Mitchum as Marlowe,
and five more movies

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Terry Gilliam's first masterpiece, this is a story that unfolds like a dream, as the legendary liar Baron von Munchausen describes his escapades and adventures. It's corny, spectacular, and it's all true.

"Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash, and I am delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."

Lots of yelling and explosions, confusion, big and little impossibilities, and some great set-piece camera shots. The whole thing is a visual wonder, but unlike Gilliam's Time Bandits there's enough amusing dialogue to keep your ears and brain entertained as well.

This was Uma Thrumon's big break, but for me the most impressive work is by Sarah Polley as the face of childhood (she's gone on to have an interesting career as a grown-up, too). Eric Idle in irons, dancing on air with Uma, marvelous bits by Jonathan Pryce, Sting, and Robin Williams as King of Everything. Oliver Reed plays fat, sweaty, and swarthy (the only role he ever played, to my knowledge). John Neville as Munchausen is the only ingredient which grows tiresome, but only briefly, before something else spectacular or ridiculous happens. 

"He won't get far on hot air and fantasy."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Europa Report (2012)

The Europa One mission was supposed to be mankind's first voyage into deep space, investigating the long-shot possibility that life forms might exist under the ice on Europa, one of the moons of Venus.

Something went wrong, though. Farther from Earth than any humans in history, communication was interrupted and never restored. What happened to the astronauts remains a mystery, which this movie unravels.

It's smart, thrilling, feels real-ish, and builds toward an ending that doesn't disappoint but doesn't answer every question (that's a good thing, sometimes).

The script (Phillip Gelatt) is long on tech-speak, but everyone feels human, and refreshingly, they skip the genre-standard that someone on the crew has to be an ass. It's exactly the kind of brainy but plausible sci-fi I like, and better than most, and it's ten years old, so how come I'd never heard of Europa Report?

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Farewell My Lovely (1975) and The Big Sleep (1978)

Robert Mitchum plays Raymond Chandler's private eye Philip Marlowe, and he's tired, impatient and grumpy, smart and smart-ass. He's getting old, and he's had enough of your crap. You get the impression Mitchum is playing himself, but it's a great fit for the role.

"She was giving me the kind of look I could feel in my hip pocket."

In Farewell My Lovely, a big guy (bigger even than Mitchum) is looking for his one-time girlfriend. From such a straightforward beginning, the story goes in billions and billions of different directions.

"Well, hooray," says Marlowe at the climax, "now it all makes sense," and then he helpfully explains the details we've already seen, and he's right, now it makes sense. 

That's Chandler for ya. I went on a pulp kick some years back, and read all the genre classics, including a shelf full of Marlowe. Both movies feel like the books — they're fun and atmospheric and hard to follow.

What's to follow, though? You don't need to leave a trail of bread crumbs, and you don't need to understand it. Sit back and let Mitchum do the work.

In The Big Sleep, the story is surprisingly set in England. The book was set in L.A., but London is more photogenic. It doesn't matter, though.

A wealthy old man not long for this world (James Stewart) hires Marlowe to handle a matter of some low-price blackmail, because "If I pay this, how many more will turn up?"

Stewart's character has two full-grown daughters, both of whom want into Mitchum's pants. Hell, I want into Mitchum's pants, and you will, too.

Sarah Miles is the older daughter, and Candy Clark plays the younger as not merely precocious, but perhaps mildly retarded, an interpretation which hadn't occurred to me reading the book or when Martha Vickers played her opposite Bogey in '46. Joan Collins and Oliver Reed are here, too, playing their stock characters as annoyingly as always. Richard Boone is a wrinkled and reptilian baddie.

"I told you when I first met you, lady. I'm a detective. I work at it, I don't play at it."

Chandler was too lurid for the movies in the 1930s or '40s, so when they filmed him, they tamed him. In the 1970s the movies finally caught up, allowing the appropriate level of sleaze. Mitchum walks right out of the books and onto the screen — he couldn't be better. Too bad he only played Marlowe in these two movies.

Verdict: YES and YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Finger Man (1955)

Out of thousands of movies available for streaming and downloads, I picked this one solely because of its amusing title that sounds like porn, but nobody gets fingered except Forest Tucker from F Troop.

Mere seconds after the standard "everything's fictitious" small-print legal disclaimer in the opening credits, a voiceover tells us the story we're about to see is true. I'm skeptical, but also who cares? It's a good story. If I wanted "true" I'd watch a documentary.

Piano-playing low-level hood Casey Martin (Frank Lovejoy) is facing life in prison for his fourth conviction on a "meatball charge," unless he agrees to go undercover and get the goods on Tucker, who's quite good as the syndicate's top man for eleven states.

