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Monday, January 23, 2023

Film Noir #19


Noir: Brick, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and Brute Force

BRICK (2005) --- I issue coherence challenge for anyone who can honestly say they understood a quarter of dialogue spoken in Brick. Old folk describe watching recent films with subtitles. Their hearing is fine, but comprehension? Gone. It is as though several generations have been shut out of entertainment. Mumbling dialogue has been fashionable in some quarters for over seventy years, proper diction regarded a false god no actor should worship, long since coached out of them. Too few of us are understood even where we try hardest. I always thought speech should be taught in schools. How about instead of Algebra II to start? Brick has been categorized as noir. It is clearly inspired by Dashiell Hammett, and specifically The Maltese Falcon. Let’s say it is Hammett for the very immature. Brick might work better if it took itself less seriously. Pulp lingo substitutes for how we expect teenagers to talk, whatever dialogue is intelligible, unreasonable perhaps to expect different. Brick has a student disappear from what appears a post-apocalyptic high school where there are no classes, or teachers, in evidence, save Louis Gossett Jr. as a vice-principal whom I bless for enunciating clear among others determined not to. Brick is further instance where I might be called out-of-touch for not getting it. Undoubtedly they are right. One review says Brick is not only the best film noir ever made, but maybe the best movie ever made. Perhaps best for me to stay clear of neo/crypto/proto noir for the good of all. Seems what clicks for a past twenty years is at the least “different.” It drove loose-defined noirs like The Usual Suspects and one where everything went backwards (Memento). How long shall traditional narrative remain the enemy?

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974) --- A College Park attraction. Not a few late Peckinpahs landed there, each it seemed more flawed than the last. I walked into Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid to observe men shooting heads off live chickens and said That will do. Missed Cable Hogue and Junior Bonner (latter seen since, and very good), while The Getaway, which everyone beat path to College Park for, had fine sections, but seemed way cruel and unpleasant when Al Lettieri went overboard abusing the TV actor couple. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia I did sit through and liked, in fact do still, which seems a violation of norm because this is where Peckinpah was said to go bridges too far toward full-flung nihilist. The director felt Bring Me the Head came closest to his overall intent, studio interference a least so far recorded. Some (me) could call Alfredo happy culmination of Mexico-Be-Scary shows that thrived from The Treasure of Sierra Madre, through The Big Steal, Blowing Wild, Jeopardy, and innumerable westerns. Garcia was relentlessly grim and hard-R for a time when such approach and attitude was commonplace. We expected no seventies film to end cheerily.

Peckinpah uses bumps that livened earlier ventures, a finish to echo The Wild Bunch and give fans what they want from Sam Peckinpah. He was trapped as "Bloody Sam" by 1974, no more lyricism for maverick and lit fuse this director had become. Sam was getting $400K per picture, and there were expectations. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia got good reviews, but bad ones were louder. Pauline Kael sat him down, rather dressed him down for two hours, and she had been a supporter. Sam was long an alcoholic, but now Alfredo star Warren Oates introduced him to cocaine, so it was fast freight from there. Everyone then thought coke was relatively harmless, no hangovers!, and what’s more, non-addictive. I don’t wonder it ate through Hollywood like Piranhas. Peckinpah had a self-destructive bent anyway, and this just made him worse. For all of drugs and booze, it was a miracle any movie got finished, especially Cross of Iron and parts of The Killer Elite. I remember thinking he had really sold out to do a dumb trucker thing, or could be I was put off by Kris Kristofferson. Might Peckinpah have lasted better in the studio era where responsibilities were better understood, and discipline more rigidly imposed? He had plentiful talent, writing as well as later directing. I watched again the first episode of a Brian Keith TV series he created, The Westerner, and it was a splendid job. That was early and when Peckinpah was trying to make initial impression, so he behaved. What hopes so many had after The Wild Bunch, a moment seeming like Sam Peckinpah could resurrect his industry, or at least an action end of it. So much of 60-70’s talent flashed and burned. How much of that do we blame on lifestyle excess?

