blog-a-Thon on Thursday-- a massive piece (with lots of great pics) on The Dirty Dozen. And John promises another entry on Tuesday, this time on 4 For Texas.

Speaking of Aldrich’s 1967 popular classic, Andy Horbal hosts a great pictorial consideration of the Last Supper tableau as it pops up in The Dirty Dozen.

Peter Nellhaus gets his piece on Hustle started thusly: “Near the end of Hustle, police detective Burt Reynolds explains to grieving father Ben Johnson, "Don't you know where you live, Marty? Can't you smell the bananas? You know what country you live in, you live in Guatemala with color television." Thirty years after I saw Hustle in its initial theatrical release, that speech stayed with me.” I know you want to read more

Bob Westal takes a look at "Ugly Bette" in his assessment of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Meanwhile, Adam Ross at DVD Panache reaps the harvest of Baby Jane's "sequel" and spends 15 minutes with Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

David Lowery is running up against a tight schedule but promises some commentary on Charlotte and Aldrich, "one of those classic directors who, like Sam Fuller, I essentially don't know at all." I'm looking forward to David getting know Aldrich and sharing his insights with us all.

Tom Sutpen has checked in with some excellent observations re Attack!, a film long considered one of the few genuine anti-war statements to emerge from Hollywood. Here's a taste:

"Elaborating somewhat on Samuel Fuller’s pulp war picture template (itself a jaundiced twist on the terse lyricism of films such as William Wellman's Battleground), Robert Aldrich skillfully injects a measure of ambiguity in Attack! – a film that might have been, in other hands, a live-action EC War Comic on the order of Two-Fisted Tales – without ever threatening to derail the story’s immediate, visceral impact. When you think about it, this was not a small achievement. Pulp melodramas, after all, do not bear subtleties and refinement with much ease. That’s just their nature. And like all such narratives, the conflict between Capt. Cooney and Lt. Costa, which is the core of Attack, is as fertile a field for action-packed histrionics as a filmmaker was likely to find. Yet somehow, in opting for a strategy of what we might call Serial Nuance, portraying his chief antagonists as both seriously flawed human beings as well as victims of rough equivalence, Aldrich manages to enhance, rather than mute, his film’s polemical thrust."

The rest of Tom's excellent piece can be found right here. Thanks, Tom!

UPDATE TUESDAY 10/17 8:54 a.m.: New additions to the Robert Aldrich Blog-a-Thon in this morning from Wagstaff, courtesy of Edward Copeland On Film, who has written a great piece on Attack!.

Also, Brian Darr who, perhaps inspired by his recent wrestling with westerns at the Lone Pine Film Festival, has posted thoughts on Apache that are fairly scathing and well worth the wait. Brian also links to reports on the weather problems brutalizing Buffalo, which is why we haven't heard from Girish as yet, and maybe Matt too (No Aldrich worries, friends; just keep warm!)

John McElwee is back with part two of his Aldrich Blog-a-Thon contribution, a snazzy special on the Rat Pack "pleasures" of 4 For Texas, complete with squirm-inducing backstage tales of Sinatra's ridiculous demands, including a personal hairpiece handler! ("Aldrich spoke well of Dean," reports John, "but he was ready to liitigate on Frank.") There are some pretty squirm-inducing descriptions of the on-screen antics as well in this wonderful piece.

C. Jerry Kutner, of Bright Lights After Dark (an offshoot of Bright Lights Film Journal), offers up his favorite Aldrich, a sharp rah-rah for The Flight of the Phoenix. C. Jerry also links to a 2000 Bright Lights review of The Killing of Sister George by Gary Morris, published upon the film's debut on DVD, and Gary himself contacted me to let me know about his review of The Grissom Gang, a film which is being borne to me on wings of angels from Netflix as we speak. Gary's two pieces are ones Aldrich blog-a-thonners won't want to miss.

UPDATE TUESDAY OCTOBER 17 9:14 p.m. Word has it that Maya, besieged by deadlines up to this point, will be checking in later this week with a contribution to the Aldrich Blog-a-Thon that will no doubt be worth the wait, so keep your eyes peeled here for a link to that page when it comes up.

