Seven more movies

Murder by Contract is the must-see movie of the week.

Maybe of the month.

♦ ♦ ♦

Armageddon (1998)

This is a Touchstone picture, so it’s Disney; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, so it’s schlock; and directed by Michael Bey, so it’s mega-schlock. I came into this expecting it to be stupid, but hoping for stupid fun, like Independence Day.

In the first few minutes, an old white man treats his wife like crap and it’s supposed to be cute, a jive-talking black man is revealed to love his dog, and things are already blowing up without explanation. Not even ten minutes into this, the Empire State Building has toppled, and already I'm bored. 

That’s when I noticed that this movie is two and a half hours long, and turned it off.

♦ ♦ ♦

High School Caesar (1960)

Teenage hoodlums, all white in an all-white movie, wreak havoc as teenage boys often do. There are monstrous kids like this in any and every high school, but they do more damage and violence than this sanitized version, and they usually don’t get their comeuppance in the end.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Murder by Contract (1958)

This is an absolutely airtight crime drama, with Vince Edwards (before Ben Casey) as an ice-chilled killer-for-hire.

Like an art house picture, it's very atmospheric, with several long stretches that have no dialogue, but when these characters have something to say, the words are a stab in the gut. Fear no gore, though — despite being basically the biopic of a murderer, there’s only one killing shown on screen.

Simply a masterpiece, it's a reminder of how terrific movies can be, and I’m startled that I’d never seen it or even heard of it before.

The movie also boasts a splendid minimalist musical score, composed by Perry Botkin Sr, and performed by Botkin alone on a guitar.

Memorable moments:

• The job interview (who knew hit-men had job interviews?)
• Waiting for a train in California
• Seeing the sights in Los Angeles
• Every scene with the killer’s two nervous handlers in L.A.
• The killer’s conversation with the hotel worker
• The drunk woman painting her living room
• Conversation in the convertible, about the philosophy of killing

♦ ♦ ♦

Murder by Invitation (1941)
YES — 

The story starts with rich old lady in court, charged with incompetence by her relatives, who are itching to gain control of her fortune. She is clearly not unbalanced, but after being found of sound mind, she invites everyone in the family — even those who wanted her institutionalized — to visit her home … with instructions to arrive at midnight.

According to IMDB, this is supposed to be at least partially a comedy, or perhaps a satire of Agatha Christie. There are certainly some laughs, but taking it seriously instead, it’s an involving, intelligent albeit kinda cockeyed murder mystery with a light touch.

Memorable moments:

• Eccentric Aunt Cassie
• The walls have eyes
• “Fat people seldom commit murder.” (Ooh, I have an alibi!)
• “If these murders don’t stop I’m never going to get that car greased.”
• The bonfire
• The preposterous surprise ending

♦ ♦ ♦

Rain (1932)

This is based on the same depressing short story by W Somerset Maugham as the 1953 movie Miss Sadie Thompson, which I saw a few years ago. In this version it’s Joan Crawford, in that one it’s Rita Hayworth, but I soon recognized the same story. Crawford is happy and maybe a hooker — she’s delightful here — but she’s dealing with people who judge her harshly for lack of virtue.

Maugham's point is that too much morality is itself immoral, and of course he's right, and also of course if you haven’t seen this movie you probably should. It's very well made, and I'm sure the critics raved, and they're probably still raving. It’s damned bleak, though, and dispiriting to see Crawford’s character having a good time, and know the movie won’t let her get away with it.

♦ ♦ ♦

Seven in Darkness (1969)

This is a TV movie about a bunch of blind people traveling to a blind people’s convention, but their plane crashes in the woods and everyone on board who isn’t blind is killed. Blind Lesley Ann Warren pulls a guitar out of nowhere and sings. Blind Arthur O’Connell flirts with blind Dina Merrill. Blind Barry Nelson plays a shrink, specializing in counseling for blind patients. Blind Alejandro Rey worries about his blind, pregnant wife. Blind Milton Berle is generally obnoxious and overacts like it’s a comedy sketch. Blind Sean Garrison, a hunk I’d never heard of, is elected leader of the bunch.

By my count, that adds up to eight blind characters, not seven, so even the title makes no sense. 

The men squabble like men always do, and the women mostly just smile, though there's no-one but the camera to see. There are long, dramatic conversations between characters you won’t care about. Toward the end, there’s the only scene I’d remembered from watching this on TV when I was a boy — the blind leading the blind across a rotted railroad bridge.

Little-kid me liked this movie, and that's why grown-up me sought it out to see it again. It is extremely awful, though.

♦ ♦ ♦

Stagecoach (1939)

You've seen this movie, right? Nobody who loves movies should answer that question with a no. 

Nine strangers are riding a stagecoach together through hostile native territory. Ribbit-voiced Andy Devine as the stagecoach driver, George Bancroft as the marshal, Claire Trevor as a prostitute made unwelcome by the ‘better’ ladies of the town, John Carradine as gambler who’s supposed to be a Southern gentleman but gave me the creeps, with a drunkard doctor, a wimpy whiskey salesman, a pregnant high-society lady, a cranky banker, and John Wayne as the Ringo Kid, a murderer who’s escaped from prison and is being escorted to justice by the marshal.

It’s a pretnear perfect old-time western, directed by the great John Ford, and filmed in the southwest's famed Monument Valley. John Wayne gets second billing, for the last time in his career.

Please don’t mistake this for either of two unnecessary and inferior movies with the same title, one starring Red Buttons and Ann-Margaret, and the other with a cast of country stars including Johnny & June Carter Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson.

Memorable moments:

• “There are worse things than Apaches”
• The vote — should we go on, or turn back?
• John Wayne and Claire Trevor at the fence
• Crossing the river without a ferry
• A toast to your health.
• The shootout, of course
• Taking the mirror off the wall
• The next shootout, of course
• And the hokey but eye-watering end


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  1. You didn't miss anything by skipping Armageddon. I saw it years ago, probably drunk or stoned, and it was still awful.

    Funny anecdote:

    "In a clip from the DVD commentary track going viral on Twitter, Affleck recalls that he asked Bay, "Why is it easier to train oil drillers to become astronauts than to train astronauts to become oil drillers?"

    He told me to shut the f--- up. So that was the end of that talk. He was like, 'You know, Ben. Just shut up, okay? This is the real [NASA] plan, alright?' I was like, 'You mean it's a real plan at NASA to train oil drillers?' He was like, 'Just shut your mouth!'"


    1. That clip is frickin' funny, Captain.

      I thought Armageddon was a big hit, and a big hit ought to have *something* good about it ... Guess not.

    2. It was a pretty big hit - over 200 million, which was saying something 23 years ago. But you and I both know that there are some bullshit "big hits."

  2. I love it when you love a movie, it ususally means I'll love it too. I watched MURDER BY CONTRACT this afternoon and it was amazing, blew me away. Thank you.

    1. Yay — I love it when I can turn someone toward a good movie. Thanks for letting me know.


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