Friday, August 26, 2011

High Anxiety, You Win…Me Over! My Multimedia Review

For those of you who’ve asked about my DorianTB avatar photo since this mug of mine began turning up on Facebook and in this blog, the answer is directly related to this week’s blog post about Mel Brooks’ smart, affectionate, deliriously funny 1977 Alfred Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety! You see, during my senior year at Fordham University in 1985, our beloved Theater professor Sister Francesca Thompson, the coolest and most sophisticated nun ever, assigned our class to lip-synch to a recording of our choice; the more inventive the performance, the better. I decided to salute two of my favorites with one stone, so to speak.
I wore a black fedora from my dear mom's vast hat wardrobe, a black tuxedo-style blazer, and black slacks—that is, until I innocently strode up to my pal and classmate Kypro (“Kyp” for short), nonchalantly removed my slacks, and asked him to keep an eye on them during my number. Considering that Kyp looked rather like a young 1980s version of Victor Mature, the look on his face was especially priceless, bless him! I went up to the front of the classroom, looking as much like Judy Garland in Summer Stock as I could. (Luckily, I had a cute figure then, if I do say so myself!) I opened my mouth to lip-synch—and out came the boisterous voice of Mel Brooks singing “High Anxiety” from the soundtrack album! If I do say so myself, I brought down the house, getting an A+, and it was a heck of a lot of fun, as well as a confidence boost for a shy kid like me (don’t let my gregarious writing style fool you!).
Off to Sr. Francesca's Theater class, 1985
High Anxiety (HA even the initials are funny!) is great fun even if you're not already an Alfred Hitchcock fan — but if you are, you'll love it all the more as you nail specific spoofs of and references to Hitchcock’s classic suspense films. The key is that Brooks’ best movie genre parodies would still be solid genre films if you took out all the jokes and sight gags. That’s why his biggest hits are so good and have been so dearly loved, such as 1974’s Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. HA is a comedy piñata stuffed with outrageous yet affectionate spoofs of Hitchcock’s best films—a far cry from many other genre parodies who try to do what Brooks and his writers do when they’re at their best, except that all too many of the wannabes’ attempts come off as puerile and mean-spirited.

I should explain to those who might be new to Mel Brooks’ work (so many young movie fans to inspire!) that aside from Brooks’ solo screenplays for his 1968 Oscar-winner The Producers, and 1970’s The Twelve Chairs, his best scripts have often been collaborations between himself and other writers, as they did with Your Show of Shows. Of course, there’s wit in Hitchcock’s thrillers, too. The difference is that Hitchcock’s humor was sleek and sly, while Brooks and his co-writers Ron Clark, Rudy DeLuca, and future Oscar-winner Barry Levinson are boisterously cheeky; as Brooks himself might say, “they kid because they love.”
Flying the friendly skies? Richard begs to differ!
Herrmann-like  traveling music from John Morris!
Madeline Kahn as Victoria Brisbane - so cute!
Montague & Diesel unwind after a day of evildoing
The plot plays delightfully like Hitchcock’s Greatest Hits, or as our friend and fellow blogger Nathanael Hood of Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear said in his own superb in-depth High Anxiety blog post from 2009: “The Master of Comedy takes on The Master of Suspense!...I find that this film is more than just a collection of satirical set pieces. It shows an endearing love of Hitchcock. Not only are his movies parodied; Hitchcock’s camera movements are mimicked, his musical scores quoted, and even the actors’ performances are modeled after prominent characters from his movies. Many of the references are subtle. So subtle that they can be missed, or even outright ignored by audiences.” The story is a delightful blend of every Hitchcock trope as seen through a funhouse mirror. Our hero, Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Brooks), arrives as the new head man of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous; it’s like Green Manors in Spellbound (1945). Of course, the P-NIftV,VN is goofier than Green Manors ever was, with patients like Charlie Callas as the man who thinks he’s a cocker spaniel, and who Richard is led to believe is Arthur Brisbane, Industrialist. (The real Brisbane is played by the dapper, gentlemanly F/X expert Albert Whitlock, who worked on several Hitchcock movies.)

Meanwhile, poor Richard is fighting a vertigo-like malady, the titular High Anxiety. “If left unchecked, it can cost you your life!” declares his old friend and mentor Professor Lillolman (Howard Morris)—whereupon Lillolman and Richard are startled by an ominous musical sting, courtesy of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra’s touring bus! Soon Richard becomes the man who knew too much as he falls in love with Brisbane’s beautiful, soignee daughter Victoria (Madeline Kahn), or as Richard and others say, “You’re the cocker’s daughter?” Before you can say “Que sera sera,” Richard’s making like Frank Sinatra crooning the title song for Vicki in the hotel’s Art Deco-ish piano bar (for me, that’s HA’s highlight), and getting framed by evil P-NIftV,VN personnel Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) and her love slave Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) for a murder he didn’t commit, running hither and yon to clear himself through all kinds of picturesque locations while the Hitchcock gags (and even a few that aren’t Hitchcock-centric but are still funny anyway) fly thick and fast and fabulous—and so much more!

Don't you feel less neurotic already?
While I’ve always thought Brooks’ former co-star and co-writer Gene Wilder would've been perfect casting as acrophobic psychiatrist Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (click here for the psychiatrist panel and the HA musical number to find out what “H” is short for), Brooks is nevertheless as irresistible as he is irrepressible, with Kahn a fine match for him as the flakiest mysterious blonde this side of Kim Novak. When you’ve seen as many Mel Brooks comedies as Vinnie and I have, you notice the genuine emotions behind the laughter. Sure enough, HA’s approach is as affectionate as it is hilarious. Not to overstate the case, but there’s palpable tenderness in the almost father-son relationship between Richard and Professor Lillolman, as well as the budding romance between Richard and Victoria. Ah, but there’s plenty of funny packed between the tender moments and Hitchcockian suspense! For example...

Dick Van Patten is caught in a web of evil, beyond the shadow of a doubt!