In the meantime, Matt Zoller Seitz is in the house, as it were, and he's got Ralph Meeker, Cloris Leachman, those backward-scrolling credits and, of course, the Great Whatsit in his sights:

"Calling Kiss Me Deadly one of the darkest detective thrillers ever made, or the ultimate film noir, doesn’t do it justice. Director Robert Aldrich and screenwriter A.I. Bezzeride’s 1955 version of Mickey Spillane’s novel – in which our thug hero chases a mysterious, all-powerful “Great Whatsit” in pursuit of fortune and glory -- doesn’t merely exemplify those two genres and identify the places where they overlap. It defines the difference between cynicism and nihilism, then throws down with the nihilists, if for no other reason than to show you what it means to live in a world where nothing matters. Cynics expect the worst of humanity and are rarely disappointed, but in their hearts, they hope for some evidence that humans are innately kind and that morality is more than a sucker’s game. Cynicism is pre-emptive disappointment; you can’t be let down by anyone or anything unless you secretly nurse a kernel of hope. A nihilist, on the other hand, knows that the difference between cynicism and optimism is a matter of degrees. Like Neo in The Matrix blocking the agents’ bullets and then suddenly understanding, truly and deeply, that the world he's long accepted as "real" is just an intellectual prison built of ones and zeroes, the true nihilist has had his moment of cosmic disillusionment, and his accompanying realization that democracy, religion, equality -- hell, the Golden Rule itself -- are all just scam jobs sold to sheep by wolves; that everybody’s mainly concerned with playing the angles and getting ahead in the here and now, even if they pretend otherwise. After realizing that morality and ethics, religion and philosophy, good and evil are illusions of various sorts, and that there’s no percentage in decency, guilt and shame vanish and life becomes a present-tense proposition, a zero-sum game played by beasts that wear suits and drive cars."

And that's just the opening paragraph! Get thee to the entire post and enjoy a fine writer on a head-spinning noir masterpiece. Thanks, Matt, for joining in the fun!

More updates as they happen!

And thanks again to everyone who has taken part, and to everyone who has stopped by, lurkers as well as those who dropped comments, on this site and all the sites taking part in the Robert Aldrich Blog-a-Thon.

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UPDATE WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2006 8:12 p.m.: Steve Carlson is ready to go with his look at Robert Aldrich's Big Leaguer (1953). Steve admits he's unfamiliar with Aldrich and wonders if grappling with a significant director's oeuvre via his debut film without having seen his other films is "a fool's errand." Nah! Steve pulls a rabbit out of his hat with a well-observed review that draws a sharp parallel between the young ballplayers trying to make the majors out of spring training and rookie director Aldrich at the helm of his first feature. Nice stuff, and well worth the wait!

Plus: Jim Emerson links to the blog-a-thon by way of Matt's blistering Kiss Me Deadly piece in a post entitled "Nightmare on Aldrich Street."

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UPDATE THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2006 11:20 a.m.:
Thursday brings us Alex's entry posted on his blog Motion Picture It's Called, which he says is all about Kiss Me Deadly, Los Angeles economics, RAND, game theory, Victorian architecture, Fritz Lang and the beach at Santa Monica. Congratulations, Alex, you're the first person in any way associated with this blog to mention Victorian architecture!

Michael Guillen takes time out from posting wonderful pieces on Calvaire (courtesy of contributing writer Michael Hawley; more on that one from me next week), Fur and two on David Thomson to offer up his observations regarding What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? which start off a little something like this:

"Imagine this. You are a young, naïve gay boy recently arrived in San Francisco during the mid-70s. On one of your first dates you are invited to a screening of Robert Aldrich's Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? at the Castro Theatre. The palatial moviehouse is filled with an unruly audience of hissing queens. You feel you have been thrown into a snakepit and have deep concerns about your safety. They seem to have no self-control and laugh at things you consider worthy of serious attention. But eventually you begin to understand. This is not just about politely watching a movie on a screen. This is about an interactive movie experience and a stellar example of audience reception. It all comes home when pitiable Joan Crawford whines: "You wouldn't be able to do these awful things to me if I weren't still in this chair!" Without missing a beat the entire audience shouts out in glee: "But ya ARE, Blanche! Ya ARE in that chair!" The ensuing raucous laughter is as thrilling as a hallucinogen.

