The Silent Partner, and six more movies

The Silent Partner

Here's a tidy, very enjoyable thriller you've probably never heard of, despite starring Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer, and Susannah York.

"I'm just going to give you a little time to try to be reasonable.  If you decide you're not going to be reasonable, then one night when you come home you'll find me inside, waiting for you.  And that will be the night you'll wish you'd never been born."



March 11, 2023

Gould has completely switched off his ordinary charm and wit for this role, playing a nebbish bank teller named Miles Cullen, who's described by the woman he fancies as "less than the sum of his parts."

In a clever kickoff for the story, Miles quietly puts together some clues and sees that his bank is soon to be robbed. Armed with this advance knowledge, he decides to pilfer most of the money from his till himself, before the bad guy (Plummer) shows up with the gun.

Miles gets away with big bucks, unbeknownst to the bank, and the bank robber gets only small change. He's a mental mess, though, and instead of simply robbing another bank, he comes after Miles for revenge and the loot.

Written by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), and directed by Daryl Duke (Payday), with music by jazzman Oscar Peterson, it's close to perfect — a terrific heist and double-heist picture.

John Candy, pre-SCTV, plays another worker in Miles's bank, with no attempt to be funny.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Beer League (2006)

"Now coming to bat is Artie DeVanzo. Last season was a fine one for DeVanzo, he batted .420 with 45 RBIs. He enters today's game with a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.16, and if you kids are scoring at home, that is an impressive twice the legal limit."

Artie Lange, Ralph Macchio, and Seymour Cassel star in a comedy about slow-pitch softball.

When played by adults, the game is hard to take seriously. Many of the players are fat slobs, maybe smoking in the dugout, playing the lesser version of baseball because their talent ran out before their love for the game. The movie captures the vibe and camaraderie, sometimes even between teams, like when a guy hits a home run and gets a heartfelt "nice shot" comment from the opposing team's infielders as he's rounding the bases. 

I've seen thousands of slow-pitch softball games (used to be an umpire) and it's surprising how right the movie is about the game, but it gets a few things wrong. There's no bunting in slow-pitch, you can't bowl over the catcher at the plate, and while the game is often called "beer league" softball, you're not allowed to drink beer during the game. Many players do, of course, but it's against the rules and you need to cheat discretely. Playing first base with a beer in your hand? No, man — that'll get you ejected.

As for the non-softball parts of the movie, it all feels joyous and Jersey — seven innings of fun. it's about a feud between two teams, with the danger that Artie's team might be kicked out of the league for their perpetual misbehavior.

I only know Lange from MAD TV long ago, but he was funny there and he's funny here. His wisecracks are lowbrow but authentic, and Beer League never pretends that anything important is at stake.

And yup, that's Tina Fey working the reception desk.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

Digging a new extension to the London subway system, workers discover a metal object blocking their way. Turns out it's a space ship from eons ago, and its grasshoppery inhabitants may have played an important role in the history and evolution of humanity.

Quatermass, so startlingly unlikable in the earlier Quatermass Xperiment, has been recast, and the new actor, alas, seems much warmer, somewhat dumber and more ordinary. Also, in the first film he was a renegade millionaire scientist, but now he's a government bureaucrat. He's an entirely different character with the same name, so this doesn't feel like a sequel.

The effects are dated and weren't much to begin with, but Quatermass and the Pit tells an interesting story that's genuinely unnerving. It's science fiction, absolutely, but also horror, with a great scene where a policeman walks with Quatermass around a creepy old house, as the cop tells about ghostly apparitions he's seen in the neighborhood, and what he's heard from other people about the area.

The movie asks interesting questions, and deals with the importance and sometimes the hubris of thinking logically and scientifically. It works as sci-fi, and as a mood piece, and all the elements are tied together in a thrilling climax.

Verdict: YES. Classic low-budget brainy goose bumps.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie (2010)

Born as Hugh Romney Jr, the man now known as Wavy Gravy later lived with Bob Dylan, worked with Tiny Tim, hung with Lenny Bruce, rode the bus with Ken Kesey, and started and still runs the Hog Farm commune.

In his younger years he was a folk singer and beat poet in Greenwich Village, and now he's five kinds of nuts in a chocolate fudge swirl for Ben & Jerry's. He invented his clown character and costume after being beaten by police at a protest, his logic being, cops wouldn't want to be photographed beating up a clown. 

