Tuesday, November 30, 2010

LAST EMBRACE: When Harry Met Ellie

"It begins with an ancient warning.  It ends at the edge of Niagara Falls.  In between there are 5 murders.  Solve the mystery.  Or die trying."

Harry DOES believe in spooks!
The poster for Jonathan Demme’s 1979 thriller Last Embrace grabbed me during its release in 1979!  The multi-Oscar-winner The Silence of the Lambs was Demme's first major suspense thriller, but it wasn’t the first film he’d made in that genre. That honor goes to Demme’s 1979 thriller Last Embrace (LE), which I first saw and loved during its original theatrical run. 

Despite the romantic beginning,  Last Embrace means business!
Poor Harry and Dorothy Hannan should've gone to Westworld instead!
At the time, LE was touted as a romantic Hitchcockian thriller. While LE definitely has strong elements of Vertigo and other Hitchcock classics, I’ve always considered it to be more of a paranoia thriller with film noir touches, which, as a friend quipped, perhaps makes LE
a kind of  “film shachor.”   Roy Scheider, cool and craggy yet suave, had long been one of our family’s favorite tough-guy actors.  At first glance, he might not seem vulnerable enough to be convincing as a beleaguered paranoia film hero.  However, Scheider proved to be perfect casting as Harry Hannan, a government agent with more baggage than Louis Vuitton. Harry is still heartbroken and guilt-ridden about his beloved wife, Dorothy (Sandy McLeod from Romancing the Stone, and Demme's Something Wild), getting killed while she accompanied him as cover on one of his assignments.   After he spends time in a Connecticut sanitarium recovering from his nervous breakdown, Harry has barely had a chance to lose his institutional pallor when he’s almost shoved in front of an express train. When he returns to his spy agency in New York City, his slippery spymaster Eckart (Christopher Walken from Pulp Fiction; Oscar winner for The Deer Hunter; and Oscar nominee for Catch Me If You Can; and so much more!) keeps him at arm’s length.  Maybe Eckart thinks Harry’s sharp cream-colored suit makes him too conspicuous for undercover work. Worst of all, Harry discovers he’s one of several Jewish men getting death threats written in Biblical Hebrew from an unknown “Avenger of Blood”…and so far, he’s the only one still alive!
Don't mess with New York commuters, especially spies!
Everyone scoffs at poor Harry’s jitters. Who can he trust? Certainly not his brother-in-law (Charles Napier from The Blues Brothers; Melvin and Howard; the animated TV sitcom The Critic), a fellow spook who blames Harry for his sister Dorothy's violent death: “You’re careless with people, Harry.”  I think it's safe to say holiday dinners at the Hannan household are tense at best! Our hero eventually joins forces with Ellie Fabian (Janet Margolin from David and Lisa;  Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run;  Annie Hall).  Ellie is a pretty New York grad student who sublet his apartment while he was in the sanitarium.  But the vulnerable Ellie seems to have her own issues and secrets.  Will that spell doom for both Ellie and Harry? And how does a turn-of-the-20th-century Jewish brothel figure in the sinister fix Harry has found himself in?

"Next time, we're taking the bus!"
 Scheider and Margolin had fine chemistry together; their characters’ sensitivity and wariness made me feel for them, and they even had playful moments along the way.  Ms. Margolin was at her loveliest, too. (Sadly, she died of ovarian cancer in 1993 at the age of 50. Janet, we hardly knew ye.)  Scheider, Margolin, and Walken are aided and abetted by a rogues’ gallery of stellar New York character actors, including John Glover as Ellie’s insecure professor boyfriend; Marcia Rodd as Harry’s nervous agency contact; David Margulies (best known to Team Bartilucci as the Mayor of New York City in Ghostbusters, and Michael Caine's psychiatrist colleague in Dressed to Kill) as a rabbi with connections; Joe Spinell and actor/director Jim McBride as thugs; Captain Arthur Haggerty as a bouncer waiting to use the phone; Mandy Patinkin and Max Wright in bit parts as commuters who may or may not have some ’splainin’ to do; and one of my very favorite character actors, scene-stealer Sam Levene (from After the Thin Man; The Killers; Crossfire; The Mad Miss Manton) as the crotchety but likable head of a secret Jewish society; and director Demme himself cameo-ing as a stranger on a train.
As Sam Urdell, Sam Levene can still give any
stranger on a train what-for!
Either the milkman is a lousy speller,
or Harry's getting death threats in Hebrew!

It's Christopher Walken, yes indeed, as Harry's spymaster!

No spy work for Harry?  At least they can enjoy a few bars of "Singin' In The Rain!
Super Harry leaps over the sidewalks of New York in a single bound!
Wine thing, you make Harry's heart sing!  Is Ellie dressed to kill, or what?