One of my most treasured cinematic memories!"


Thanks, Michael!

And as if to prove that there is no such ting as "late to this party," here comes Darren Hughes who offers a splendid account of Attack! that, in Darren's words, "examines the confluence of social, political, and economic events that allowed the financing and production of such an ambivalent anti-war film in Eisenhower America." I highly recommend this look at the context of the times in which Aldrich made this tough, uncompromisig film, and Darren's site Long Pauses, which is full of thoughtful and evocative writing, and boasts a header featuring a lovely still of Mia Kershner as seen in The Black Dahlia, is an excellent bookmark candidate as well. Enjoy!

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UPDATE SUNDAY OCTOBER 22, 2:22 p.m.:
Thankfully, Girish has finally emerged from the heavy snowstorm that buffeted and blanketed Buffalo over the last few days, and though he initially planned some comments on Hustle, he has changed gears slightly and offered up, in addition to Hustle, a look at one of Aldrich's most vilified and/or ignored movies, his adaptation of James Hadley Chase's No Orchids for Miss Blandish, entitled The Grissom Gang. The movie just arrived on the Netflix Express yesterday, so I plan to curl up with Kim Darby, Scott Wilson and company tonight, then savor Girish's observations afterward, a perfect end to what tunred out to be, essentially, a week-long Robert Aldrich Blog-a-Thon! Thanks, Girish, and I'm so glad, as I know we all are, that you are once again safe and dry and warm and back on the blog!

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But hold on! That's not all! For film bloggers and readers, the 2006 Blog-a-Thon experience is far from over. There are four big ones on the way before the end of the year, and one to kick 2007 right out of its diapers. If you want to contribute to any or all of these blog-a-thons, or just mark your calendar so you can keep up with what's happening and when, here's a brief round-up:

Nathaniel R. is hosting a VAMPIRES BLOG-A-THON at his Film Experience blog on Monday, October 30, the day before Halloween.

Squish kicks off a juicy double-header for November with his ALFRED HITCHCOCK BLOG-A-THON on Wednesday, November 15, originating from his Film Vituperatem site.

And then Flickhead will be coordinating a very special 90th-birthday blog-a-thon spectacular to honor the man who coined the term "science fiction" and who remains synonymous with the word "monsters," FORREST J. ACKERMAN, perhaps the most famous monster fan of them all! (I know this is gonna be a good one, folks!) Say happy birthday to Forry along with Flickhead on Friday, November 24.

Friend, blogger and Mets fan Andy Horbal takes the blog-a-thon in an interesting new direction for the weekend of December 1-3 with his FILM CRITICISM BLOG-A-THON, originating at his site No More Marriages. This one promises to have very long threads in the varuous comments columns! (Oh, and that Woody Allen DVD is on it's way, Mr. Horbal. Grumble, grumble, grumble...)

Finally, say Happy New Year with Harry Tuttle over at Screenville when he lets loose all manner of discussion about "boring art films" in his CONTEMPLATIVE CINEMA BLOG-A-THON slated for Monday, January 8, 2007.

28 comments:

Adam Ross said...

As promised, my "Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" contribution is now up at DVD Panache

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Dennis, fabulous commentary on EMPEROR. I was sort of holding out on watching that one, but I'm heading to my Netflix account now!

Steve said...

Just a quick note -- it got too busy at work today, so I was unable to get up the Big Leaguer appreciation today. (Liked the film quite a bit, BTW.) Tomorrow morning, it'll be polished 'n' ready.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Beautiful. We awaits yer takes!

I watched it again when I made your dub, and I have to say I liked it better this time too. (Less sleepy whilst watching it, I think!)

Flickhead said...

Excellent post, Dennis.

I remember the TV ads for Emperor of the North Pole when it first came out...very gritty stuff for its time.

It's cliche, I know, but my favorite Aldrich is still Kiss Me Deadly, with Vera Cruz a close second.

When oh when will The Legend of Lylah Clare be out on DVD???