Martin tells the dirty rotten G-men he'll never sing, but immediately agrees to chirp. The bulk of the movie is Martin trying to get tight with Tucker, to collect the evidence to send him up.

Much of the plot hinges on Tucker and his team being too stupid to fully frisk Martin, who's wearing a wired microphone and radio broadcast rig. At some point, though, such cop tech had to be new, so I'll assume it was new in 1955.

The story is maybe not-quite believable, but the most wildly implausible part is that the cops are all decent people, and generally polite and nonviolent with suspects.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Neverending
Film Festival

The Frozen Dead (1966) 

After World War II, members of the Nazi high command were frozen. Now Dana Andrews is thawing them.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Racket Girls (1951)

I figured Racket Girls might be female noir, or a movie about tennis, but nope. It's a wrestling picture, without Wallace Beery.

The wrestlers are women, and for the first eight minutes it's nothing but women wrestling. They're sweaty and don't wear much. When there's finally dialogue, it's to introduce Peaches, a leggy, busty, and very pretty blonde who hopes to be a champion. Then it's back to more wrestling.

This movie is quite bad. Sample dialogue: "Here's a clean towel. You can use it to dry yourself with, after you've had your shower."

There's a nominal plot about bad guys wanting money from the wrestlers' manager, but the movie was clearly intended to be as close to porn as the '50s would allow in a movie theater. There's no nudity, but you'll be dizzy from all the bouncing.

Your dad or granddad or great-granddad whacked off to this. I fell asleep without even a fractional chubby.

Verdict: NO.

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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. Thanks for the Mitchum. You captured it.


    1. Mister Mitchum captured it. I only watched.

    2. No, you watched and wrote. Bogie played Marloe honest and confident; Mitchum played him honest and tired. Chandler wrote him tired. You noticed and expressed the notion with clarity. That's a damn good movie AND damn good writing.


    3. Compliments freak me out. It's dumb of course, but my first thought is that if I'm supposed to be a good writer then I'd have to stop writing about farts and pimples...

  2. You are more than fractionally chubby.

    1. May I remind you that 20/7 is a fraction?

    2. heh heh to both of you, if there's more than one.

    3. I'm #2 in every way imaginable . . . jtb

  3. I liked Finger Man. I told you in my email that I really like Frank Lovejoy as a radio actor, and he's pretty good here. Forrest Tucker was quite good as the big boss. The movie was nothing revolutionary, but was pretty good. Worth a watch.

    1. Glad you liked it, Captain.

      This is off-topic, but once after ten minutes of horizontal work, a lady who shall not be named asked how many fingers I'd used. The answer was three. She was keeping track, had notes stretching back years.

      This was in the pre-Excel era.

    2. Doug, have I ever told you about the sex injury I got from doing hand work on a certain ex-wife of mine?

      I was going hard with my thumb, and we both heard the audible "crack!" I stopped, and we were concerned. But I had no pain and full motion. No immediate consequences. This was, let's say, 15 years ago, very vague estimate.

      Maybe a year later, I start getting some minor, occasional thumb pain. Over the next fourteen years, it has gotten worse and worse. Some mornings, I can hardly grip. It always goes away after I've been up for a while, but I ALWAYS can "feel" that thumb in a different way than the other.

      I have no proof, but I am absolutely sure it's related to that thumb session in bed.

    3. I have a similar problem. I started having pain at the base of my left thumb about ten years ago, and it's become a functional problem from time to time. For one thing, I'll never be able to hitchhike effectively in England or Japan. And pole vaulting is out for reasons of grip as is polling a punt. This won't disappoint my cardiologist, but you never know when somebody is going to show up with a pole. I'll stipulate that my story is less titillating than the Captain's because, although I can't pinpoint the injury circumstances, I doubt that it involved female anatomic stimulation. I'm not opposed to hitting a homer; I just don't get up to bat that often in my declined years.


    4. I have no great opposable-thumb injuries to compare with you two. My thumbs are double-jointed, though, and on a few (too few) occasions I've been able to make a willing woman happy with just twitching the thumb back and forth.

      Ladies, please reply below or via email.

  4. I'm SO glad you liked Baron Munchausen!

    I also quite enjoyed Europa Reprort, but one small correction...Europa is a moon of JUPITER, not Venus. Venus has no moons. I found the ending to be just ambiguous enough that I want ANOTHER mission to solve the mysteries!

    Mark Alexander

    1. Yikes, never trust my interstellar navigation.


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