Could Vicki Brisbane be the future Mrs. Dr. Victoria Harpo Thorndyke?
It's not heights little Richard was afraid of, it's parentsor Pablum!
  • Professor Lillolman, who reminds me of Spellbound Oscar-nominee Michael Chekhov, is mistakenly addressed as “Professor Little-Old-Man.”
  • As Victoria, Kahns a knockout in her Vertigo gray suit and picture hat and Notorious-style black gown (not to mention her Louis Vuitton jumpsuit and matching car!). Vicki’s ditzy moments crack me up, too, like her hotel room scene while Richards in a phone booth trying not to be strangled by Diesel and Montague’s henchman “Braces” (co-writer Rudy DeLuca). First she tries to pretend she’s not turned on by what she thinks is an obscene phone call, then she tosses away her Vuitton teddy bear and backpedals like mad when she realizes it’s Richard: “I knew it was you! I laughed. Did you laugh?”
  • As Dr. Montague, Harvey Korman dresses like Charles Gray in the 1968 Hammer thriller/period piece The Devil Rides Out. As Nurse Diesel, Cloris Leachman looks like a scarily hilarious cross between Rebecca’s Mrs. Danvers and Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S.! They play uproariously outrageous bondage-and-discipline games when they’re not keeping rich patients prisoner. Dominatrix Nurse Diesel: “I know you better than you know yourself. You live for bondage and discipline!” Submissive Dr. Montague: “Too much bondage! Not enough discipline!”
  • Like any self-respecting Hitchcock-style hero, Richard has what The New York Times reviewer described as “an elegant flaw,” namely his High Anxiety. The Times went on to say, “He has the cowardly man’s restless glance as he keeps track of the terrain and of all the ways to make a quick exit.” My kind of guy! I’m also tickled that Richard’s name is clearly a nice tip of the hat to debonair but beleaguered hero Roger O. Thornhill from North by Northwest. Those who’ve been following TotED for a while may recall that North by Northwest is not only my favorite Hitchcock film, it’s my absolute favorite film of all time, period. 
Now when I love a movie, I go out of my way to learn everything I can about it, including buying novelizations of that film if there is one. High Anxiety was no exception. The author of the High Anxiety paperback was Robert H. Pilpel, who wrote a great many articles for Harper’s Magazine, as well as a number of his own books, including the 1979 historical novel To the Honor of the Fleet; Between Eternities; Churchill in America, and a title that particularly intrigued me, Understanding your Therapist, or Why is This Taking So Long? I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that last title got Pilpel the High Anxiety novelization gig! Pilpel has a real gift for humorous writing with a sting in the tail, blending comedy, suspense, and romance nicely. For example, here’s our height-hating hero’s first-person account of his feelings as his airline prepares to land:
Omigod, we’re losing altitude! No, the ground is gaining altitude! “Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the No Smoking sign. Please extinguish all smoking materials. Make sure your seat belts are fastened and your seats in the full upright position for our arrival in Los Angeles.” Omigod! Too fast, too fast! We’re dropping like a stone….Oh, Lord, why does the landing gear coming down always sound like the landing gear breaking off?
And here’s Richard insisting on meeting Arthur Brisbane, and Montague reluctantly phoning Nurse Diesel to set up a meet-and-greet:
“Hello? Nurse Diesel? Dr. Montague here. Dr. Thorndyke would like to visit Arthur Brisbane this afternoon…Good…Oo-yay oh-knay ut-way oo-tay oo-day. Et it gay?”

He hung up with a little flourish of his wrist, as if Pig Latin were the most natural language for a licensed psychiatrist to use in speaking with a psychiatric nurse.
Richard sees the ultra-modern (for the late 1970s) Hyatt Regency Hotel for the first time:
Convention headquarters in San Francisco was a large modernistic hotel almost twenty stories high, built around a central glass-roofed courtyard. By some fiendish miracle of advanced architecture, the hotel was constructed so that each floor facing the courtyard juts out into thin air a little farther than the floor just below it. As you stand in the lobby, therefore, you are treated to the impression that the whole building is about to cave in on you. If you leave the lobby and venture upward, on the other hand, you are treated to the impression that gravity will soon bring you and the whole impudent pile of overhangs crashing ignominiously to the ground. The net impression you are treated to is that you should get the hell out of there before the building makes you dead, and that impression becomes a certainty when you see the fishbowl elevators whizzing up and down at the junctions of the walls like to many glass-enclosed coffins. It was doing my High Anxiety no good.
A beautiful stranger (who turns out to be Vicki Brisbane) bursts into Richard’s hotel room:
“Get away from me,” she snapped. “Don’t move. Be quiet. They’ll hear you. Close the drapes.”

It occurred to me that I was dealing with a beautiful victim of paranoia—a beautiful armed victim—so I went to do as she’d asked.

“Get down!” she said vehemently. “They’ll see you.”

Paranoid. Definitely. I crouched down and closed the drapes.

“Close the other one,” she commanded.

Paranoid and pushy. I obediently started across the room.

“Keep down,” she ordered.

She was so obviously scared and so much more obviously pretty that I really didn’t mind being bossed around by her. Her gun impressed me, too…Suddenly there was the sound of the doorknob turning…. Quick,” she said. “Make believe you know me.” And with that, she pulled me to her and kissed me as no paranoid had ever kissed me before.
Our trapped hero Braces himself for mortal combat!
Braces starts strangling Richard in the phone booth as he calls Vicki:
Vicki jumped to the wrong conclusion. Listen, fella. I don’t go for this kind of thing.”

I managed to get one hand between my throat and the wire, but almost immediately the strangling pressure of the cord trapped it, and I could feel my wrist bone being forced into my Adam’s apple. I gasped and huffed like a man with terminal asthma, which in a way was what I was.

“Who is this?” Victoria asked. “Listen, you’re crazy if you think I’m going to stay on this phone and listen to heavy breathing.”

It wasn’t working. I was making a lot of noise, but no air was coming in. Red spots started dancing in front of my eyes.

“Listen,” Victoria went on, “maybe other girls get turned on with these kinky phone calls, but I couldn’t care less. How did you get my unlisted phone number? Did someone I know give it to you?...Listen, mister, I’m not going to listen to any more of this. I’ve had just about enough!...What are you wearing?”

It was horrible. I was being strangled to death while listening to the girl I loved mistake me for a pervert. It made me wild with terror and despair. It made me want to wail and sob. The only sound I could squeeze out, however, was a squeaky “Jeeeeee…Jeeeeee….”

“Jeans?” said Victoria. “You’re wearing jeans? I bet they’re tight.”
So if you loved the movie, read the book! I’ve seen it available online. 