In the bell tower, bells are ringing for me and my prey!
Those Blues Brothers are driving me crazy!
Some critics complained that despite Demme’s obvious affection for the Hitchcockian material, LE could have used more of The Master of Suspense’s zest, wit, and verve. I won’t deny that the pace slows down at times, but with Roy Scheider at his peak and Janet Margolin’s touching, multifaceted performance, I was willing to be patient.  Demme and screenwriter David Shaber (adapting Murray Teigh Bloom’s novel The 13th Man) make up for the film’s flaws with plenty of appealingly quirky Demme-style characterization.  Judaism’s key role in LE’s plot was fresh and intriguing, as well as making excellent use of an elaborate, well-crafted red herring. The settings contribute to the film’s Demme-ness; his ace Director of Photography Tak Fujimoto really makes the New York City and Princeton, NJ locations integral to the plot and its Hitchcockian motifs, especially the bell tower sequence and an exciting climax at Niagara Falls (I can hear you making lewd jokes). The film brims with only-in-New-York characters and situations; for instance, the competition for living space in Manhattan provides amusing undertones to Harry’s first awkward encounters with Ellie, kind of like The More, The Merrier with edgy film noir trimmings.  Miklos Rozsa’s swooningly romantic yet forboding score pulls together the film’s emotional undercurrents beautifully.  Between Last Embrace and Still of the Night, if I’d been Roy Scheider, I’d have stayed out of Central Park and environs for fear of elusive assailants!  If anyone knows of a soundtrack for Miklos Rozsa's  Last Embrace, let me know, won't you?

Harry and Ellie fall in love -- but can love last
when the girl of your dreams  has a centuries-old vendetta?


Can this romance be saved, or will their love be on the rocks?

Find out more about Last Embrace at the MGM Archives: http://www.mgm.com/view/movie/1084/Last-Embrace/

Here's a fond farewell to Roy
Scheider from a fan:


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Godzilla Vs. Flintstone! Team Bartilucci's Favorite Thanksgiving-Season Flicks

We of Team Bartilucci have our own favorite holiday movies, and Thanksgiving is no exception. However, our favorites aren’t necessarily films that represent the holidays, but rather the events in our collective family life that pleasantly remind us of the happy holiday-related circumstances in which we first saw them.

Dorian’s Pick: The Man Called Flintstone (1966)

My favorite Thanksgiving movie isn’t Plymouth Adventure or Trains, Planes, and Automobiles. It’s The Man Called Flintstone (TMCF)! That’s right, the first (and best, IMO) feature-length film starring that animated Modern Stone-Age Family happens to be my favorite Thanksgiving movie! You see, since I was a tiny tot of 3 back in 1966 when TMCF was in theaters, I didn’t discover it until the early 1970s, when our local ABC-TV affiliate began showing it yearly on Thanksgiving morning. It became my favorite thing about Turkey Day next to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and CBS’s multi-parade extravaganza (we usually channel-surfed back and forth among TMCF and the various parades). When TMCF became available on LaserDisc in the 1980s, I found I still loved it—even more so in recent years, when we discovered the Canadian TMCF DVD with about ten minutes of footage not available in previous editions! The only disappointment was that TMCF’s special Columbia Pictures logo showing Wilma Flintstone carrying the torch wasn’t included on the DVD, probably due to rights issues.

Must’ve taken Stone Age Man forever
to make skyscrapers from boulders!

Is Fred Flintstone about to plummet to his doom?
No, but his lookalike Rock Slag might!
Lovable loudmouth Fred Flintstone (voiced by Alan Reed) is recruited by spymaster Chief Boulder (Harvey Korman) to fill in for injured Fred lookalike Rock Slag, the James Bond of the Stone Age. Chief Boulder’s good-guy spies are pitted against the nefarious SMIRK organization; it’s so secret, SMIRK doesn’t even let us viewers know what the acronym stands for! Fred’s mission is to capture the megalomaniacal "Green Goose" (Paul Frees) and foil his evil plan for his prehistoric WMD, the Interrockinental Missile. Wacky hijinks ensue as Fred is chased all over Eurock by sinister yet bumbling henchmen Ali and Bobo, along with slinky glamour gals, including The Green Goose’s lieutenant Tanya (June Foray), who rocks that big picture hat/mask! By the way, these beauties are the only people in the movie who wear shoes; there’s a cute joke about that a little over 40 minutes into the movie.
“Speak up, Tanya, where’s the Green Goose? And where can I get Wilma a hat like that?”
Air travel hasn’t changed much since The Stone Age, has it?

How many of these passengers look familiar from Flintstones TV episodes?

Meanwhile, Fred’s scrambling to keep his wife Wilma (Jean Vander Pyl), and their pals the Rubbles, Betty (Gerry Johnson) and Barney (Mel Blanc), in the dark about his new "Spy-Type Guy" temp job. The secret-agent spoofery ranges from grinworthy to hilarious; indeed, the movie begins with a funny yet suspenseful action sequence that would do James Bond proud. The songs by John McCarthy and Doug Goodwin are catchy (including “Pensate Amore,” sung by one of our family favorites, Louis Prima!).

The animation is much more assured in this big-screen Flintstones adventure; indeed, the smart, snappy, Pop Art-y animation techniques used in musical numbers like “Someday” are still being used today by animators like Genndy Tartakovsky.  Nice little details, too, like the Flintstones and Rubbles flying to Eurock on Qantas (modern Stone Age product placement!), and Wilma getting a snappy new lavender dress instead of her usual white frock. I always get a kick out of the Qantas airline’s “jet propulsion” basically being a great big slingshot. According to the IMDb, TMCF was produced right after production of the original Flintstones series ended, and was meant as a swan song for the characters. Ha! Little did they know that thanks to reruns and home video, The Flintstones and so many other beloved cartoons will never die!