"When you get to the very bottom of the human soul, where the nit is slamming into the grit, and you're sinking, you reach down to help someone that's sinking worse than you are."

Among the movie's many people talking about Wavy, there's Patch Adams, Dr Larry Brilliant, Jackson Browne, Ram Dass, The Grateful Dead, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Steven Ben Israel, Denise Kaufman, Tom Law, Odetta, Bonnie Raitt, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Wavy's wife since forever, Jahanara Romney, along with their son, Jordan.

The poor kid had to change his name after Mom & Pop idiotically named him Howdy Do-Good Gravy Tomahawk Truckstop Romney. Says Jordan: "The legal age you have to be to change your name is 13. I spent my 13th birthday in court." Now grown up, the former Howdy Do-Good says he works a straight job and has a traditional one-family home in Philadelphia, where, he says, "I don't have to share a wall with anyone else."

Other than inflicting that cruel name on his son, Mr Gravy comes off well in this documentary. He spends a lot of time in silly clothes, and if you have to wear clothes, why not silly? He's never particularly deep, or even political, but always seems to be kind, and by all accounts he really is.

One thing he's not is funny, which is an odd thing to say about someone who self-identifies as a clown. Still, you gotta love Wavy Gravy; it's required by lawlessness. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Something Evil (1972)

Sandy Dennis and Darren McGavin buy a remote farm house, and it's possessed by demons or some such.

A good horror movie can be fun, but this isn't, and isn't. It was made for TV by very-young Steven Spielberg, and I've liked most of Spielberg's early stuff, but this is so lifeless you get the impression he wasn't even trying. 

Written by Robert Clouse (director of Enter the Dragon).

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

V for Vendetta (2006)

This was adapted from Alan Moore's graphic comics, though his name isn't in the credits. He was reportedly miffed that the setting was updated from the 1980s to 2006's present day, and maybe he had other complaints.

I've never read the original, so can't say how badly it's been bastardized, but what might've worked on the pages of a comic book gets completely overhauled in a big-budget Hollywood movie, with explosions and movie stars and soaring music and all.

V for Vendetta is set a dark future that looks like where the present is headed. Britain is a police state, imposing repressive curfews and "emergency" legislation, and controlling the media through Fox News-style bullshit shows. Expect no help from America, as we're told the situation is as bleak or bleaker in "the former United States."

Calling himself V, a mysterious masked freedom fighter stands alone against the oppression, and doesn't shy away from terrorism as a tactic. He's blown up the Old Bailey, and taken over the propaganda TV network to invite all of London to stand with him on the next Fifth of November, in front of the Parliament building where he promises a very special Guy Fawkes Day.

"You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it."

I saw this when it first came out, and found it too much, but still a good time. Watched it again yesterday, and I'll stand by my original assessment. Watched it a third time today, and still enjoyed it, but I'd be hard-pressed to explain what's going on through a lot of it.

It's fascinating to see a smidgen of my own politics on screen, but the movie is so enormous it's exhausting, and it's hard to get a grip on the whole story.

If there's an underlying message, it's that there's no real difference between terrorism and acts of state, and I don't disagree, or at least not enough to argue the point.

V seems unnecessarily cruel to his only friend, Evey (Natalie Portman), but there's no doubting the joy in watching them rouse the rabble, whether verbally or violently.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Wizard of Mars (1965)
a/k/a Horrors of the Red Planet

Four astronauts are on the first manned mission to Mars, but a storm screws up their best-laid plans, and they crash land. They wander the planet in desperate search of something interesting, a sense or humor, or their personalities, until they stumble upon John Carradine, who's the God of the Martians. 

If it sounds at all interesting, well, it's not as interesting as it sounds.

Based on a novel by L. Frank Baum. 