And if you haven't yet read all of Nate Hood's excellent High Anxiety blog post, here's a link:

Friday, August 19, 2011

THE GAZEBO: Home Sweet Homicide with a Hidden Hitch

Caution! Spoilers at Work!

In the mid-1980s, Ted Turner was colorizing every black-and-white movie he could get his mitts on. George Marshall’s MGM comedy The Gazebo (1959) was no exception. Frankly, when I first watched the colorized version on TBS years ago (the colorization looked strangely washed-out to me), I was surprised it wasn't filmed in color to begin with. Thanks to Warner Archive, The Gazebo is now available on DVD, and thanks to TCM, this wicked little comedy will be on tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST as part of Summer Under The Stars’ Debbie Reynolds Day!

If you can’t get Adrien Brody as your pianist, Debbie Reynolds and chorus boys will do!
Despite the gallows humor of its storyline, The Gazebo is one of those frenetic farces that 1950s Hollywood usually filmed in bright postcard colors. Who was more bright, colorful, and energetic, then and now, than Debbie Reynolds, The Gazebo’s unsinkable leading lady? Nevertheless, the film was made in black-and-white, with Helen Rose nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, for Reynolds’ smart, perky costumes (which tastefully yet alluringly showed Debbie’s darling derriere to delicious advantage, if I may say so!).

George Wells adapted a script by Alec Coppel, who’d also worked with Alfred Hitchcock on Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and uncredited contributions to To Catch a Thief. Fittingly, The Gazebo’s hapless hero Elliot Nash (Glenn Ford), is a TV writer who’s currently working on a Hitchcock script. He’s happily married to Broadway musical star Nell Nash (Reynolds), but said happiness is jeopardized by blackmailer Dan Shelby (we never see his face, but character actor Stanley Adams provides his voice. Fans of the TV version of The Odd Couple will remember Adams as chain-smoking pool-player Sure-Shot Wilson in the “Hustler” episode; but I digress….). Shelby has been shaking Elliot down, threatening to publish risqué photos of Nell when she was a hungry young artists’ model before she became a star, unless Elliot comes up with hush money. Does anybody really get blackmailed that way anymore, considering so many celebrities out there seem almost eager to air their dirty laundry every chance they get, as long as their names are spelled right? In any case, the blackmail threats result in a murder plot, a dead body and a panicky Elliot making like a mole to hide the corpse in the new gazebo that Nell bought for the Nashes’ Connecticut home (Nell’s one of those gals who never met a garden tchotchke she didn’t like, bless her heart).

The Gazebo's origins were British, but it was Americanized for Hollywood. I think it probably would have worked best with a British cast, but the American cast takes to black-comedy slapstick like a New York pigeon takes to bread crumbs, namely the scene-stealing Herman, who becomes a member of the Nash household after being mildly injured in Broadway traffic. Heck, Herman even gets a screen credit! Indeed, there are enough bird gags in The Gazebo (my favorite being Elliot’s power to make Herman and the neighborhood birds shut up on command. Too bad he couldn’t do that to the blackmailer so easily!) to make me wonder how long Hitchcock had been developing his 1963 film adaptation of The Birds.

Glenn Ford is amiable enough as our highly anxiety-stricken hero, but I can’t help feeling that Danny Kaye or Jack Lemmon would have been better choices to play the increasingly manic Elliot. Well, maybe they were busy, or maybe they simply weren’t under contract to MGM. Fortunately, Ford and Reynolds had previously co-starred in another Marshall comedy, It Started with a Kiss (1959), and their chemistry went a long way. (Click here for more about Ford and Reynolds’ relationship on and off the set.) Carl Reiner (with hair) makes a fine pesky friend as Harlow Edison, the Nashes’ friend, who also happens to be the District Attorney. The ever-jolly Harlow makes no bones about his unabashed crush on Nell, up to and including driving miles out of his way just to drop by for friendly nightcaps.

Still, I found The Gazebo’s perky American stars to be quite engaging. I’m accustomed to seeing Ford playing stolid heroic types, but here he acquitted himself nicely as a man who’s determined not to let his frayed nerves keep him from protecting his beloved wife. Despite not being Danny Kaye or Jack Lemmon, Glenn Ford was a pleasant surprise as our frantic hero Elliot. As the initial blackmail target (more on that momentarily), Debbie Reynolds is as pert and winsome as ever. Since she plays a musical comedy star, she’s given an energetic Bob Fosse-style song-and-dance number, “Something Called Love.” One quibble: charming though “Something Called Love” is, was it really necessary to have Reynolds hum it throughout the movie? Well, maybe the producers figured it had a crack at a Best Original Song Oscar nomination.

These are hip boots? Where’s Nancy Sinatra when you need her?
Perhaps it’s because they were under contract to MGM, but the great supporting cast is practically a North by Northwest reunion. Martin Landau, in his pre-Oscar days, played a heavily Noo Yawk accented thug, The Duke. Until then, I’d only seen Landau on TV’s Space 1999, in which his performance was rather wooden, so I was pleasantly surprised by his range and flair for comedy in The Gazebo. From that day forward, I was a full-tilt Landau fan! Then there was Landau’s fellow North by Northwest henchman Robert Ellenstein as Elliot’s peripatetic agent (no, not a secret agent!).

Since Elliot writes TV mysteries, is it any surprise that he keeps referring to Alfred Hitchcock? To wit:

* “I gotta finish that script I’m writing for Hitchcock….”

* “What would Hitchcock do at a time like this?” Luckily, at this point, Hitchcock calls Elliot to check on the progress of their screenplay, giving our hapless hero an opportunity to work out a solution with Hitch under the pretext of working out their script. We don’t hear Hitchcock’s voice, of course; use your imagination! :-)

* “To England and Connecticut and Alfred Hitchcock!” This comes after Elliot toasts the new gazebo with the corpse nestled snugly in the foundation. Of course, at this point our hero hasn’t confided in Nell about the body under the gazebo, so she and Harlow just give Elliot funny looks and chalk it up to too much champagne too early in the day.

