Seven more movies

Call Northside 777 (1948)
YES — 

free at YouTube 

There’s been a speakeasy murder in Chicago, and the man convicted of the crime adamantly denies that he done the deed. James Stewart is the reporter looking into what happened. Stewart has such a nice-guy image, though, it’s hard believing him as a cynical reporter. Lee J Cobb as his boss, though, is terrific.

I’m guessing this was one of the first movies to show a lie detector test, just from how slow and thoroughly re-explained the test scene is. And later, similarly, something akin to a fax is sent, and it’s treated like it’s science fiction.

All through the story, the bureaucracy seems much more interested in its bureaucracy than in justice, so it’s quite realistic. As the evidence accumulates, suggestion police misconduct, there’s an unintentionally hilarious scene where a Chicago cop describes his force as “the best police department in the country” — Chicago cops, of course, are famous for brutality and corruption, then and now.

It’s based on a true story, and nobody should be surprised — cop corruption dates back as far as cops. What raised my eyebrow, though, is just how shitty a reporter Jimmy Stewart is, by present-day standards of serious or objective journalism. Here’s the lede he turns in, after a key witness refuses to recant her testimony:

Wanda Skutnik, ignorant and unreliable key witness in the Wiecek case, was finally found today and arrogantly refused to alter her false identification of Frank Wiecek. This evil, heartless, and corrupt woman showed no vestige of human decency.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fear in the Night (1946)
YES —  

Amazon •  free on torrent

A man has a nightmare, and awakens injured from a fight in the dream. Well, that’s wacky.

This movie landed on my list because I’ve always like DeForest Kelley in the original Star Trek, and this was his big break — a leading role in a low-budget flick 20 years before he was Dr McCoy. It’s far-fetched but mesmerizing, with a wordy conclusion. “I’ve got an honest man’s conscience in a murderer’s body.”

Remade ten years later as Nightmare, below.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fear in the Night (1972)
YES —   

free on torrent 

Never heard of this, and chanced upon it only because it has the same title as the movie I wanted, above, so why the heck not give it a gander? Well, because it stars Joan Collins, and I always found her not merely uninteresting but often repulsive. Don’t ask me why; I just don’t like her. The movie is half over before Collins pops up, though, and here she’s supposed to be creepy and evil, and really pulls it off.

Judy Geeson stars, playing a young woman who’s been attacked (non-sexually), but her husband tells her it must’ve been her imagination. Peter Cushing is dashing but clearly dangerous.

I’m the biggest old-movie buff I know, but I haven’t seen many Hammer Films. That’s a British studio, famous for their horror and gothic ambiance movies in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, most with Cushing and/or Christopher Lee. 

This one’s a Hammer, but what I like is that all there are no supernatural or occult elements. All the horror comes from humans, which is of course how reality works. We make up the most monstrous ghouls and goblins and horror stories, but we’ll never see any living thing as dangerous and deadly as each other.

♦ ♦ ♦

Martian Child (2007)
YES — 

Amazon •  free on torrent

When I was reading science fiction as my main hobby, decades ago, David Gerrold was one of my favorite authors. His The Man Who Folded Himself is, in my opinion, one of (or maybe just THE) best time travel sci-fi novel.

Gerrold is why I was interested in this; it's based on a novel that was quite a departure for him, the lightly fictionalized story of his adoption of a very troubled young boy.

Gerrold is gay, and so’s his protagonist in the novel, but the movie makes him straight. This pisses me off. Some suit thought making the change — and giving him a pretty woman as a love interest — would sell more tickets, but the movie bombed anyway. Some choices are dumb choices, and straightening out David Gerrold was a dumb choice.

After that, though, the movie makes mostly smart moves, and it’s fairly faithful to the book, with a story worth telling. The kid Gerrold adopts keeps saying he’s from Mars, and he seems to believe it so fervently even the audience suspects it might be true. Is he really a Martian? I’ll never tell.

