‘Seven Thieves’ on TCM

A disparate collection of crooks, small-time hustlers, and disreputable characters knocking around Monte Carlo are brought together to rob a casino in an elaborate heist in Seven Thieves (1960), an unshowy caper film from Hollywood veteran Henry Hathaway. Edward G. Robinson plays the mastermind of the job, Theo Wilkins, a once-respected scientist whose career foundered after serving time for theft, and Rod Steiger plays his loyal friend, partner, and right hand Paul Mason, a sophisticated career criminal brought over by Theo to run the untrustworthy crew.

The film was promoted by Fox as “Little Caesar meets Al Capone,” referring to the pairing of old school gangster star Robinson with method actor (and Al Capone star) Steiger. In fact, Theo is much closer to another Robinson role from his gangster past: The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), where Robinson’s titular doctor joins a criminal gang to research his book and ends up plotting their robberies. Theo could be Clitterhouse twenty years later, an old pro more interested in the mechanics and execution of the perfect plan than the money.

Joan Collins plays the key to their scheme, a stripper in a second-rate nightclub where the nervous assistant director of Monte Carlo’s biggest casino arrives nightly to watch her dance, and Eli Wallach is her mentor and mother hen Poncho, who blows the saxophone (and at one point becomes a partner in her routine) in the club’s jazz combo. The team is filled out by Michael Dante as the grinning safecracker, Berry Kroeger as the driver and team muscle, and Alexander Scourby as the reluctant partner inside the club, the casino assistant director pressured by Collins to be their inside man.

Continue reading at TCM

Plays on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, January 8

Soylent Green is…

Soylent Green is... Blu-ray

Soylent Green (Warner)

Set in 2022 New York City, population 40,000,000, this eco-conscious science fiction artifact from 1973 looks more prescient than ever. In this overpopulated world, the gap between the rich and everyone else is enormous, poverty is rampant, unemployment high and “the greenhouse effect” (those very words are used in the film) has brought on climate change of a scale that has decimated agriculture, resulting in food shortages for an unsustainable population. This is all backdrop to a classic murder mystery and Charlton Heston stars as the police detective assigned to the politically sensitive case involving an uber-rich member of the board of directors of Soylent, which controls a significant percentage of food production and essentially rules the country. Edward G. Robinson the aging professor who shares Heston’s cluttered apartment and Leigh Taylor-Young the companion of the murdered industrialist (the term used in the film is “furniture,” which nicely communicates how she has traded herself as a commodity in return for survival).

The film, ably directed by Hollywood workhorse Richard Fleischer and smartly adapted by Stanley Greenberg from a novel by Harry Harrison, makes its points in the unspoken details of life in this dystopia: homeless hordes fill apartment stairwells and hallways at night, food riots are routine and the first order of business when Heston enters the lavish apartment to investigate the scene of the crime to plunder everything he can—making sure that the forensics team and his boss all get their due cut. Where so many science fiction visions of the era have dated, this gritty creation of a depressed (and depressing) future recycling the junk of the past, and where assisted suicide has become simply another social option, looks all the more real. You may remember the “twist” of the end but in context of the rest of the film, it’s less an insidious conspiracy than a last-ditch solution to feeding the world on the only protein left.

The Blu-ray features the supplements of the 2003 DVD release: commentary by director Richard Fleischer and star Leigh Taylor-Young and the vintage promotional shorts “A Look at the World of Soylent Green” (where Heston is called a “scrupulously honest cop,” apparently by a copywriter who never actually saw the film) and “MGM’s Tribute to Edward G. Robinson’s 101st Film” (look for George Burns in the celebration footage).

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Remastered for the Warner Archive

Another of the Warner Archive “Remastered Editions,” Two Weeks in Another Town is one of my favorite Vincent Minnelli films of the 1960s, a movie melodrama (as in a melodrama about the movies) set in the Italy, where has-beens and struggling talents come to cash in on cut-rate productions and one washed-up actor (Kirk Douglas) tries to find his confidence after bottoming out in alcohol and self-pity. At one time, it was famous for its ingenious use of The Bad and the Beautiful, a clip played in a screening room as an example of the past glories of director Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), the once acclaimed Hollywood veteran reduced to playing petty tyrant on an Italian picture, and Douglas’ Jack Andrus. In fact, the scene celebrates an earlier brand of Hollywood melodrama from the creative team reunited on Two Weeks: director Minnelli, actor Douglas and producer John Houseman.