The Gazebo definitely has all the earmarks of British stage farces: slamming doors, falling-apart contraptions, wacky misunderstandings, and matter-of-factly cuckoo dialogue. For instance, when the Nashes find themselves up against it, Nell laments, “I wish this had happened in Los Angeles…They’re always finding bodies out there; they don’t think anything of it!” There’s also a funny running gag about running water—that is, the Nashes’ plumbing, which Elliot keeps trying to sabotage in hopes of making Nell eager to sell the house so Elliot can give the proceeds to the blackmailer (this is before Elliot resorts to murder).

Whatever Norm Abrams can do, John McGiver can do funnier!
In addition to Landau and Ellenstein, other Gazebo scene-stealers include the hilarious Doro Merande as Matilda, the housekeeper who yells every word at the top of her lungs because she’s used to communicating with her hard-of-hearing mother (you might also remember Merande from The Snake Pit and Clifton Webb’s The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell); John McGiver (Fitzwilly, Mame, and Midnight Cowboy, among others) as Mr. Thorpe, the Nashes’ phlegmatic handyman who keeps calling the gazebo a “gaze-bo”; and Mabel Albertson as determined real estate agent Mrs. Chandler, best known and loved by Team Bartilucci as Darren’s mother on Bewitched and wealthy Mrs. Van Hoskins in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc?

Hope these lovebirds won’t end up dead pigeons!
My favorite Gazebo scene answers the musical question, “How do you solve a problem like a blackmailer?” No, the answer isn’t “Keep paying the creep until you’re bankrupt.” It’s “Just say no!” Here’s the scene, all transcribed nice and pretty for your reading pleasure:

Harlow: “Certainly an ideal subject for blackmail, brand-new star on Broadway. I’m surprised Shelby never called you.”

(cheerfully): “Oh, he did.”

(understandably shocked, but trying to hide it): “He did?”

Nell: “Mmm-hmm. He came to the theater about two months ago, and he brought the pictures, and he threatened to publish them unless I gave him ten thousand dollars in cash.”

“Well, what did you do?”

“Well, I laughed in his face! Wouldn’t you?”

“Oh yes, I…I…” (He trails off into incoherent fumferring.)

“Still, it would’ve been quite a story for the scandal sheets.”

“Oh yes, it would have, but you know what would have happened then? You couldn’t buy standing-room-only for the next five years! I dared him to do it.”

(weakly): “Good girl.”

For Nell and Elliot, home is where the hearse is!
Good old Elliot, the world’s luckiest dope!

Yum! I've Been Given The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award!

To my surprise and delight, our own Caftan Woman has chosen me as a recipient of the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award (ISBA)! And of course, everyone, Caftan Woman can always be found at:

Following the provisos and quid-pro-quos of this delicious-looking award (suddenly I have a hankering for gluten-free strawberry shortcake!), here are the 7 Things You Lovable ISBA Folks Have Apparently Always Wanted to KnowAbout Me* 
*(but were afraid or too busy to ask! :-)

1.) I was born in New York City on June 8th, 1963 (the same year one of my favorite movies, Charade, came out), and lived back and forth in the Bronx and Manhattan until...

2.) ...I met and married my sweet, funny, devilishly clever hubby Vinnie Bartilucci, whom I met at the NYC branch of the improv group Chicago City Limits. We recently celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary and look forward to many more, not to put the whammy on it! Anyway, when Vin's job moved to PA, we moved along with it, and we've lived there for a decade now.

3.)  My colorful, lovable parents (both deceased, alas) were Jacqueline Kehoe (then Tenore, née Cherry), a vivacious model-turned-medical/legal secretary, and Peter James Tenore, a bookie-turned-restaurant manager.

4.) Before I discovered the wonderful world of blogging, Vinnie introduced me to the Internet and Amateur Press Associations (APAs) before that. For me, blogs were the writing equivalent of a gateway drug! :-)

5.) On October 30th, 1996, Vinnie and I became the proud and busy parents of Siobhan Maggie Bartilucci. As a toddler, she was diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, but to our relief and joy, Siobhan has become a smart, funny, high-functioning, high-spirited young lady with an affectionate nature, a love of animation, and excellent grades in her Inclusion classes, in a mainstream school with lots of resources for Aspies and other kids with special needs. She's a great swimmer; in fact, we like to swim together at local pools and the Y. And she's starting high school this fall! The mind boggles! :-)

6.) Some of my favorite people, living or dead (besides my friends and loved ones) include authors Donald E. Westlake, Craig Rice, Richard Prather, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler; director/producers Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, and the Coen Brothers; all-around entertainer Danny Kaye (who really deserves a renaissance); and Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody, who is not only a talented actor but also a kind, considerate person, as he proved at last year's New York Comic Con (NYCC). To make a long story short (who said "Too late"?), when Brody was doing a signing at NYCC and the lines went all kablooey, the folks running the show almost cut us out of the line for lack of time. Our fellow fans were kind enough to intervene on our behalf, and apparently Brody got wind of this, because he went out of his way to make sure we got face time and autographs even though the con folks were applying pressure. He was really sweet, even praising Siobhan for being so patient during the whole mishegoss! Such a mensch, bless him!

7.) I'm currently working with ghost editor Nicole Bokat, polishing my first novel The Paranoia Club, a witty, character-driven romantic thriller and novel of manners. Don't take my word for it, ask our own ClassicBecky! :-)  If you'd like a taste of PClub (as I've nicknamed it), I ran Chapter One on TotED a while back; feel free to check it out here:

I'm also only a couple of chapters away from finishing my second novel, Suburban Outlaws, set in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

And now for the hard part: winnowing all my favorite bloggers down to a mere 12! Without further ado, the richly-deserving ISBA Recipients:

1.) ClassicBecky's Brain Food

2.) Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

3.) MacGuffin Movies

4.) My Love of Old Hollywood

5.) Twenty-Four Frames

6.) Noir and Chick Flicks

7.) Another Old Movie Blog

8.) Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

9.) so many words

10.) Is That Really Desirable?

11.) Classic Film and TV Cafe

12.) The Girl with the White Parasol

My daughter Siobhan and my sister Cara in Florida in the Early Aughties
Now everybody go spread the love amongst your favorite 12 bloggers, prepare to share 7 fun facts about your fine selves, and go for a swim while the summer's still here! :-)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Webb Wilder, Detective and Hillbilly Noir Roots Rocker!

