Rockin' Metropolis, Trouble in Paradise, and five other movies

City of Missing Girls (1931)

Dozens of 'girls' — women who work as showgirls or dancers — have been murdered, and the district attorney is looking for someone to prosecute. The newspaper is looking for another sensational headline, and their star reporter is a tough-talking dame who pesters the DA at a coffee shop. When he doesn't give her the info she wants, she pours about a pound of sugar into his cup "to sweeten your disposition."

That coffee shop, by the way, is called Ptomaine Annie's. I've never before seen or heard the word 'ptomaine' unless the next word is 'poisoning'.

Google says ptomaine is a dated term from chemistry, meaning "any of a group of amine compounds of unpleasant taste and odor formed in putrefying animal and vegetable matter and formerly thought to cause food poisoning." Seems odd that a coffee shop, even a fictional one, would be called Ptomaine Annie's. I'm guessing it was intended as a joke.

The Neverending
Film Festival

Anyway, this movie is a collection of cop movie tropes, but it's 1931 so none of them were really tropes yet. There's the ancient cop who should've retired years ago, but can't quit until he jails the slimy bad guy. There's the nightclub owner offering a bribe to the DA. There's the distinguished-looking family man with a mysterious connection to one of the dead women.

It's a very early talkie so there's barely a soundtrack, just a single tinny organ playing overwrought melodramatic notes that can't be taken seriously in our time. The men all wear fancy suits or tuxedos, the bad girls chew gum, the nightclub acts are ridiculous, and the guy playing the District Attorney shouldn't even be an off-Broadway understudy.

I fell asleep halfway through this movie, but that's on me — I'm old and often snooze unintentionally. When I woke up and watched the parts I'd slept through, before and after nap time it adds up to a pretty good old-time flick.

There are occasional moments of genuine drama, some believable performances, and there's one excellent bit of dialogue which I shan't recount here, because I'm planning to plagiarize it at the right moment in my life and/or writing.

Verdict: YES to the movie, NO to the ptomaine.

♦ ♦ ♦

Crack-Up (1946) 

At a museum lecture, the hoi polloi laugh at a piece of surreal modern art, though it's clearly the best piece on display. After that, the movie devolves into a train wreck about a train wreck that never happened and something about corruption at the museum. For no apparent reason, many of the movie's conversations are whispered.

I watch films to be entertained, and occasionally to be challenged or think, or some such. None of that happened here, so my mind wandered, and the wandering was so much better than the movie that I never came back.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Eat the Rich (1987) 

Between this movie's very British politics and accents and its surreal spin on every scene, almost none of this made sense to me. Instead of a movie, it's a collection of overacted comedy sketches that work for a moment of grouchy ambiance, or don't, and then we're on to the next.

Eventually a plot emerges, with Lanah Pellay as wait staff at a very expensive and decadent restaurant named Bastards, until they're fired, and soon homeless. Befriended by an old white bum, the two of them rob a welfare office, launching a rampage toward revolution with the help of a ragtag crew of anarchists with arrows.

"Hi, we're starting a people's uprising. Do you fancy joining us?"

"Yes, I'd love to. Me and some mates have been meaning for years to get into armed rebellion, but you know how it is — you go into a pub, start talking treason, and all they want to do is play darts."

Music by Motörhead, and Lammy is on screen, with a few glimpses of Robbie Coltrane. Nosher Powell is thoroughly unlikable as a vulgar and brutish Home Secretary, and his wife is only slightly less awful, but they're the bad guys so that's to be expected. All in all, this movie is a mess that has its moments.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988)

Blade Runner was his most famous movie, but Rutger Hauer was a top notch actor long before becoming a psychotic replicant. Here he's a Polish coal miner in exile, homeless in Paris, who, despite sleeping under bridges, lives his life as a gentleman.

It's a movie, so he's the recipient of an unexpected kindness from a stranger — cash enough for a haircut, shave, and a meal. During the meal, another stranger offers him a job. And his streak of good fortune continues — he gets frisky with an old ladyfriend, finds a thousand francs, chances upon an old classmate who's well off and generous. How long can a bum's luck hold out?

It's based on a story by Joseph Roth. Google tells me he was a Jewish writer who fled from Germany, drank heavily, and lived and died in Paris. Life is short so I probably won't read the original story nor track down anything else by Roth, but I'm positive I'd enjoy it if I did.

