Monday, August 18, 2008

The Doberman Did It :: A Beergut Reaction to They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)

They Only Kill Their Masters (1972) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / P: William Belasco / AP: Barry Mendelson / D: James Goldstone / W: Lane Slate / C: Michel Hugo / E: Edward A. Biery / M: Perry Botkin Jr. / S: James Garner, Katharine Ross, Hal Holbrook, Harry Guardino, Tom Ewell, Peter Lawford, June Allyson

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Childhood's End :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Sam Wood's King's Row (1942)

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

A good town.
A good clean town.
A good town to live in.
And a good place to raise your children.
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

And so reads the sign welcoming visitors and viewers to King's Row; a small mid-western town at the turn of the last century America. Maybe it is a good place, but maybe it's not as we're presented evidence to the contrary by following the lives of five such children -- Parris Mitchell, Cassie Tower, Randy Monoghan, Louise Gordon and Drake McHugh -- as they grow up, grow apart, and discover the truth when they come back together; that underneath the shiny veneer of small town idyllic life, things are pretty damn ugly underneath...

Okay, I know the film eventually has a happy ending, but, man, was this thing ever depressing to sit through. From the opening gut-punch of no one attending poor Cassie's birthday party, to her murder, to the brutal, and totally unnecessary, amputation of McHugh's legs by a vengeful doctor, could it get any worse? Don't get me wrong, the film is fascinating and really quite good despite it's, for lack of a better word, perverse and melancholy tone.

Based on Henry Belleman's novel of a small town's dirty secrets -- insanity, nymphomania, incest and sadism -- director Sam Wood and scriptwriter Casey Robinson do a pretty good job of adapting this lurid story in such a way that it not only keeps the melodramatic elements from spitting the bit, cinematically speaking, but also appeases the draconian Hayes Code rather deftly by keeping the majority of those elements in; and frankly, I think the film has one of the better uses of a violent thunderstorm as euphemism for s-e-x -- good enough that even though it couldn't have been more obvious, I didn't find myself giggling at the obviousness.

Acting wise, Robert Cummings is great as Parris, the wide-eyed hero; and Betty Field is equally impressive as the doomed Cassie. It's odd to see Maria Ouspenskaya out of her gypsy duds as Cumming's' benevolent grandmother, and even odder to see Charles Coburn shake his old fudd routine and play an outright bastard of a zealot. And give Reagan some credit, too; he was pretty good as the cad about town, McHugh; and even better when tragedy hits him hard. All politics and monkey movies aside, I knew the guy could act after watching him as the villain in Don Siegel's remake of The Killers. All of it adds up to pretty good drama that doesn't overstay it's daunting 128 minute screen-time.

King's Row (1942) First National Picture :: Warner Bros. / P: Hal B. Wallis / AP: David Lewis / D: Sam Wood / W: Casey Robinson, Henry Bellamann (novel) / C: James Wong Howe / E: Ralph Dawson / M: Erich Wolfgang Korngold / S: Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Betty Field, Claude Rains, Maria Ouspenskaya, Charles Coburn
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...