Sorry that I couldn't contribute to this Blog-a-Thon, but other commitments have been demanding my time.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Flickhead. As I've said elsewhere, one of the best things about this blog-a-thon for me was not only discovering that Emperor of the North was actually even better than I remembered it, but seeing so many Aldrich films so close to each other and disocvering one in particular-- Hustle, which I'd never seen before-- that I really do think is an unsung masterpiece. I regret that you couldn't take part this time, but there are plenty more opportunities for blog-athonning left in 2006, including your very own Forrest J. Ackerman Blog-a-Thon, which I'm REALLY looking forward to. I've got some videotape of my visit to the Ackermansion several years ago which I may try to YouTube and use as part of my entry!

Bob said...

Wow, Dennis, you really whet my appetite for "Emperor" -- I was too young to see it when it came out, but I've always remembered it as "the really brutal hobo movie." Fortunately, I also have a very short memory for plots -- I've seen "Diabolique" at least three times and, for the life of me, I can't remember the big surprise in that film -- so I'll probably forget who won that final battle by the time I see it. "Hustle" sounds great too...I mean, cops and prostitutes; what's not to like?

blaaagh said...

H'mmm...now you've made me want to see this movie at last; dunno why I never have before! It's funny: when you mention in the post that its original title was EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE, I thought--yes, that's what I thought the title was. Could it have been released for awhile under that title, or do I just have that fixed in my memory because I read the reviews out of New York?

Brian said...

Dennis, I've actually come through with some kind of piece on Apache, though how much of it actually relates at all to Robert Aldrich I'm not sure. But it was fun to write! Thanks for hosting this, now I'm going to go read the others.

Edward Copeland said...

We were late getting to it, but Wagstaff's great piece on Attack is now up on my site.

andyhorbal said...

As I read different contributions to this blog-a-thon and the comments that they elicit, I feel much less chagrined about my relative unfamiliarity with Mr. Aldrich. He really is, rightly or wrongly, a neglected director, isn't he? Even amongst cinephiles...

I'm looking forward to getting to know his work better. I have Attack! pending at Neflix, Flight of the Phoenix en route from my local library, and Emperor of the North and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte already waiting for me at home.

Great idea for a blog-a-thon, Dennis, and a very nice post, too! I love your description of the final shot, because it describes what I'm seeing as I explore Aldrich's work: it's unsubtly nuanced, ambiguously black-and-white. It's very straighforward, but it clashes with what I know about and expect from the genres he works in...

andyhorbal said...

:-)

Want to go double-or-nothing next season?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Why, I oughta-- !

I still think the Mets are gonna win the NLCS, but I must say the Cardinals, who looked either asleep or severely drugged at the end of the regular season, are at least giving them a contest. But my disdain for Tony La Russa outweighs any ill will I might harbor against the Mets, who played straight-up ball against the Dodgers and, especially in Game One, took full advantage of the Dodgers' insistence upon beating themselves, so I wish the Mets well and hope for a Detroit-NY series. (No happy thoughts to you, though, Mr. Lo Duca.)

Manhattan is on its way!

Maya said...

Dennis, I'm under some tight publishing deadlines but can probably have a post up a little later this week, if it's not too late. I would hate to miss out on contributing to this incredible wealth of commentary.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Absolutely no worries, Maya. I have a feeling things will be trickling in all week, so I'm just gonna do daily updates. Anything you bring to the table is going to be worth reading, and I'd hate to think of missing it, so please consider the Aldrich Blog-a-Thon as one deadline you can stretch as long as you need it to stretch!

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Hi, Dennis--Actually, contrary to your surmise, it wasn't weather that delayed my entry, it was a back injury. I was biking to school with my nine year old daughter as usual yesterday morning, and after helping her lock up her bike and watching her go inside, I walked over to my own bike, put the kickstand up, swung a leg up, and felt a horrendous knifing pain in my left trapezius muscle, which has flared up occasionally in the past due to repetitive stress issues. So I wasn't able to get the thing up on the official day. But with bed rest and the aid of some powerful pain pills, I forged ahead. If the result, posted here, reads a bit on the purplish noir side, well, blame the Darvocet.

Tom Charity said...

Thanks for doing this, Aldrich is shamefully underrated, especially his 70s stuff. Some short notes here...

