All the President's Men,
and six more movies

All the President's Men (1976)

I'm a sucker for hard-boiled journalism movies, and this one's great.

It follows Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, scrappy reporters for the Washington Post, as they sniff out who was behind a burglary at Democratic Party headquarters — yeah, the Watergate break-in. Then they follow the clues and follow the money, higher and higher up.

You may have heard something about all this, once or twice.

As entertainment, All the President's Men is sharp and smart. You won't be able to assemble the clues quite as quickly as Woodward and Bernstein, but you'll have the advantage of knowing how the story turns out. It's still an effective thriller, even with inside knowledge from history.

Thinking it over, though, what's most disturbing isn't the criminal conduct they uncover. It's that 50 years ago, reporters and a great metropolitan newspaper gave a damn about high crimes and misdemeanors in the White House. 

And the crime underlying all this is pretty petty — it's just a burglary. The crimes of the Trump administration are much, much higher crimes, felonies, not misdemeanors, but these days you don't see this level of giving a damn from any newspaper or anywhere in mainstream media.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Neverending
Film Festival

Baby Doll (1956)

Written by Tennessee Williams, and directed by Elia Kazan. Oh, my.

Karl Malden, balding and middle-aged, plays Archie Lee Meighan, owner of a Southern cotton gin. He's married to Carroll Baker as 19-year-old "Baby Doll," and yes, that's her name. They have a strange arrangement — they're already married, but haven't and won't boink until she turns 20, which is any day now. Archie Lee is looking forward to it. Baby Doll isn't.

Eli Wallach comes along (in his first substantial film role) and he's younger, more handsome, and more successful than Archie Lee, so Baby Doll is drawn to him, and predictably, Archie Lee doesn't like that.

All through the story there's the (usually) unspoken threat that one or both of these men will rape Baby Doll. IMDB says this is "Comedy, Drama," but I defy anyone to find the comedy here. More accurately it's a 50/50 split between irritating and distasteful.

Baby Doll is based on a mishmosh of two different plays by Tennessee Williams, the most overrated playwright of the 20th century. I've never seen a Williams play, but I've seen several movies of his plays, and his repeated Southern motif and swampy dramas bore me. My scorecard says, Williams' The Glass Menagerie and Suddenly Last Summer are strong, serious movies, but everything else from his typewriter has left me snoring. A Streetcar Named Desire? I desired a better story. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? Kitty litter. And of course, Boom! self-destructs.

As for Elia Kazan, he testified for the House Un-American Activities Committee, naming names and sinking eight men's careers. Kazan should never be mentioned without mentioning that. Only after that's been said can we talk about his movies, and he made a few that I've liked, including Gentleman's Agreement and Panic in the Streets. The films Kazan is most famous for, though, are simply overwrought soap operas: A Streetcar Named Desire again, and On the Waterfront.

Add Baby Doll to that list.

Karl Malden must've screamed "Baby Doll!" 250 times. "Baby Doll!" "Baby Doll!" Even in Streetcar, Brando only hollered "Stella!" two or three times, but Malden never shuts up with his "Baby Doll!" howling.

And don't forget, Baby Doll's name is Baby Doll, for fuck's sake.

Archie Lee pleads his case to a cop with, "As one white man to another," and I'll leave half a dozen other complaints unmentioned because "no spoilers" is my prime directive. But the last word on Baby Doll is: sucks.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Ernest Goes to Africa (1987)

Maybe you've forgotten, or maybe you weren't born yet, but Ernest P Worrell (Jim Varney) was a very popular fictional character in the 1980s. Created by an ad agency, Ernest appeared in a billion local TV ads all across the country, talking to his unseen pal 'Vern' and telling viewers where to buy used cars, egg sandwiches, bridal wear, whatever. I saw a few commercials starring Varney as Ernest, and enjoyed them, and I hate commercials so that's saying something.

Sensing money to be made, Disney bought the character, and Ernest stopped selling tow services and sporting goods, and became a movie franchise instead. The movies all looked stupid to me, so I never saw any of them. Varney died rich and successful in 2000, and 22 years later for no reason at all, I finally watched one of his Ernest movies, Ernest Goes to Africa.

The bumbling rubber-faced Ernest buys a piece of junk at a rummage sale. Unknown to him, the junk is actually a rare and valuable artifact, but instead of offering to buy it, the movie's dullwitted bad guys kidnap the woman Ernest wishes was his girlfriend. They inexplicably take her to Africa, so Ernest must follow and save the day.

It's innocuous, sub-Thee Stooges stuff, a parade of pratfalls, slapstick, stupidity, and cannibalism jokes. Once, I laughed.

I almost ended this review with, "Just taking a wild guess, but this was probably not filmed on location in Africa," but IMDB says it was filmed in Africa. Could've fooled me, and I'm still skeptical. Everything looks like a back lot in Burbank.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The In-Laws (1979)

Peter Falk and Alan Arkin star in this terrific buddy movie. Arkin plays a bland dentist in New York City, and father of the bride. Falk is the father of the groom, and an international man of mischief who just masterminded the theft of money-printing plates from the US Mint.

With just days before the wedding, Falk gets Arkin involved in his mysterious day job, which gets dangerous, then gets crazy, then gets crazier, until The In-Laws becomes a modern-day screwball comedy. 

"I am a pacifist by nature with a deep Quaker belief in the sanctity of human life. I wish I had a choice but to kill you."

Falk is Falk, always enjoyable, and Arkin is his perfect straight man, incredulous at whatever mess Falk gets them into. Falk has an endless supply of messes.

Their loud argument in a coffee shop is hilarious perfection, as is the serpentine dance. The plot moves quick and crazy, but it's never stupid, and by the end you've laughed a lot and had a grand time. 