Whether you call him “The Last of the Full-Grown Men,” “The Idol of Idle Youth,” or an electrifying roots-rocker with a talent for deadpan comedy, Webb Wilder is The Man! We of Team Bartilucci first discovered him in 1990; how fitting that we became his fans at the beginning of a brand new decade! It all started when I noticed a TV Guide listing for A&E’s Shortstories series, with its self-proclaimed “award-winning short films from around the world.” One of the shorts that day was a 1984 film, Webb Wilder, Private Eye, a.k.a The Saucer’s Reign, written and directed by one Stephen Mims at the University of Mississippi, from a story by Mims and Robert Field. I’d never heard of it, but since I’m a sucker for any kind of detective story, and since Vinnie and I had some free time, we watched it. We were hooked from the very first scene. A lanky, bespectacled young man looks us viewers in the eye. He wears a hat looking like a fedora and a Stetson fell in love and had a baby. As he addresses us in the audience, he’s illuminated by beams of light, camera right, looking all film noir-ish in glorious black-and-white. In a sepulchral yet hilarious deadpan Southern twang that brought to mind a thin young Southern-fried Alfred Hitchcock, he tells us viewers, “I’m like that Greek hobo with the limp. You know, the one who went from Hades to Yugo-Slovakia lookin’ for an honest man. Well, I got my own quest. What it is, is I’m lookin’ for the dishonest man. I am — Webb Wilder, Private Eye.”

“Urgent,” it said. But it wasn’t the same “Urgent” as the one on all my bills…".

After a fast-paced, rockabilly-scored credit sequence in which we see Webb’s dance moves (kind of like an amazingly cool spastic dancing the Frug) and his skills at running up and down stairs while brandishing a gun, we slide on into the case of The Saucer’s Reign. In voiceover like any noir film (parody) worth its salt, our hero is retained for “fifty bucks a day,” and opts to “drop…my current case,” after which we see Webb exiting a JC Penney in security guard garb. Webb’s off to Wakefield, Mississippi with his autographed Slim Whitman photo. His client is small-town postmaster Hiwayne Suggs (Roger Brinegar), who lives in “a one-chiropractor town that seemed peaceful enough. But an ant bed is peaceful till you step in it.”

Suggs is anxious for Webb to find his mysteriously missing wife, Pristene: “Space critters, Mr. Wilder! They abducted my Sweet Thing!” Webb studies a less-than-flattering photo of Pristene: “I didn’t think even Mars needed women that bad. Pristene Suggs was unvoluptuous.” (I’m pretty sure the photo of Pristene, listed in the credits as “Herself,” is in fact a guy in drag, but you can never be sure in this unpredictable world!) Webb enlists space buff Homer Greenspan (Jimmy Daniels) to help him unravel this caper: “Homer had ‘science fair’ written all over him.” Once Hiwayne blabs on the tiny town’s party line that a UFO might be setting up light housekeeping in Wakefield, Webb and Homer find themselves wading through a sea of reporters, deception, and trailer trash as the abduction stories and media frenzy get even wilder than Webb’s last name.

Stop! In the name of Webb!
By the time it ended, we’d formed our own little Webb Wilder mini-cult around this loopy, compact little gem. We were especially impressed to see co-writer Robert Field (a.k.a. R.S. Field) and Webb himself (formerly John Webb McMurray) composed and performed the film’s hard-rockin’ soundtrack. When A&E rebroadcast The Saucer’s Reign, Vinnie and I recorded it strictly for our own amusement, and showed it to any pals we could rope into being a captive audience, turning them into Webb Wilder fans in the process. If I recall correctly, it also turned up on The USA Network’s Night Flight.

We thought that was the last we’d ever hear of our beloved Webb Wilder until my 29th birthday in 1992. We were celebrating with friends at the Manhattan branch of the popular Chicago restaurant Ed Debevic’s (anyone know if the NYC restaurant still exists?), including our pal Michael Gingold of Fangoria fame (there’s my name-drop for the day :-)). Our longtime pals Elayne and Steve showed us a then-recent issue of Psychotronic Video featuring a review of an album by Webb Wilder—the band! Apparently, while The Saucer’s Reign had been making the rounds of various TV anthology shows, Webb, R.S., and the rest of the band had formed a rockabilly group—or roots rock, as it’s called nowadays. In fact, they had just released their second album on the Zoo/Praxis label. However, John Webb McMurray had long since begun billing himself exclusively as Webb Wilder. Fine by me; after all, that’s how movie stars Gig Young and Anne Shirley got their stage names!

Before we went home that night, Vinnie and I popped into the Tower Records in Greenwich Village, and I left with two more birthday gifts: the Webb Wilder CDs Hybrid Vigor (1989) and DooDad (1991). Both were (and still are), the awesome, as we say at Team Bartilucci H.Q. We’re no music critics, but we know when a band can rock! Hybrid Vigor includes “Hittin’ Where it Hurts” and Team Bartilucci’s favorite, “Human Cannonball.” Even better, at the time the band had just put out DooDad, which included plenty of songs from their then-new movie, Horror Hayride (HH), whose many kick-butt tracks includedTough it Out,” “Sittin’ Pretty,” and amazing cover versions of “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.” Meanwhile, Zoo/Praxis’ video arm released Webb Wilder’s Corn Flicks on VHS (c’mon, you remember VHS!), giving us beaucoup bellylaughs for the buck with three short films, all set in the “swampadelic” South and directed by Steve Mims. Each story was framed by tongue-in-cheek advice to fans by either Webb or Ted Roddy, of Ted Roddy and the Backwoods Hipsters, as Special Agent Travis Byrd, renowned for being “the knuckle end of the long arm of the law” and “cool as an October breeze.” Need I say Vinnie and I caught up on the Webb Wilder CDs we’d missed? (During the summer, “Poolside” from WW’s album It Came From Nashville is in heavy rotation!)