The Grissom Gang (1971, 128 min)
Probably Aldrich's most under-valued film, this pitch black take on James Hadley Chase’s kidnap novel 'No Orchids for Miss Blandish' is a grotesque parody of American family values and the class conflict (it’s set in the Midwest during the Great Depression). Scott Wilson is riveting as the psychopathic Slim, who falls for heiress Kim Darby. It's as close as Aldrich got to a love story.

Ulzana's Raid (1972, 105 min)
Aldrich was revising Western conventions in the 1950s, but by the time of 1972 he was free to do so without censorship or compromise. Written by Alan Sharp, and teaming Aldrich with his Apache star Burt Lancaster (playing a white man this time, the cavalry scout McIntosh) Ulzana’s Raid anticipates Cormac McCarthy’s insistence on the blood-soaked savagery of the American West. This mature masterpiece also figures as the last of Aldrich’s singularly bleak, challenging war movies.

Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977, 146 min)
One of Hollywood's most politically-minded directors (his grandfather was a senator), Aldrich made the last great conspiracy thriller of the Watergate era, a scarily cogent film about government corruption, nuclear brinksmanship, and idealism gone insane, all wrapped up in a rationale for the Vietnam war. The use of split-screen is particularly effective. Rarely shown in its full version, this movie deserves to be much better known.

Steve said...

Awright, mine's finally up at my home base. Sorry about the procrastination and all that... hope it was worth the wait...

Alex said...

My piece on Kiss Me Deadly, Los Angeles economics, RAND, game theory, Victorian architecture, Fritz Lang and the beach at Santa Monica is here:

http://motionpictureitscalled.blogspot.com/2006/10/kiss-me-deadly-from-dr-mabuse-to-rand.html

Enjoy!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Matt: If Darvocet can be credited with this piece, then where can I get me some? (I draw the line at self-induced back injuries.) Sorry to hear about your accident, but I'll tell you, if I was laid up like that, I would have tabled the blog-a-thon. That said, I'm glad you didn't. I thoroughly enjoyed your consideration of Kiss Me Deadly, and I know others did too. I'm really excited about the excellent writing this blog-a-thon seems to have inspired, and it's all so much more worthwhile because we're talking about a director that just hasn't gotten his due. I really hope that Ulzana's Raid and Twilight's Last Gleaming will soon be making their digital debuts.

Steve and Alex: Your contributions have been noted and updated in the body of the post. Thanks so much for making the Robert Aldrich Blog-a-Thon more of a week-long event! I certainly don't mind that at all!

Tom: Some excellent observations. I would agree that his '70s stuff is among his best stuff. A run that starts with Ulzana's Raid and ends with Twilight's Last Gleaming should be much more well-known than it is. I very much appreciate your taking the time to check in on these terrific movies.

And it's funny-- of all the movies to be delayed on Netflix, The Grissom Gang sits waiting on my queue, held up in "short wait" status. My theory: their two copies of the movie are checked out by some of the other writers and readers who have been inspired by the Aldrich Blog-a-Thon to take another (or a first) look at this talented, challenging director. Why else would there be a run on The Grissom Gang, one of the most forgotten of Aldrich's movies?

Darren said...

I really wanted to participate in this party, but life has once again conspired against me. I know this is cheating, but I'm pretty proud of this piece I wrote a few years ago on Attack!.

Joseph B. said...

Sad I missed the Aldrich blog-a-thon Dennis, but I've seen so few Aldrich (regrettably) and the best titles I've seen were given exhaustive write-ups anyway. How about this... I'm inviting everyone to post a list of their 15 favorite, scary, most disturbing, or whatever horror films over at my blog. I'd love your participation. Check it out and I look forward to everyone's lists.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

You're on, Joseph. Shall we e-mail them to you?

Joseph B. said...

Dennis, e-mail would be best. Simply let me know when you've posted the list on your blog, and on the 30th I'll post mine. I'll continue to update the blog throughout the next 2 days with links to all those who participated. I look forward to it!

Noel Vera said...

Hi, Dennis, I know this is too late, but I was hoping you'd take the time to add my little piece on Ulzana's Raid.

Great 'thon, by the way.

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Anonymous said...

Bob Aldrich was my Uncle. He was most proud of his work with Burt Reynolds, with whom he formed Bob-Burt Productions. I last saw him in 1974 and he Loved the limelight Burt brought to his films.

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