Secret Agent Fred!
They’ve given him a thumbprint
and taken away his name!

Never a dull moment with Ali and Bobo,
“The Goon Twins!” (Fraternal twins, perhaps?)

Vinnie notes - Team Mates is actually the first time we get to hear future-Fred Henry Corden do Fred's voice; he handled the singing parts in the film.  After Alan Reed passed in '77, he took the part on full time.

Rockhattan Murder Mystery!

Big trouble for Barney Rubble!


Vinnie’s Pick: The Thanksgiving Monster Movie Marathon!

Japan has given much to American culture, but nothing more important than the Godzilla movie.  More correctly, the kaiju eiga, or (giant) monster movie. 

Godzilla movies were an important part of my childhood, not to mention the programming schedules of New York TV stations.  Channel 11, WPIX had the best collection, and had Monster Week on their afternoon movie at least once a year, if not more.  WABC-7, the network affiliate, had the legendary 4:30 Movie, and the monster films were pretty easy to hack down to fit the 90-minute timeslot.  WPIX had most of the major Toho films, but ABC had the Gamera films, and on occasion showed stuff like Gappa the Triphibian Monster, and once in a blue moon, The Green Slime (now available on DVD from the Warner Archive, BTW). 

WOR Channel 9 had a smaller selection to choose from, and as such held back for their big splash on the Thanksgiving holiday.  But they had an ace in the hole – they had all the King Kong movies, possibly due to the fact that back in the day I believe it was owned by RKO.  So they had a bang-up two-day slate – all the Kong films on Thursday, and Godzilla on Friday.

“All the King Kong Films” pretty much meant King Kong, Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young.  Once in a while they’d play semantics and run Toho’s King Kong Escapes on Thursday, a move that caused much debate among monster fans.  Truly, did the fact that Toho’s Kong was so different from the original make it more of a Godzilla film?  It’s a question that may never be answered to everyone’s acceptance.

Thanksgiving meant going over to Nanny’s house and sitting through a seemingly endless parade of very Italian food that I wasn’t going to put in my mouth for love or money. I was a very picky eater, and the only masculine child of my generation, and as such was pretty much spoiled rotten.  So they made me some plain roasted chicken legs, which I ate while everyone was still passing the antipasto platters, and I spent most of the day in her bedroom watching the Kong films on her cheesy black-and-white set.  The color set in the living room a) had no dial cause it broke off and you had to change the channel with pliers, and b) had a seriously burnt-out screen as a result of being left on too long during technical difficulties of a broadcast of To Kill a Mockingbird, so no matter what you were watching, the ghost of Gregory Peck looked down on the proceedings disapprovingly.  So it was the bedroom. The Kong films were in black and white anyway, so no great loss.

Kong was okay, but for me Thanksgiving was a day to be endured rather than enjoyed, as it was in the way of Godzilla.  King Kong and his stop-motion brethren were tragic figures, pulled from their homes and frightened near out of their wits, then shot at when they struck back.  I was far too young to appreciate such a subtle storyline.  Godzilla, on the other hand, was a big green force of nature.  

(No, Jack Palance was never in a Godzilla film.
That was some weird misunderstanding that crept in years ago, and was taken as gospel for decades.)

Friday was the big day.  I might go over to my friends’ houses to play, but we were never further than twenty feet or so of a TV set to Channel 9.  WOR had the later Godzilla films, the ones where they tried to solve the problems of the narrative by throwing more monsters at it. Like the later Batman and Spider-Man films, they were notoriously third-wheel-heavy. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla featured the imponderable King Caesar on Big G’s side, its sequel, Terror of Mechagodzilla had the Titanosaurus on the side of evil, and Godzilla vs. Megalon had Jet Jaguar on the side of good and the return of Gigan.  Godzilla vs the Sea Monster had a terrible and fairly misleading title.  First time I saw it, having only given is passing attention due to the weak title, I was surprised and enraged to learn Mothra was in it, as I would have given it far greater attention.

I’ve gone on elsewhere about how different television was back in the day.  Old cartoons and movies filled a huge chunk of the schedule, and it was a great way to get a history of film.  But with video and all the competing cable channels, seeing those films on broadcast TV is all but impossible.  WABC dropped The 4:30 Movie decades ago once it was obvious that people would watch more of the news at 5 p.m.  The movie libraries fell out of the control of the local stations as the film companies drew them back into their vaults for eventual video releases.  Yes, we get far better versions of the films, uncut and even with the original Japanese versions and/or soundtracks included.  But there’s something magical about seeing a 75-and change-meter tall monster reduced to 17 inches, tromping through Tokyo in between commercial breaks.

Especially if Atticus Finch is staring him down.

Here's a Readers' Digest version of what the festival was like, commercials and all.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Walk on the Ocean, by Dorian Tenore

Robert Moses' Jones Beach water tower and the Wantagh Parkway, Long Island, NY

My novels The Paranoia Club and Suburban Outlaws are Hitchcockian thrillers with strong comedic undercurrents, but the short stories I'm running here periodically will be little slices of life that my fictional characters experienced before their harrowing adventures in my books! Walk on the Ocean showcases The Paranoia Club's Sean Wilder, Claire Dennerlaine, and their families. Both constructive criticism and lavish praise are welcome. J  Enjoy!