BRUTE FORCE (1947) --- A prison stay harsher for audiences than what movies gave before, result of Mark Hellinger upping authenticity, at least surface so, politics behind penal system a focus, plus bad apples among guard personnel, among which is villain to a T chillingly enacted by Hume Cronyn, who I’m surprised wasn’t typed in this sort of role for career remain (was there treachery in TV anthologies he did which I haven’t seen and would not have easy access to?). Woman interest is served by random femme inserting to flashbacks and dream scenes. Awkward and pointless, but essential to selling, as Hellinger admitted. Whole of his pile rode on each offering after The Killers and continued declare of independence. “Hellinger Tells It “The Killers” Way,” said ads, and so he did, a least we’d expect from hard-tack truth told in column work for Gotham sheets and realizing Hellinger knew an underworld inside and frontwards. Brute Force takes care to bend our cell-block saturation without breaking it, speeches made to effect that you can’t crowd but so many men in so small cages without hell to eventually pay, which it does here in a riot payoff that upped ante for violence and must have shocked tender watchers. Inmates are loyal with one another to a point, but ones who talk get it hard, most graphic death dealt to informers. Burt Lancaster did this at a time he was mired in noir, often on born loser setting. How many capers could one man bungle? Brute Force otherwise gives character ensemble plenty of sun to shine in, talents anything but confined. Note a ripped John Hoyt early on, he body-built for a hobby, and Cronyn earns the more conviction wielding a strap you’d dare anyone to try taking away from him. These guys must really have worked themselves into shape to do Brute Force. Jules Dassin directed, as he would Naked City plus more outstanding noirs. Great things seemed further in his offing till HUAC bugles called and he split the country, luckily managing to direct good ones in Europe, live 96 years, and tell his side to numerous scribes through the interim.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

Brute Force and Naked City on the same bill? Wow, that's a double-feature I'd happily sit through!

I didn't see Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, but I remember reading about how Kris Krisofferson and his femme lead recreated their scenes for Playboy magazine. By all accounts, they went even further for the spread, leading to Rita Coolidge divorcing him.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I think you're muddling your Kris Kristofferson movies. The Playboy spread which upset Rita Coolidge was from THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA. There was a Playboy feature on ALFREDO GARCIA, but, as I recall, it showed us a lot of Isela Vega, and very few, if any, shots of Kristofferson.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

BRUTE FORCE...great movie.

7:36 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I have seen BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. I found it rather unremarkable and, as it was mentioned, featuring violence and slow motioneffects that by then were probably expected from Peckinpah. It feels like a pseudo remake of THE WILD BUNCH.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Tommy G. said...

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA remains a Peckinpah favorite, and he, Bunuel, and Leone are the trifecta of directors in my Hall of Fame. Yes, it's a shame Peckinpah traveled into the abyss, but many times genius travels a razor's edge. Bierce, Hemingway, and Peckinpah ALL lived uneven lives, thank God enough brilliance leeched through their self-destruction to create brilliant work. Remaking THE WILD BUNCH ranks right down there with Scorcese's CAPE FEAR remake, and the TV remake of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. PLEASE Hollyweird, leave the thoughtless pablum of remakes in the limp hands of the accountants and attorneys and, if greenlit, gird your loins for abject failure.
- Tommy G.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

"Brute Force" is a great movie. I always feel that Jules Dassin should have had the career that Elia Kazan ended up having, directing big Hollywood projects into the 1960s. Dassin stayed true to his ideals, Kazan opted to keep his swimming pool. That said, I watch "Riffifi" every couple of years and it still works.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Rich rightly rates "Rififi", but wrongly writes "Riffifi".

5:04 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

One review of "Garcia" referred to its director as Sam "Pecker-in-paw," insinuating that the film was a masturbatory exercise.

10:31 PM  

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