Europe is vastly different from America, both in reality and in the movies, so brace yourself. The Legend of the Holy Drinker is very soft-spoken — a long look instead of a quick cut, a smile instead of a kiss, an ellipsis instead of an exclamation point. There's not much dialogue, no action to speak of, but don't be fooled — lots is going on here. Hey, put down your cell and stop surfing the web. It's a film that requires and the rewards your attention.

It's mostly in English, but occasionally switches languages, and my pirated print had no subtitles. but these moments are few and brief, and easy to translate without a translation. It's not a wordy movie anyway, in any language. Most of the script is spoken by people's eyes and expressions.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Metropolis (1927/1984)

Fritz Lang's Metropolis is arguably the best pre-sound film, visually and philosophically astounding.

It's set a century in the future — 2026, and we're almost there — in a capitalist society where the rich control everything and the workers are worked to death. A son of money falls for the daughter of a worker, but she's conscripted to become the template — and face — of a terrifying new worker robot.

I've seen Metropolis half a dozen times, and never yet been bored. If you haven't seen it, you should, and you can find it easily enough, on YouTube or the Internet Archive

More difficult to find is this particular version, made in the 1980s by Giorgio Moroder (!), but here it is. Parts of the original film had been lost, but it's reassembled in as complete a form as possible, the spectacular imagery cleaned up and tinted to match each scene's mood, and with the original's intertitles retyped as subtitles so it moves along a bit more quickly. And because he's Giorgio Moroder, music was added.

The music was intended to make the movie more accessible to modern audiences, but as I remember, movie purists were offended, and complained that a silent classic had become basically a rock opera. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I think his version of Metropolis is widely held to be one of Moroder's big failures.

Some of the music sucks, no argument there, but most of it's inoffensive 1980s rock (Adam Ant, Freddie Mercury, etc) and some of it's actually good (Pat Benatar, Bonnie Tyler, and the score by Moroder). When I first saw this version, and again with yesterday's rewatch, my opinion is that they succeeded — the music makes the movie more accessible. 

Fritz would approve, I think.

Verdict: BIG YES, with or without the music.

♦ ♦ ♦

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

An extremely snooty society woman is revealed to be a thief, impersonating and targeting the wealthy. Soon, one of the wealthy gentlemen she's stolen from is also revealed to be a thief. Naturally, these thieves fall in love, and that's just the movie's first fifteen minutes.

Often hilarious and almost entirely delightful, it's directed by Ernest Lubesch, and stars Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall as the thieves. "I came here to rob you, but unfortunately I fell in love with you."

And "Marriage is a beautiful mistake that two people make together." 

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

Nicolas Cage plays Nicolas Cage, a character I sure hope is fictionalized. He's narcissistic, a lousy father, watches his old movies for fun, and he's near bankruptcy. With the benefit of not entirely-successful face-warping technology, Cage also plays a supporting role as young Nicolas Cage.

Deep in debt and hard up for roles, the elder Cage accepts a million-dollar offer to attend some rich Spanish guy's party. Turns out rich Spanish guy may or may not be a boss of organized crime who's kidnapped some politician's daughter, and Nic Cage may or may not be forced into ridiculous movie-style heroics.

I was pretty sure this movie would be really, really stupid, and it is, but it's also not. It's a parody of stupid movies, and of action movies, buddy movies, and Nicolas Cage movies. Almost every joke is a joke only because it's Nicolas Cage and thus preposterous, but there's no denying it's funny. I laughed out loud at least a dozen times even before Cage said, "Aw, fuck it," and dropped acid.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is not a comedy for the ages, but who has ages? It's amusing now.

Verdict: YES.

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There's a growing list of foreign movies I'd like to watch to re-watch — flicks from Wild Strawberries to Trollhunter — but subtitles don't come through when I'm illegally downloading. Any good advice, other than "Pay for it, ya cheapskate" or "Learn Swedish"? I'd settle for English dubbing, but even that's hard to find.

— — —

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. Wild Strawberries:


    Click on the CC for subtitles.

    1. I wasn't clear enough. The subtitles are there while I'm streaming movies at the library, but CC on or CC off, if I download a movie to view at home, the subtitles aren't there.


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