Sean Wilder checked his watch for the third time since he’d sat down to wait for his girlfriend, Claire Dennerlaine. Ed, Claire’s dad, had had to take a phone call in his study while Claire got dressed in her nearby bedroom, so Sean had the Dennerlaine living room to himself. He realized he could hear what Claire and her mother Marcella were saying as long as he kept quiet and paid close attention.
The Dennerlaine Girls’ conversation came in loud and clear.  Clear, anyway.  He heard moving around and soft sounds like fabric being either packed or put on, probably Claire trying on her new bathing suit. Soon he heard Marcella’s throaty, cultured tones:  “It’s a lovely suit, darling, but isn’t it a little, well, mature for you?”
 “Define ‘mature,’ ” he heard Claire say in That Tone. The tone that sounded casual and bantering to the layman, but Sean knew better. Ever since he and Claire had met as kids, that wary tone would always creep into her otherwise sweet voice whenever she sensed that Marcella was about to criticize her.
   “It’s the skirt,” Marcella said kindly.  Well, her idea of kindly.  “It makes the suit look like the kind we wore back when I was modeling in the 1950s, for goodness’ sake.”
   “Well, retro looks are hot right now,” Claire said. “Besides, Mother, bathing suits were more like corsets in your day.” As a qualified Claire Expert, Sean heard that subtly defensive undercurrent. Gears shifted as Claire’s voice warmed: “Then again, you’re lucky. You’ve always been able to rock any look with ease.”  Good save, Claire, Sean silently applauded her.  Her family nickname wasn’t “The Little Diplomat” for nothing.
      “Why, thank you, darling,” Marcella cooed.  It occurred to Sean that Marcella and Claire accepted compliments differently. Beautiful though she was, Claire always seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would even notice her, let alone be so impressed with her as to pay her a compliment.  So Claire’s thank-yous always sounded eager and heartfelt, like she’d been lost in the desert for days and had at long last been offered a swallow of water, while Marcella seemed to have an endless supply of champagne. The tone of Marcella’s thank-yous sounded gracious enough, but Sean couldn’t shake the impression that beneath the graciousness Marcella was thinking, I know I’m the most glorious creature on Earth, you fool. It’s about time you finally acknowledged it. Not for nothing did Sean sarcastically call Marcella “Attila the Honey” in private.
            Sean’s thoughts were interrupted by the rest of Marcella’s answer:  “But it’s your figure that concerns me, Claire. I mean, if I were young and pretty like you, I’d be wearing those sexy little thongs and such.”
            “Mother, you’re the Queen of Fashion.  I’m surprised you don’t know skirted tankinis are hot right now.” Sean heard the defensiveness quotient rising.  “Anyway, would you rather I showed off my lumpy thighs?” A little sarcasm crept in there, too:  “I know how much you love those.”
            Now Sean realized what this was really about. Since Claire’s Type I diabetes had been diagnosed two years ago when she was 18, Sean had seen her four-times-a-day injections gradually change her thighs, abdomen, and buttocks from creamy white curves to what she called “living, breathing mounds of cottage cheese.”  Lumpy or smooth, as far as Sean was concerned, every inch of Claire was lovely and lovable. Claire wasn’t nearly so accepting, though, especially in summer. She loved beaches, she loved pools, but she hated wearing swimsuits.  She could find suits that covered her tummy and tush.  However, she had yet to find a suit that covered her thighs which, being her favored injection area, had gotten the worst of it, “cottage cheese”-wise.  Now, from what he was hearing, Claire had found a suit that solved the problem, but it wasn’t meeting with Marcella’s approval.
            It was times like this that Sean wished Claire would be rebellious, like everyone else their age. More than once, he’d playfully said, “C’mon, Claire, some girls get tattoos, some girls pierce their noses and any other body part they can think of. Drive your mother nuts by wearing a bathing suit she doesn’t like.”
            Back at the Summit Meeting, Marcella had a theatrically hurt tone as she said, “Oh, come now. My daughter doesn’t have lumpy thighs.”  There was a pause in the chat, and Sean heard that fabric sound again. “Oh, my. I had no idea they’d gotten that bad.”
         “Exactly,” Claire said, almost hotly.  “So why are you giving me a hard time over the first swimsuit I’ve found that solves the problem while still looking halfway decent?”
Sean groaned internally, rolling his eyes. “Halfway decent?” I bet before Attila the Honey opened her mouth, Claire was crazy for the damn thing. The Marcella Brainwashing has begun, I can tell.
  Marcella adopted a theatrically hurt tone. “Now, Claire, don’t make it sound like I’m so terribly mean. I’m only thinking of you.  Do you think I want you to feel self-conscious out there in your little skirt while the other pretty young girls cavort around in their little bikinis? And don’t you think Sean would like to be able to admire a pretty figure, too?”