Corn Flicks gives us the delicious feeling that our man Webb is in the middle of a series of his hillbilly noir adventures. My favorite among these great shorts is Horror Hayride, written by Field and Steve Mims. It’s set in Nashville—“Nash Vegas, if you will,” as Webb says in his inimitable voice-over. Mims and Field’s characters and the screenplay’s sly, slightly surreal wit won us over immediately. The film opens with an intriguingly foreboding farm scene that morphs into little Webb finding himself in a close encounter of the spaceman kind. No sooner is Webb startled awake from what turns out to be one of his recurring nightmares about flying saucers than the Governor of Tennessee (Dirk Van Allen) stops Webb’s "Economy with Dignity" tour bus, asking our hero to do him a solid. Seems the Governor’s lovely young daughter Kirsten (Cristina Cassin) has finally graduated from Peabody College, having taken eight years to earn a four-year degree (“Who’s counting?” Webb replies gallantly). Her first job out of school is supervising the state’s new Driver Ed film, also titled Horror Hayride. The Guv wants to make sure the film will be “more relevant to modern rural teens. You know, the muscle-car, street-sign-shootin’ set.” Seems that Webb, “the only man who commands the respect of both reckless teens and the highway patrol,” helped put a rubber stamp truck-driving school out of business, and the Governor owes Webb one. Now he’ll owe Webb two as he agrees to help the Governor and Kirsten. After all, as Webb voiceovers in his pleasantly twangy tones, “The Guv was okay, for an authority figure.”
"We don't do retail, do we, Billy C?"
“We’re gonna have to talk to Billy C.” *POW!*
Singin' songs, fightin' crime; all in a day's work for Webb Wilder and Ted Roddy!

Webb has too much to dream (last night) after Briley slips him an LSD Mickey!

Kirsten’s honey is the enigmatic Briley Parkway (Bodie Plecas) the aspiring film director helming the Driver Ed flick, much to the disgruntlement of Mr. Fry, the apoplectic director of the Driver Ed program (Webb is a hoot as he does double duty as the unbilled Fry). Hiwayne, Parkway, Driver Ed films—Mims and Field have cars on the brain! Judging from Briley’s previous art-house opus, Slugtrail, his vision as an auteur seems to be inspired by both Jean-Luc Godard and William Castle (including a decapitated model head). Webb likes Briley’s work, even if Travis doesn’t; as Webb says, “I gave it a thumb-up. Travis only offered a finger.” But why is Briley making secret visits to porno outfit Antebellum Skin, and why is Kirsten raiding her mama’s trust fund to give Briley $5,000 each week? And how are gospel singer Carlsbad Devereaux (Shane Caldwell) and Webb’s former flame, psychiatrist Dr. Barbara Slovine (Janette Friend-Harris), mixed up in all the “swampadelic, psychotronic” goings-on? Soon Webb and Travis are up to their drawls in trouble, fighting a murderous porno ring whose opuses include The South Will Rise Again and Backstage at The Grand Old Orgy. Along the way, Webb and Travis get to sing an ode to Elvis Presley, “If You Don’t Think Elvis was Number One, You’re Full of Number Two;” as Webb sternly reminds some punks during a party scene at Carlsbad’s palatial home, “If it wasn’t for fat dead ol’ Elvis, there wouldn’t’ve been a Jimi Hendrix or a Peter and Gabriel….” True to the “noir” part of HH’s hillbilly noir, Webb also gets slugged, drugged, and loved as he rekindles his romance with the lovely “Doctor Barbara,” who tries to help Webb with those recurring flying saucer nightmares; I guess he never got over his first case!

Webb's latest opus, Scattergun, at a Webb Fest near you!
The rockin’ rhythms of Webb Wilder the Band work with the tongue-in-cheek detective plot perfectly. Co-writer/director Mims provides lots of atmosphere on a low budget (filming in Nashville helped), and the film’s black-and-white look is like Ansel Adams acting as DP for a Coen Brothers movie (except for one nifty color sequence after Webb is slipped some LSD). The characters take some pleasantly unexpected turns, with acting ranging from sublime (including Webb himself, natch) to amateurish, but that's part of the film’s charm.

The Chicago Tribune
called HH “Twin Peaks with MTV thrown in the middle,” but this crazy little caper packs enough humor, plot, and action into its 36-minute running time to give David Lynch and company a run for their money. Being Southerners themselves, writers Field and Mims treat their characters with respect and affection, but they’re not afraid to poke wryly good-natured fun at themselves, as well as pretentious art movies, film noir tropes, and the country-and-Western music biz (Webb: “In Music City, even ugly girls are good-lookin’.”). The witty dialogue sings like Webb himself, and everyone gets at least one show-stealing line, like in this scene between Webb and Travis when Webb comes to after being knocked out by Antebellem Skin henchman Ike (Charles Gunning of Miller’s Crossing and Slacker, among others):
Travis: “So who adjusted your hat size?”
“Some greasy….I fell.”
“Right. Maybe next time you’ll trip on a damn .38.”
“Happens. I’m pretty clumsy.”
“Just tell me what you want on the tombstone. ‘Rock hard, sleep hard, wear glasses if you need ’em, and die stupid?’

Webb & Dr. Barbara. This case is looking up—at Elvis!

The cast of low-key comic actors does a fine job with Mims and Field’s offbeat sense of humor, and the characters are more complex than you’d expect. Webb has an amazing knack for seeming tough and geeky at the same time (in a good way!) Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing Webb Wilder live in concert in our area for Musikfest, among other venues. Even all these years later, Webb and the guys keep rocking like nobody’s business, and Webb still has those Wilder-and-wonderful dance moves and that way-cool cavern-voiced delivery. Mims and Director of Photography Brian O’Kelley prove you don’t need a big budget to create atmosphere. HH is shot in glorious black-and-white except for Webb’s LSD hallucination, in psychedelic color with hilariously, endearingly cheesy ChromaKey F/X and color-wheel lighting, accompanied by WW's awesome cover version of The Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)." If you like deadpan comedy, Dragnet, Twin Peaks, and rock ‘n’ roll Southern-style, I think you’re gonna love Horror Hayride!