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Coming soon: 

Hamlet (1946)
Hamlet 2 (2008)
Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1974)
The Outlaw (1943)
The Red Balloon (1956)
Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)


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 twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

CultCinema Classics
Films for Action
Internet Archive
Kino Lorber
Korean Classic Film
Christopher R Mihm
National Film Board of Canada
New Yorker Screening Room
Damon Packard
Mark Pirro
Public Domain Movies
Scarecrow Video
Timeless Classic Movies
or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

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  1. As I'm sure I mentioned when bringing up Beer League, I went to high school with Artie Lange. He was a grade ahead, but we were in the same TV program at the high school (the one with the three broadcast quality cameras and a swell teacher who I just learned passed away a few years ago). We used to joke around a bit and Artie clearly had charisma that few others had. He was naturally funny (I'd argue that he's always funnier in conversation than he is the sketches dreamed up on MadTV, where he got his first break) and people were drawn to him because he was nice to everyone and always let himself play the butt of the joke. I was once on a Sociology field trip with a number of other local high schools meeting at the local state college and somehow Artie got the mike and hammed up whatever exercise of "interviewing our neighbor" we were given. He won everyone over and at the end of the day, kids from neighboring high schools were asking that Artie should be allowed to summarize the day (the establishment declined). It was fascinating to me. The person he was, person to person, was the same when he dealt with a big group and it still felt like he was talking directly to you.

    He was also, as you can clearly see, never a model of fitness. He played in teener league in our town (baseball!) and he probably fell in with the modest "jocks" in our school, which was one of the few high schools where --honest to g-d -- the burnouts held more sway than the jocks. He and his other outsized friend, Mike Graifer, used to walk the morning hallways with a glum hilarity that screamed they didn't want to be there, either.

    Artie's antics were well-known. He bet someone a sum of money that he'd lick the sweaty back of the basketball team's star player. He agreed to ride in the trunk of a car down to the Jersey shore (a little over an hour's drive) for cash. And after high school, he walked into a bank and imitated a Woody Allen movie and gave the teller a hold-up note saying he wanted all the money in her drawer. He ran out of the bank when he realized the bank teller had not seen the Woody Allen film he was referencing and instead took him seriously. The FBI visited his house later that day. Artie was always a little crazy.

    Some tales ended up in his first book, some did not. He would've gone on to an undistinguished career on the Jersey docks if he hadn't suddenly given stand-up comedy a try and wound up making friends with Norm MacDonald, who put Artie in some sitcom he had. Between that and MadTV, Artie's profile was almost noticeable to people who didn't already know him. Then somehow, he ended up on Howard Stern's radio program, after a guest visit with Norm M. showed that Artie had a natural rapport with Howard and, like he did at that Sociology gathering, immediately ingratiated himself with Howard's audience who also wanted to hear more from Artie.

    Our English/Theater Arts teacher told him that if he kept going the way he was going in high school that in ten years Artie would either be famous, in jail or dead. Ever the guy with a knack for relaying a tale, when he told the story on Conan O'Brien, he took out the jail option, making the story tighter and more dramatic.

    I've never bothered to try and contact him, outside of asking a few friends who supposedly ran into him where he asked how I was doing to send my email address along. We lost touch years ago. We were never close but when we ran into one another, we'd always share a laugh.

    So, there's more than you could possible want to know about Artie. And me -- Arden

    1. More than I *knew* I'd wanted to know, perhaps, but not more than I wanted to know, not when it's told so charmingly.

      The guy's easy attitude comes across. Liked him on MADTV, liked him here, and it warms my toes to hear that he wasn't even slightly an asshole in high school. Most of the popular kids are assholes, so all hail the exception.

      Never listened to Howard Stern, so that era is a black hole to me. Hope Mr Lange can make it through his extended rehab and come back to being funny.

    2. I never listened to Stern, either. I wasn't ever tempted, not even when I learned that Artie was a regular. Never understood the appeal. When I was a DJ in college there were a few kids (guys, of course) who wanted so badly to imitate Stern and we did our best to stick those kids with early morning slots that no one else wanted if we couldn't outright fire them. -- Arden

    3. I saw his biopic, and don't regret it. He's a funny guy.

      Just generally, though, I *abhor* wacky radio, especially wacky radio with commercials, so I don't think I've heard two minutes of Howard Stern on the radio.

    4. Since you saw Private Parts (assuming that is the biopic you are referencing), you briefly (very briefly) saw a shot of my (and Artie's) high school, Union High School in Union, NJ. Pure coincidence. -- Arden

    5. The view is sadly not emblazoned on my memory, sorry. :)

      When the bus takes me past my old high school, I always look out the other window. No happy memories there, for me...


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