            Fuck you, bitch! Don’t use me as your lame excuse. Claire’s perfect.  For the umpteenth time since he’d known Marcella, Sean’s hands clenched into fists, wishing he could ram one of them into Marcella’s Toothpaste Ad smile. But seeing Claire on Visiting Day at Riker’s after being tossed in the slammer for assault wasn’t Sean’s idea of a hot date. He was dying to at least barge into Claire’s room and tell off old Attila the Honey, but that wouldn’t exactly get the beach trip off to a good start.  Anyway, experience had taught him the hard way that, with Claire’s determination to stay on Marcella’s good side—such as it was—she’d only get more upset with Sean than she’d been at Marcella to begin with. All worked up with nowhere to put it, Sean just glared at Marcella’s Lenox figurines, fantasizing about “accidentally” breaking a few.
      Meanwhile, Claire answered Marcella in a tone colder than a skinny-dipper in the Antarctic. “Not to crush your hopes, Mother, but I’m happy to say Sean loves me and my figure as is.”  Sean grinned. Yeah! You tell her, Claire!
    Before Sean could hear Marcella’s response, Claire’s dad, Ed Dennerlaine, came back into the living room.  He raised one graying eyebrow when he saw Sean.  “Good grief, are my girls still gabbing?  Sorry, Sean.”  Ed knocked on the bedroom door. “Claire, Sean’s here, and he’s been waiting a while.”
     Claire swung the door open, looking a lot happier than she’d been with Marcella. Especially when Sean swept her into his arms for a nice long kiss, holding it as long as  possible, just to make sure Claire realized Marcella was full of shit.  Yeah, he knew he ran the risk of giving Marcella something else to get on his case about. Sean could imagine what Marcella would say to Ed after he and Claire left for the beach: “Did you see how he was pawing our daughter?  Just disgraceful!” But he knew Ed liked him and would defend him in his wry way. Anyway, Sean was there for Claire, not Attila the Honey, so the hell with the bitch.
Claire, ever the model of decorum, was the one who finally let the kiss end in a big smile. “Hello to you, too.”
  Marcella stood composed and perfectly coiffed in Lady of the Manor mode.  As Sean’s eyes met Marcella’s, polite smiles broke out like war.  “Sorry to keep you waiting, Sean, dear,” she said in the syrupy tone that he always thought just missed sounding sincere. 
   “It’s okay.” He took Claire’s hand. “Claire’s always worth waiting for.”  He turned to smile at her, and that was when the swimsuit caught his eye.  Well, not the entire suit; just a blue-green sparkle peeking out from the yellow camp shirt which Claire now wore like a jacket.  The thighs that Claire’s tankini was apparently meant to hide was being hidden even better by an almost knee-length pair of blue denim shorts.  He had a feeling she’d wear them all day if he didn’t give her an opening:  “Is that a new swimsuit under there?”
     Claire brightened. “Thanks for noticing.”  She began shrugging off her shirt.  “Here, I want you to see the whole ensemble and tell me what you think.”
       A few lewd witticisms leapt to mind, but Sean kept them to himself in front of Ed and Marcella.  As the shirt slipped off and Claire pulled down the fly of her shorts, Marcella rolled her hazel eyes ceiling-ward.  “Really, darling, there’s no need to perform a striptease.  Sean can see your bathing suit at the beach, like everybody else.”
      Thus spake Ed, Doting Dad Extraordinaire. “Now, dear, let Claire have her fun.  You got to do your share of modeling when you were her age.”
    “At least I got paid for the privilege,” Marcella sniffed.
     It was indeed the same one Claire had shown him in that swimsuit catalog she’d gotten a couple of months ago: a turquoise tankini that brought out the blue-green hues in Claire’s hazel eyes.  Come to think of it, that had been when he’d admitted to Claire his deep dark secret about his childhood crush on Kristi Yamaguchi.  (“Want me to wear skates to bed?” she’d joked at the time.)  But this swimsuit looked a lot more user-friendly than Kristi’s elaborate get-ups:  Thin, easy-to-remove Spandex, tantalizingly slim shoulder straps, a skirt falling in a soft ruffle, barely covering Claire’s dimply upper thighs while leaving the rest of her legs smooth and exposed for the admiration of all.  The suit’s finishing touch was that light sprinkling of tiny aquamarine rhinestones he’d noticed; just enough to catch sunlight without making Claire look like a Las Vegas showgirl.  Not that Sean would necessarily have minded.  He made a mental note:  Come Halloween, suggest showgirl costume to Claire. 
   “You look hot,” was all Sean could say.
   She dimpled. “Do you really think so, Sean?”
   “It’s lovely, sweetheart,” Ed said.  Sean wondered if his own remark had made him sound like some lust-crazed beast.  Claire obviously hadn’t minded, and Sean had long since stopped caring about Marcella’s opinion of him.  However, since he liked Ed and vice-versa, Sean really wanted to stay on Ed’s good side. Gentleman Ed just smiled at Claire in his warm Proud Papa way as she put her top and shorts back on.
   “Well, Claire, obviously the intended audience appreciates it,” Marcella said dryly.  As if in rebuttal, the intercom buzzed.  Ed, being nearest to it, buzzed back, called out a greeting, and held the Listen button. 
    “Hey, you Dennerlaines!” The natural rumble of James Fratarcangeli’s voice was augmented by intercom static. “Is Sean still up there, or did he and Claire elope?”
     Thus reminded that Sean’s sister Cori, husband James, and their four-year-old daughter Greer were waiting for them outside, goodbyes were said and the elevator was summoned.  When they were inside and the elevator finally began its long descent, Claire sighed. “So how much of my little chat with Mother did you actually hear?”
      “All the good parts.  Thanks for sticking up for me.”