Aunt Hallie vs. "old nasty disease."
After HH comes the popular festival favorite Aunt Hallie (AH). Written by Mims and Christopher Hammond, made in 1989 and getting acclaim at film festivals since 1991, AH is a comedy for today’s disease-paranoid world. Roger Brinegar of The Saucer’s Reign narrates this loopy spoof of brave disease-sufferers. The titular Aunt Hallie (Mary Gandy) finds a used condom on her lawn one day (*tsk!* Don’t people have any respect for others’ property?) Convinced that touching the condom has infected her with “Old Nasty Disease,” Aunt Hallie stoically and with dignity tries to keep from infecting her long-suffering kin by going to such daft lengths as never touching things if she can possibly avoid them (wait’ll you see what she does just to get up out of a rocking chair), and burning silverware and china cups and dishes identified as hers with Dyno labels; is that recycling, the genteel Southern way? The expressions on Aunt Hallie’s long-suffering relatives’ faces throughout the films are priceless. AH is one of the funniest stories of a self-styled martyr ever told, and well worth getting the DVD for, even if you’re not already a die-hard Webb Wilder fan!
Happily, all of these shorts and more of Steve Mims’ short films are now available on the DVD Webb Wilder’s Amazing B Picture Shorts. WW’s latest film, Scattergun, has been shown at Webb Wilder events; we live for the day it’ll be available on DVD, too. It also includes footage from Webb Fest 2006! Webb Wilder-mania starts here; won’t you help?

Heed the words of Mr. Fry, kids: "Dismemberment is not cute!"
For concert dates, DVDs, and other Webb Wilder-ness, check out the Webb site!
Vinnie Spins a Webb of his own
I have two aphorisms hanging up in my cubicle at work, Doc Savage’s Code and the Webb Wilder Credo (see above). This offers far too much insight into my mindset and philosophy.
As The Wife has said already, Horror Hayride gives you the impression that you’ve been dropped into the middle of a series of adventures, and you either pick it up as you go, or get left behind. It shares that feeling with a film about which I could (and have) go on about for hours, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension. Both films share a vibe of effortless cool, a bevy of mad characters, and a hero who can rock it with the best of them. No wonder that we tried for the longest time to write a fanfic crossover between the two.
The Saucer’s Reign is a solid laugh-fest with an amateurish air, but Horror Hayride shows what a couple years can do for a director and his actors. They had time to flesh out Webb’s history and character as well. In both stories, the cases that Webb takes on are right in line with the Nash-Vegas (if you will) mindset; Webb might be out of his league fighting Russian mobsters, but he’s right at home taking down a blue movie ring. Often, as The Three Amigos learned, it’s when you stray from the formula that things gang aft aglay.
Webb doesn’t come up North too often, but he visited our humble burg two years in a row recently, both at our big local summer event Musikfest, and at the re-opening of a local public pool and park for July Fourth. He’s still the aforementioned Electrifying Artist, and well worth your time in either live, recorded, or cinematic form. Pick up on it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Encore Presentation of THE DARK CORNER for Lucille Ball's Centennial: You Picked A Fine Time to Meet Me, Lucille

This post is being republished as part of the Loving Lucy Blogathon hosted by True Classics in honor of Lucille Ball's Centennial today, Saturday, August 6th, 2011.

Watch your step—you might trip over a spoiler or two!

At times, 20th Century-Fox’s 1946 thriller The Dark Corner (TDC) plays like a greatest-hits collection of classic 1940s suspense films, but to me, that’s part of its charm. The talents involved include: co-star Clifton Webb, again playing a witty, urbane, snobbish Manhattanite fascinated by a beautiful brunette and her portrait like Laura; The Glass Key’s co-star William Bendix, who’s always fun to watch whether he’s playing a lovable mug or, in this case, a hissable thug; and Laura’s co-screenwriter Jay Dratler, along with Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Leo Rosten of The Joy of Yiddish fame! Indeed, the versatile Rosten wrote TDC’s original 1945 Good Housekeeping serial under the nom de plume Leonard Q. Ross. Ever prolific, Rosten also wrote many other stories, novels, and movie scripts, including two of my favorites, All Through the Night (1941) and Mystery Street (1950). Even the film’s Gershwin-esque opening theme music, a piece by Alfred Newman titled "Manhattan Street Scene," had been used before, in Fox’s first neo-noir thriller I Wake up Screaming (1941). (Fun Fact: Newman's Oscar-winning family of composers includes nephew Randy Newman, another of our household faves!)

TDC’s engaging cast, sharp dialogue, and compelling plot elements work wonderfully under Henry Hathaway’s direction.Critics and audiences agreed that Lucille Ball shines in this early dramatic role of hers, long before I Love Lucy made her a comedy icon. According to both the TCM Web site and the entertaining DVD commentary by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, Hathaway was such a tough taskmaster that Ball had a nervous breakdown during the filming. It doesn’t show onscreen in her assured, appealing portrayal of smart, loyal secretary Kathleen Stewart, originally Kathleen Conley in the Good Housekeeping serial (in fact, the DVD’s package copy mistakenly identifies Kathleen’s last name in the film as Conley, not Stewart). Kathleen's falling in love with her P.I. boss, Bradford Galt (no relation to John Galt), and the feeling is mutual.

As Brad, Mark Stevens makes a fine Dick Powell-like transition from musicals to tough-guy parts. Brad’s starting out fresh in New York City after being framed for manslaughter and nearly killed in California by his corrupt ex-partner, lawyer Tony Jardine. As a favor to his Cali colleagues, local cop Lt. Reeves is keeping tabs on Galt to make sure the “impulsive youth” stays out of trouble. In the role of Reeves, fans of the March of Time newsreels will recognize Reed Hadley’s commanding speaking voice; he’s got great screen presence and a formidable air of authority. Nevertheless, it seems Brad’s past is coming back to haunt him. When Brad catches a big lug (Bendix) on his tail wearing a white suit (who does he think he is, Roy Scheider in Last Embrace?), he’s shocked when the guy claims Tony Jardine hired him. The plot thickens as vulnerable but determined Brad sets out to see if Tony’s aiming to finish what he started out west.

"Working conditions are certainly looking up around here." And how!
Meanwhile, on the swankier side of the city, art dealer/collector Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb) drums up business for his posh art gallery and celebrates his third wedding anniversary at an elegant party for about a hundred of his closest friends and loved ones, including his beautiful young wife, Mari (Cathy Downs, who played the title role in My Darling Clementine and became the future wife of The Amazing Colossal Man). Hardy jokes that as a couple, Mari and Hardy are “the perfect picture of Beauty and the Beast,” though Mari charmingly disagrees. A close friend of the Cathcarts joins the celebration—none other than Tony Jardine himself (Kurt Kreuger, who excelled at playing smooth-talking Nazis and other shady Continental types), who’s apparently moved his law practice to The Big Apple! But Tony himself is still a bad apple, seducing and blackmailing vulnerable women of means.