John and Joan Cusack are in the movie together, both splendid as always. It has Amanda Peet, who’s fine as the unnecessary romantic spark, and Sophie Okonedo, who memorably played the Queen of England in one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, and Oliver Platt, one of my favorite character actors from his era. There’s even itty-bitty bits of Howard Hesseman and Angelica Huston.

Three more things: First, turn up the volume, cuz much of this movie is whispered. Second, bear in mind that it’s a movie about parenting, so expect schmaltz. And lastly, the conclusion is ridiculous, and Child Protective Services would take the kid into custody, but it’s just a Hollywood happy ending.

♦ ♦ ♦

Mute (2018)

 Netflixfree on torrent

A mute bartender works in a flashy future strip club where everyone’s a pretentious punk, and he’s looking for his missing ladyfriend. Paul Rudd plays a huge-mustachioed mob-connected surgeon who’s an unrelenting ass, but ‘unrelenting ass’ seems to be a common trait in this sci-fi future. Everyone’s repulsive, either physically or by their behavior, and I was annoyed almost immediately.

Forced myself to give it another half hour, though, because the movie came from Duncan Jones, director of the excellent Moon and Source Code. I made it through the boring bowling scene, but after the male Geisha and the fucking robots, my 45-minute sentence was up.

♦ ♦ ♦

Nightmare (1956)
YES —  

 Amazonfree on torrent

A man has a nightmare, and awakens injured from a fight in the dream. Well, that’s wacky.

This movie landed on my list because I’ve always like Kevin McCarthy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but never seen him in anything else. It’s far-fetched but mesmerizing, with a wordy conclusion.

The entire undertaking is an almost word-for-word and scene-for-scene remake of Fear in the Night (1946), above. McCarthy is better than DeForest Kelley, and Edward G Robinson as his brother-in-law completely kicks the ass of whoever played the brother-in-law in the original. There’s too much lounge singing, but the movie is borderline excellent. 

“I know you love the guy. I love him too. But you gotta admit he’s a screwball.”

♦ ♦ ♦

The Strawberry Statement (1970)
NO —  

 Amazonfree on torrent, with Russian subtitles

Student protests in the 1960s get the Hollywood treatment, with Bruce Davison and Kim Darby. Davison is younger than I’ve ever seen him, and only interested in the activism because he has a thing for Darby, and who wouldn’t? She’s part of the crew that’s taken over the university president’s office, and the movie gives her second billing, but it’s surprising how little she’s given by the script. 

There’s leftist politics, and it’s chaotic, like the real era probably was. In the movie I often wasn’t sure what was going on, which, again, is probably authentic, but it’s frustrating. Gotta love the idea, the memory, of people standing up for something, and willing to do more than merely carry placards. Anything about the hippie era makes me wish I was ten years older, so I could’ve been a part of it, but then again if I was ten years older I’d be dead.

The movie’s cops are extremely well-behaved, the opposite of realistic then or now. The police get violent toward the end, but it seems to be only because protesters hadn’t yet invented the tactic of going limp. Instead, every one of the good guys fights like they’re about to be executed, when in the movie’s reality, they’re just going to be put politely in a paddy-wagon. 

It’s earnest, meandering and overly staged, not quite bad but it should’ve been better. Much of it is a mess of quick cuts and handheld shots, the symbolism of Davison being on the upper-crust rowing team gets tiresome, and much of the movie is not merely hamfisted, it’s whole-pork-fisted. The music, though, is the greatest hits off my perpetual playlist. Damn, I wanted to like The Strawberry Statement more than I did.



  1. I'll have to see Fear in the Night but I haven't decided which one.

    When do you have the time to see so many movies?

    1. If you're only allowed one Fear in the Night, I recommend the remake, Nightmare. Is that cheating?

      Cheating is how I see a lot of movies — they're on one screen, while I'm on the other, 'working'.

  2. "We make up the most monstrous ghouls and goblins and horror stories, but we’ll never see any living thing as dangerous and deadly as each other."

    Painfully true.


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