      A grin tugged at Claire’s little rosebud mouth. “Thanks for sticking up for me, too.” Now that they were alone, Sean slipped his hands under the denim shirt and pulled Claire closer.  Passion and the slight, pleasant stickiness of Claire’s lip balm glued their mouths together. Meanwhile, Sean’s hands kept busy wandering up and down Claire’s back, enjoying the contrast between the soft, natural smoothness of her skin and the taut, synthetic smoothness of her tankini.
      When they came up for air, Claire laughed.  “Not that I’m complaining, but what if someone else comes in?”
      “They won’t mind.  All the world loves a lover, y’know.” He kissed her again and added, teasingly, “Besides, we better hurry up before I get distracted by all those so-called ‘pretty figures’ at Jones Beach.”
      Claire narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips.  It looked enough like the mock-pout she’d do when she was kidding—the one that reminded him of Myrna Loy in one of their favorite classic movies, The Thin Man—that Sean figured she’d taken his crack in the playful spirit that he’d intended. “Oh, please. You know I didn’t take what Mother said seriously.” That sounded enough like a light scoff to put Sean at ease.
      “Good. Keep it that way.” After another kiss, Sean dropped the playfulness.  “I love you, not some ‘figure.’ ”
       She picked up the playfulness he’d dropped. “You’d better, or no cottage cheese for you.”
       “Not even a lick?”  Sean slipped his tongue into her mouth.  Their tongues danced a tango until that familiar bell rang, warning that he and Claire were about to get company.  By the time the doors opened and let in the young mother carrying the alert little baby, Sean and Claire were standing in a thoroughly G-rated pose, holding hands and chatting.  “I gotta say, hon, you’re taking this pretty well.  You’re usually a lot more upset after one Marcella starts in on you.”
       “It’s no big deal, really.”  Claire was talking to Sean but making eye contact with the baby, who’d apparently become fascinated with the sparkles on Claire’s tankini. “You know how Mother is. She always starts these conversations, like, the minute I have to leave.”
       “ ‘Conversations’? Don’t you mean ‘arguments?’ ” For the tot’s benefit, Sean touched his tongue to his nose—a sure-fire Greer-pleaser—but the kid’s attention was on Claire.  Sean couldn’t blame the kid. Too bad the baby’s mother had her back to them, missing all the excitement.
      “I don’t know if ‘argument’ is the right description, since she takes it for granted I’ll agree with her.  They’re more like conversations where she does most of the talking.” A rueful smile crept onto Claire’s face.  “Once, I asked Dad why he thought Mother always starts these last-minute conversations.  He said it was because then she’d be more likely to have the last word.”
      “Good way to keep from losing an argument, too.”
      Claire made the Myrna Loy face, much to the baby’s amusement.  “Anyway, when the conversation started taking a wrong turn, I promised myself I wouldn’t let Mother ruin my day.” She squeezed his hand and smiled. “Our day.” The elevator doors opened on Lobby, and they waved goodbye to the baby as they left. 
* * * * * * * * * *
     “And they say you’ve gotta keep an eye on kids every minute,” Sean muttered to himself.  It seemed like only a moment ago that Claire had been beside him on the beach, helping Greer build a sandcastle.  After mama Cori applied multicolored zinc oxide to Greer’s fair skin, warpaint-style, Greer turned the sandy project into a series of sand tepees, molded from a handy paper cup.  Then, when Sean looked up again—after Greer had declared herself Chief of the tribe—Claire was nowhere to be seen.  On one of the more crowded parts of Jones Beach, Sean wouldn’t have been surprised, but here at the quiet, underpopulated West End, Claire shouldn’t have been that hard to find.
    “Hey, Pocahontas!” boomed James’s Long Island-accented male voice behind Sean and Greer, momentarily startling Sean out of his worry. “What about lunch?” James scooped Greer up, and she burst into the kind of squeals and laughter usually reserved for rollercoaster rides.  Come to think of it, Sean mused, being whisked to the top of six-foot-five James’s broad, sunblock-slick shoulders probably was like going to the highest point on a rollercoaster track for a just-turned-four-year-old. Greer had her own ideas about the luncheon menu. “Cold cream?” she asked eagerly.
     “Ice cream, kiddo,” Sean corrected her.  Actually, he liked Greer’s version, but he figured that as her uncle, her godfather, and a writer, he was honorbound to teach the kid the right names for things, if only so people wouldn’t look at her funny later in life.
      “After lunch, Greer,” James said, nicely but firmly. “You hungry, Sean?”
      “Not right now, thanks.  Did you see where Claire went?”
      “Last time I looked, she and Cori were swimming. Hey, here’s one of our mermaids now.” Sure enough, Cori was heading towards them, her long wet auburn hair dripping and drooping like red seaweed. James tossed her a towel. “Hey, babe, weren’t there two of you when you first went out there?”
       “Yeah, Claire wanted to frolic in the surf a while longer.” Cori dried herself, adding, “Personally, I think she’s really looking for a spot deep enough to cover her thighs and shallow enough for her to stand in and still be able to breathe.”
       Sean’s heart sank.  “What, she’s feeling self-conscious again?”