"Beauty" Mari & "Beast" Hardy celebrate their 3rd anniversary. Tradition says leather is the gift of choice. Who'd have thought the Cathcarts were into leather?
We also find that Hardy’s burning love for Mari is like his passion for his paintings; he sees her and everything in his lavish home as treasured possessions. “I never want you to grow up,” Hardy coos to Mari as they waltz at the party. “You should remain ageless, like a Madonna, who lives and breathes and smiles, and belongs to me.” How’s that for an unsettling bit of sweet talk? Later, Hardy proudly unveils his newest acquisition, a painting he’s been obsessed with for years: a 19th-century portrait of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Mari. It’s no coincidence: Hardy admits that when he met Mari after coveting the portrait for so long, “I felt as if I had always known her—and wanted her.” Although Hardy keeps Mari in the lap of luxury, the novelty of this marriage-cum-ownership is wearing off for his restless young wife. She and Hardy even have separate bedrooms (what did she expect with Clifton Webb and the Production Code?). No wonder Mari has the hots for Tony, unaware he’s a blackmailing gigolo. The script and Downs’s portrayal show Mari in a sympathetic light throughout TDC.  At a rendezvous with Tony at his luxe bachelor pad, Mari tells him, “Tony, I tried. I made a bad bargain, and I tried to stick it out with him, but I just keep sitting, listening to his paintings crack with age.” With the conflicting emotions flitting across Tony’s face as Mari gets more insistent that they run away together, we viewers can almost hear him thinking, “What about my career? How will I keep my seduction-and-extortion racket going after she dumps her rich husband to marry me?”  But that’s the least of their problems when these worlds of high society and low crime finally collide, as Hardy uses trickery and White Suit’s strong-arm tactics to fit Brad for a frame and Tony for a pine box.

"Whaddaya mean musical stars
can't play tough guys?!"
To complicate matters further, Brad can be his own worst enemy at times, especially since Tony’s near-fatal double-cross shook Brad’s confidence in himself, leaving him prone to drinking and despair. Good thing Kathleen always thinks on her feet when trouble rears its nasty head. She has a knack for dragging Brad out of his periodic pity parties and helping him focus on clearing himself while also rebuilding his shattered confidence. If you ask me, Kathleen is underpaid! The chemistry between Ball and Stevens deliciously blends banter, tenderness, and sexual smolder. Though Kathleen deftly keeps Brad from going all the way because she “plays for keeps,” the lovebirds still get into some pretty hot kissing, especially in a great scene showing the couple reflected in a mirror as they embrace.

A murder frame-up is no laughing matter to Lucille Ball and Mark Stevens

I like the whole “haves” vs. “have-nots” element running through TDC, with little details like the running gag about Brad scoring nylon stockings for Kathleen, and the crucial clue Brad gets from the slide-whistle-playing urchin (the uncredited Colleen Alpaugh) in White Suit’s building. Keep an eye out for two other uncredited but memorable character actors: Minerva Urecal, best known to Team Bartilucci as Mother in the 1960 season of TV's Peter Gunn and the harridan who gets briefly turned to stone in The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), playing one of Brad’s clients; and Douglas Spencer of The Thing from Another World as one of several deli customers gawking as Brad almost becomes a hit-and-run victim. In one scene between Hardy and White Suit, there’s this highbrow-to-lowbrow translation that always cracks me up as Hardy instructs White Suit to phone Brad and trick him into a deadly rendezvous:
Hardy (whispering to White Suit):
“Tell him you need two-hundred dollars to leave town.”

White Suit (to Brad on phone):

“I need two yards, powder money!”
If White Suit thinks he'll be living
The Life of Riley, he's got another think coming!

Getting back to clues, I love that something as prosaic as dry cleaning helps our heroes crack the case!  Another nice bit: Brad is dropping Kathleen off at the movies near his apartment, where he’s going to face off with White Suit. Worried, Kathleen pouts, “I never thought I’d have to beg you to take me up to your apartment.” Brad replies, with a grin, “You’ve been there...” The box office gal (Mary Field from Dark Passage and Ball of Fire, though she's an uncredited scene-stealer here) has the most priceless look on her face as she strains to hear the rest of the conversation!
TDC has plenty of superb writing and acting woven skillfully through the film noir tropes. I particularly liked this wonderful emotional scene between Hardy and Mari a little over an hour into the film, in which the couple talks around their marital situation in that “friend of a friend” way. Hardy reveals that Tony (who’s been murdered by now, unbeknownst to Mari, who’d planned to run off with Tony that very night), has been dallying with rich women, including Lucy Wilding (Molly Lamont from The Awful Truth and Scared to Death), who we (but not Mari) saw Tony blackmailing earlier. Mari doesn’t want to hear it:

Mari (near tears): “It’s not true! He’s always loathed her.”
“He loathed her rather intimately, I’m afraid.”
“But he couldn’t! I mean, she’s too old for him.”
The distraught Mari rushes off to her bed, her figure shown off lusciously yet tastefully by the light shining through her filmy negligee (thanks to ace Director of Photography Joe MacDonald, amping up the moody film noir feel with his beautifully stark use of shadows and light) as she slips under the covers. Hardy’s expression is both cold and wounded. “Love is not the exclusive province of adolescents, my dear,” he says quietly. “It’s a heart ailment that strikes all age groups, like my love for you. My love for you is the only malady I’ve contracted since the usual childhood diseases—and it’s incurable.”

There’s a bracing street feeling to TDC’s periodic outbursts of brutal-for-the-era violence. None of this Marquis of Queensbury rules stuff—the combatants really clobber each other! Even Hardy commits a murder so sudden and shocking that I gasped in spite of myself. White Suit’s ambush in Brad’s apartment even has a touch of (unintentional?) humor; watch William Bendix’s head, and you'll see his toupee come loose, hanging onto his scalp by a thread!

The film was shot in both NYC and L.A., but it all looks convincingly like Manhattan. The NYC second-unit work is especially good, including shots of the Third Avenue El and an exciting car chase. In addition to the nifty commentary track, the DVD’s extras include swell vintage trailers for TDC and other Fox crime flicks. If you love films noir but don't have time to sit down and give all your favorites your undivided attention, watching TDC is the next best thing!