As usual, because it was good, Hollywood remade it worse, in a 2003 version with Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas. Don't do it. This is The In-Laws you want.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Mr Freedom (1968) 

"You know that the world is divided in two parts. On one side is right, and on the other side is wrong. Wrong is Red, and right is red, white, and blue, and in the middle, we have the maybes and the don't-knows."

Recently deceased photographer William Klein made this political satire of all the things kids pledge allegiance to, focused mostly on a fascist but all-American superhero called Mr Freedom.

Other countries are represented by their own superheroes, and every nation's superheroes are controlled by one bureaucracy, from the top floor of a skyscraper where the world's biggest corporations also have their offices. Convenient, eh?

"This is our program. It starts with the Cold War. We demoralize the population, we harass, we terrorize, we sabotage, and if they understand the lesson, then we negotiate."

Klein is coming from the left so we're on the same side, but any 5- or 10-minute clip from Mr Freedom makes the movie's point, and does so enjoyably. All strung together to an hour and a half, it's an overpreach.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Roger the Rat (2020)

Roger the Rat is a character created by photographer Roger Ballen, wherein he wears a rat-head. His first incarnation of Roger the Rat was exhibit of Ballen's photos, described at an online art site as being about "a half human, half animal character that has the capability to profoundly lodge itself in the mind of those viewing these images."

Well, I missed that art exhibit, so I have no comment on that, but Roger the Rat eventually became a book, which inspired this short film so obscure that it's not listed in the Internet Movie DataBase, IMDB. This is my first and only exposure to Roger the Rat, but it did not profoundly lodge itself in my mind.

The story has Roger the human-sized rat falling in love with a female mannequin. He brings it home, and tries teaching the mannequin to play the piano, serves it a home-cooked meal, and dances with it. The mannequin doesn't respond. Roger doesn't like that. Roger, a man wearing a rat's head, expected the mannequin to come to life, I guess.

And that's the movie. It's in black and white, and set in a bleak, unlit underworld that looks like the basement of an abandoned department store. There is no dialogue, no music, and the soundtrack is nothing but thuds clunks gurgles and scratches from other rats in the background.

Roger the Rat is a difficult film, and it was a chore sitting through it twice — yeah, I didn't understand it on first viewing so I played it again. It is A Work of Art, with a discernible point, and it's technically impressive, but it's inexorably depressing, literally dark, and it gave me a headache.

Verdict: MAYBE, but be forewarned, it's art, not entertainment.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Tonight for Sure (1962)

This isn't what you expect when you see a film that's written, produced, and directed by Frances Ford Coppola. Very early in his career, Coppola made this typical-for-its-time girlie film, with some slightly artistic elements. Only slightly, though.

A hick on a horse comes to Hollywood, and gets a taste of life in the big city. He meets a well-off businessman, and they go to a strip joint to sip beers and watch the strippers do what strippers do. The bulk of the movie has these two guys telling each other tall tales about buxom women, and they have a superpower of seeing women topless even if they're wearing clothes.

As a longtime admirer of movies, Coppola, and breasts, it surprises me that so many titties could be this boring.

Verdict: NO.


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. >Tennessee Williams, the most overrated playwright of the 20th century.

    David Mamet would like a word.

    1. I'd forgotten David Mamet, but Glengarry Glen Ross hit me harder than the best of Tennessee Williams.

    2. Coffee's for closers.

      Man, that's putting the whole world into three words. Not bad writing.


    3. I've spent too few days out of my life.

    4. Seems like I've spent only a few dozen, but my wallet is getting floppy, not entirely unlike me.


    5. To me anonymous commenting is like anonymous sex. It seems to work for other people, but I get performance anxiety when I try it.


    6. I am laughing, Dr John.

      You needn't be anonymous, you know. When it says "comment as anonymous," you can click 'anonymous' and other options are shown. Click the bottom option, "Name/URL", and you can type 'jtb' or 'John' or 'Kilroy was here', whatever...

    7. "John" would be fine, but Kilroy took my woman and I'm still a little peeved.

    8. Jesus, I tried commenting as Kilroy and every other son of a bitch I know, and I had to reboot my damn computer. It's the Googs, my brother. It's the damn Googs.


    9. god have mercy, this time it used my google name and I didn't enter it. i'm surrounded by assassins.


    10. If the woman is gone, that means Kilroy was here.

      Wait, it knew your Google name because you're logged into Google? How did you work that magic? I'm logged into Google but it hasn't known my name in months. Gotta type 'Doug Holland' every dang time.

    11. That might just be the price you pay for being a riddle cloaked in an enigma with a nom de guerre. Try using the name mom gave you unless it was "Jesus". That generally fucks up everything.

      So I ran into this man who I taught to drive and play chess when he was young and I was old. He's starting to look old which is a little depressing, but that's not the point. The point is that he said that as long as I had the gmail I had registered with open, I'd stay logged onto (and "in synch" with) Google and other Google apps would recognize me. And there it is at the top of my Windows page, second from the left: my gmail inbox, open for business. I sure hope he wasn't talking about the "musical" group, parens intended.

      I hope that helps, because as a story it was pretty boring.


    12. A couple of times I've accidentally typed my more boring name, but caught it.

      The Googs refuses to recognize me by either name, though. Gotta type it every time.

  2. I still can't get my Google face to show. All the Google stuff still seems pretty random to me. And I'm not crazy about being The Man Without a Face even though technically it's somebody else's face. I'm wondering whether, since I lost just about four inches in height over three major back surgeries in the last decade or so, my face has disappeared out the bottom of the yellow circle. Seems you should still be able to see my white hair sticking up at the bottom of the circle, but that's starting to get a little sparse. Slowly my body is disappearing into the ether.



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