       “She wouldn’t come out and say so, but you know how sensitive Claire can be, especially after a session with that mother of hers.” Cori began re-slathering sunblock on herself. Considering none of the Fair-Skinned Fratarcangelis were even tanned, much less sunburned, Sean figured that sunblock must have had an SPF of 300 or so. “Sib,” Cori continued, “why don’t you dog-paddle on out there and tell your beloved to relax? I’ve seen Sports Illustrated swimsuit models who don’t look as good in Spandex as Claire does.”
        “They come pretty damn close, I’ll tell you that,” James was saying wryly as Sean hurried off in the direction Cori pointed out.
     Since the West End beach usually wasn’t overly populated, especially during the morning hours their family preferred, Claire wasn’t hard to find. Of the handful of hotties on the beach, Claire was by far the hottest, in Sean’s hopelessly biased opinion. There she was, several yards ahead, just a short swim away.  Sean started doing the breaststroke, so he wouldn’t have to put his head underwater and risk losing sight of Claire.  
            Claire had her back to Sean, and she looked pretty alone out there. Hell,  she looks pretty, period. Maybe once he caught up with her, they’d have enough privacy to see if making love in the ocean was all it was allegedly cracked up to be. He remembered James’s bachelor party, when their pal John Melendes, upon hearing that James and Cori were honeymooning in the Caribbean, started a debate over  what was better, sex on a waterbed or sex in the ocean.  While housesitting, Sean and Claire had tried Gordie’s and Rachel’s waterbed.  They’d found it hard to keep their, well, footing, for lack of a better term. And Claire’s stomach had felt queasy afterwards.  Well, maybe this would be the day to see if the ocean was any better.
   As Sean got closer, he was surprised to see that the water was only up to Claire’s shoulders.  She wasn’t even treading water. This far out, shouldn’t it be deeper?
The mystery was solved as soon as Sean realized Claire was standing on a sandbar. “Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” she said. Sean heard the catch in her voice seconds before he saw her teary, red-rimmed eyes. “I hate people who can’t keep their promises, don’t you?”
I knew it. Damn.  Sean wasn’t sure what to say, only what to do. He drew Claire close and her arms tightened around his body.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” she sniffled, her cheek against his chest.  “I’m just being a jerk, I guess.”
“Y’know, every time you’ve ever said that, it’s always turned out someone else was being a jerk to you.”  He kissed the top of her wet head.  It tasted salty and smelled of the sea. 
Claire let out a short hot sigh. “I swear, I pick the worst times to get insecure. I was having a perfectly fine time swimming, loving my new tankini, when I saw a bunch of other girls in thongs. One of them started complaining about her cellulite, and then I couldn’t help thinking of Mother’s reaction when she saw my lumpy thighs. They weren’t even talking to or about me, yet I took it to heart anyway.” She wiped her eyes and nose with the back of her hands, trying not to get salt in her eyes.           
Sean’s arms flowed around Claire like the water itself. “You know Marcella’s full of shit. Why do you listen to anything she says?”
          “I don’t know.” She managed a laugh. “If you figure it out before I do, let me know, okay?” 
Sean felt Claire’s body relax at the same time her arms were tightening around his waist.  Sean could have stood on that sand bar forever, just enjoying the feel of Claire in his arms, the sun warming their damp skin…the cool salt water gently swirling around them…his cock hardening against Claire’s navel….
 Shit, Wilder, you’re such a idiot. The girl you love is down on herself, and all you can think of is sex.
 Behind him, Sean felt Claire’s hands moving, her hug coming undone. I knew it. She hates me now. Quick, Wilder, think of baseball. Say it’s the cold water.  Whatever! 
 Both of Claire’s hands slipped around to Sean’s front. One hand gently grasped the elastic waistband of his swim trunks and tugged…allowing Claire’s other hand to gently grasp something else….
 As Claire began massaging Sean’s dick, she looked up into his face.  He was happy and relieved to see her smiling. Not the pretty little all-purpose smile she used when she was in Little Diplomat mode, but her real smile. The warm, incandescent one that would just burst onto her face, too full of joy to be repressed. The one that was in her eyes as well as on her lips. The one that never failed to make Sean so crazy with love for her, he couldn’t see straight.
 “You really are turned on by this bathing suit, aren’t you?” Claire said.
  Sean couldn’t help smiling back as he lowered his face towards Claire’s.  “Yeah,” he said, “but only because you’re wearing it.” Then his lips sealed hers while his hands slipped under her shoulder straps.
  “Careful, my love.” Claire’s voice was as playful as the fingers now fondling his rear. “This beach isn’t that secluded.”
   “No problem. We’ll cry ‘Shark!’ and get the place to ourselves.”  He savored the salty taste of her skin as his lips made their way from her shoulder to first one breast, then the other, accompanied by the music of her sighing happily in his ear…especially when their swimsuit bottoms ended up down around their ankles. 
     While they made love weightlessly and undisturbed, only one non-Claire-related thought flittered briefly through Sean’s head before evaporating: Who needs Kristi Yamaguchi?