This bright, colorful production, set within the tawdry glamour of a film production beset by budget limitations and the real beauty of Italy, goes for a coarser, more flamboyant brand of melodrama (Cyd Charisse as a spider woman of a socialite vampire, Claire Trevor as a spiteful harpy of a neglected wife) and a more conventional lesson of triumph, thanks to source material from Irwin Shaw. But the filmmakers understand that and go with it, turning the film into an entertaining freak show of gargoyles created by the dream machine, led by the bullying misanthrope Kruger himself, once an artist and now simply an ego looking for a place to reign. “You know, I’ve been faking so long, I don’t know what feels real anymore,” he remarks to Andrus after a heart attack, a rare candid admission of the emptiness of his life but perhaps also a realization of his decline from screen artist to ringmaster of the film set.

The bitterness behind marriages and affairs, held together by mutual dysfunction, have a “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf” cruelty mixed with showbiz phoniness and social gamesmanship. In this cutthroat world of booze and betrayal the once mighty Andus, now a recovering alcoholic trying to rebuild his self-esteem in decidedly human dimensions, is the fragile victim, which perhaps is why he relates to the young American star, James Dean-by-way-of Warren Beatty young actor played by George Hamilton as an arrogant jerk busy sabotaging his career in tantrums and sneering attitude as a way to cover his own fragility and fear of failure. Both intimate and outsized, it’s a strange product of the era, a Hollywood white elephant of a movie straddling self-awareness and self-parody, the fifties and the sixties, reveling in the fake textures of its conventions but also enjoying the actorly tear that Douglas goes on in the third act. He gives the spectacle all he’s got like a Hollywood pro before winding back to reclaim his dignity. The widescreen (2.4:1) film looks excellent on the Warner Archive edition, with colors popping from the screen. For more on the film and other Minnelli films from this era of his career, see Dave Kehr at the New York Times.

Available at the Warner Archive website here.

DVD of the Week – ‘Warner Gangsters Collection Volume 3’ – March 25, 2008

In the 1930s, Warner Bros. ruled the underworld genre of gangster movies, all but defining the genre with Little Caesar and The Public Enemy and making James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson the definitive gangland anti-heroes. As the Hayes Code put the kibbosh on the more extreme expressions of outlaw blasts of anti-social behavior and rat-a-tat violence, Cagney and Robinson calmed their illegal activities and even took their turns playing cops and DAs while Warners brought supporting actor Humphrey Bogart into the criminal fold. Warners is now on its third collection, and while the six-disc box set Warner Gangsters Collection Volume 3 is left with some of their lesser titles, it does feature one of the studio’s snappiest pre-code genre hybrids, Lady Killer (1933), a dynamic collision of gangster drama and show-biz comedy with James Cagney.

The film clocks in at a brisk 75 minutes and is already a third over before he even gets to Hollywood and hustles his way to success a second time, this time from movie extra to movies star. Cagney is at his insolent best as the perpetual motion wiseguy, always with a ready crack yet resilient enough to laugh at a creative insult lobbed his way. This pre-code production also features its share of saucy and salacious bits (watch Cagney drag Mae Clarke out of his bedroom by her hair) and a violent gunfight finale.

The six-disc set also features Cagney in Picture Snatcher (1933) and Mayor Of Hell (1933), Cagney co-starring with Edward G. Robinson in Smart Money (1931), Robinson in Brother Orchid (1940), and Humphrey Bogart in Black Legion (1937), which is more social drama than gangster film but can fit the bill in pinch. Each of these films are also available separately.

Read the complete review here.

 

From pre-code to post-code, Warners releases its definitive version of its genre-busting R-rated 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde: 2-Disc Special Edition.

This new edition is highlighted by the new three-part, 64-minute documentary “Revolution! The Making of Bonnie and Clyde,” as definitive a portrait of the production and release of the film as you’ll find. Directed by Laurent Bouzreau, it features interviews with almost every major participant, from producer/star Warren Beatty and director Arthur Penn to costume designer Theadora Van Runkle, art director Dean Tavalouris, and editor Dede Allen. Beatty is in fine, reflective form as he discusses his first film as a producer and his creative input and the portrait of the set that he and others (including co-stars Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons) describe was not always cordial, but it bustled with creative energy.

The release also features two deleted scenes (without audio, subtitles provided), wardrobe tests with Warren Beatty, and a History Channel documentary on the real Bonnie and Clyde.

Read the complete review here.

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