Friday, November 12, 2010

SILVER STREAK: A Genre is Revived, and A Star Actress and StarTeam are Born

Today's TotED post is dedicated to Jill Clayburgh, who died on November 7th, 2010 at the age of 66, after a 21-year battle with chronic leukemia. Ms. Clayburgh’s 1970s and early 1980s films were part of my generation’s youth. She will be sorely missed.
When I first saw the 1976 comedy-thriller Silver Streak during its original theatrical run, I was a fresh-faced lass of 13.  Although I’d gotten a few Alfred Hitchcock movies under my belt by then, at that point I’d still seen more Hitchcock pastiches (Stanley Donen’s Charade and Arabesque were among my favorites) than original Hitchcock films. I was eager to see more of The Master’s work, but at that point in time, few if any of us Average Joes and Josies owned VHS players, and DVDs weren’t even a twinkle in technology’s eye yet. Therefore, if I wanted to watch honest-to-God classic Hitchcock movies, I had to wait for them to turn up on TV, often in the wee hours of the night (see http://doriantb.blogspot.com/2010/10/midnight-movies-at-tv-oasis-bleary-eyed.html), or if I was really lucky, at one of the many revival theaters operating in my hometown of New York City back then. Believe it or not, I first saw the Hitchcock film destined to become my favorite film of all time in a tiny movie theater in midtown Manhattan. Appropriately enough, it was called The Mini Cinema. As I recall, it was in a brownstone; I only remember maybe twenty seats in the screening room. I was there to see North by Northwest, having heard it was one of Hitchcock’s very best films. They had me at Saul Bass’s sleek green skyscraper opening credits! The print was excellent, and all of us in the audience were enthralled. By the time the film ended and I emerged into the sunshine, I was in love. So a short time later, when my mom took my friends and me to see Silver Streak at East Tremont Avenue’s now-defunct Interboro Theatre — so named because it straddled the Bronx/Manhattan border — I was just film-savvy enough to pick up on Silver Streak’s tips-of-the-hat to Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, Strangers on a Train, and of course, North by Northwest.

Looks like George doesn't support his local sheriff!
Silver Streak starts out as a perfectly enjoyable little Hitchcock pastiche, and for the most part keeps getting better from there. If screenwriter Colin Higgins of Harold and Maude fame wasn’t a Hitchcock fan, then he clearly did his homework. Both Silver Streak and Higgins’s 1978 comedy-thriller Foul Play spoofed Hitchcock with great skill and, more importantly, great affection. Of course, in both films, Higgins couldn’t resist adding some racy-bordering-on-coarse humor, like Bob Sweet (Ned Beatty) trying to sell Vitamin E supplements to our mild-mannered hero George Caldwell (Gene Wilder): “Great for the ol’ pecker.” Then there’s Lucille Benson as jolly rancher Rita Babtree, who ropes city boy George into helping her milk her cows: “You’re a grown man; I’m sure you’ve had some similar experience.”  Even a sheep-buzzing session is sprinkled with sexual innuendo as Rita rhapsodizes, “They talk of the joy of sex, but it don’t last like the fun of flyin’.” But hey, it was the ’70s, and besides, Hitchcock himself was no stranger to puckish, saucy humor.
"Is that a gun in your hand, or are you just startled to see me?"

Wilder is his usual neurotically endearing self as George, a gentle book publisher and divorcé. “I just want to be bored,” George says, prepared to bury himself in his work during his leisurely cross-country train trip from L.A. to Chicago. Aw, it’s so cute that he thinks he’ll get rest and relaxation in a movie like this! Before George can say “20th Century Limited,” the classic Hitchcock tropes are flying thick and fast. First he’s embroiled in a sweet yet sensuous romance with free-spirited secretary Hilly Burns, played by Jill Clayburgh shortly before she became one of the most popular, renowned actresses of the late 1970s and early 1980s. I found the chemistry between Clayburgh and Wilder both sexy and tender. 

Don't you hate it when corpses interrupt your sexy-time?
The romance hits a snag when George sees a body fall outside his compartment window. Accompanied by the evocative music of Henry Mancini, hapless George gets thrown off the train several times by suave art-collector villain Roger Devereau (Suave Hall of Famer Patrick McGoohan) and his henchmen Edgar Whiney (Ray Walston) and Reace (Richard Kiel), and then he’s framed for murder. The film’s climax with the runaway train demolishing the station rivals the spectacular disaster scenes that end Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent, and Strangers on a Train. And of course, don’t forget the time-honored paranoid explanation, in which our flustered hero tries to explain the crazy trouble he’s in, only to have his account come out funny and surreal, leaving his would-be saviors confused and suspicious while leaving us movie lovers laughing and sympathizing with him at the same time. Also, Higgins couldn’t resist slipping the old “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz” Alka-Seltzer TV commercial into the Sheriff’s scene; it showed up in Foul Play, too, as heroine Goldie Hawn is startled by a scarfaced would-be assassin.
Being a master of disguise is harder than it looks!
Entertaining as Silver Streak already is, it shifts into high gear once Richard Pryor comes along. As streetwise but amiable car thief Grover T. Muldoon, Pryor proved he was indeed a thief, because he steals the whole movie just by showing up! Pryor and Wilder’s quirky buddy chemistry sparkles. Heck, it’s worth the price of admission (so to speak) to sit through the entire film just to see the classic “Who shot Rembrandt?” and “I can’t pass for black” scenes. Pryor and Wilder made four films together, with Silver Streak and 1980’s Stir Crazy being their biggest hits. I’m tickled by the role Hitchcockian traditions played in bestowing stardom on a promising ingénue and a new comedy team.