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The Thing from Another World, and a few more movies

THE NEVERENDING
FILM FESTIVAL
#168 
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The Thing from Another World
(1951)
Streaming free on Tubi

Six months or so ago, I reviewed the latest remake of The Thing, liked it, and said it was the best film version of the story yet. Claude Reigns, who knows more about movies than I do, thought my take was hyperbolic and dunderheaded, so I've challenged myself to re-watch the other two versions of The Thing, to assess things properly.

This is the first thing, the original, based on John W Campbell Jr's classic short novel, Who Goes There? I hadn't seen the movie in thirty years, and remembered it as serviceable but hokey, but here's the thing: This movie is frozen nitroglycerin, gently shaken, an excellent 1950s science fiction.

At an Army Air Force station near the North Pole, a magnetic disturbance is discovered under the ice. Some officers are sent to investigate, with a scientist and a reporter looking over their shoulders. The clues are assembled, and soon it's decided that what's frozen beneath their feet is a vessel from… somewhere, and as given away in the movie's title, there's something or someone aboard.

Charles Lederer wrote the screenplay, and it's very natural — everyone except the monster talks the way real people talk, with jokes and disagreements. They have different perspectives and personalities, but none of them are nincompoops or particularly profound, and none of them are plot devices. I have rarely seen movies where every conversation seems like what you or I would say, not like the work of a writer — which is, of course, a mark of a great writer.

Lederer also wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, His Girl Friday, Mutiny on the Bounty (1962, the Marlon Brando version), and the original Ocean's Eleven. Dude could write.

Directed by Christian Nyby, this was his first film, and after this he worked almost exclusively in television. His work here is a wonder, and you'll wonder if it's his — for 70 years, insiders have whispered that the film's producer, Howard Hawks, did most of the directing. It certainly smacks of Hawks' style, with rat-a-tat delivery and male bonding and a woman who's tough enough to be accepted by the guys but also, of course, beautiful.

Whoever was calling the shots, Nyby or Hawks, everything works well, and the cast is very much an ensemble, with no character ever really bubbling up to the point where you'd say he's the star of the story.

One of the first lines is, "Cold enough for ya?", and it actually is cold. The outside shots were filmed in Montana's Glacier National Park, and cold-weather interiors were filmed on sets inside an ice storage facility near Hollywood. These actors aren't simply saying it's cold; it really is cold. You can see their breath and feel their goose bumps.

Having a military man in charge of Earth's first contact with unearthly life would worry me, but here everyone's competent and reasonable. The nominal bad guy isn't really all that bad; he's a scientist who wants to try communicating with the space alien, and understandably doesn't want the military men to kill it, even after it's shown to be a danger.

The movie's horror is, well, horrible, as it should be. The space thing is a walking "carrot with brains," oversized and lost on our world, but smart enough to make itself a danger. "No pleasure, no pain, no emotion, no heart," someone says. "Our superior in every way."

The Thing is played by James Arness, later the star of TV's Gunsmoke, though as with any good horror pic, we rarely see the monster up close.

George Fenneman, Groucho's sidekick on You Bet Your Life, has an uncredited but important role. 

Inexplicably, nobody on screen but Arness and Fenneman made much of a ripple in Hollywood, though all of them are better than good.

Can't close this without mentioning the music, which is by Dimitri Tiomkin and is perfect.

Verdict: BIG YES.

In googling to make sure Mr Fenneman's name was spelled correctly, I've learned and am saddened to report that a revival of You Bet Your Life is underway, starring Jay Leno.

♦ ♦ ♦    

Barbarians at the Gate (1993)
Streaming free on YouTube

Based on a book that's based on what happened in the 1980s, this is the idiotic and lunarly-leveraged deal that led to RJR Nabisco's sale to the highest bidder.

It's snappy and fast-paced, moving at about 120 wisecracks an hour — MASH's Larry Gelbert wrote the script — and slowing down only occasionally, for the necessary explanations of leveraged buyouts and venture capitalism and other complexities of corporate evil.

All the jokes are in the characters' snide comments, and many bring chuckles, but in the end this is a high tragedy of high finance.

Events unfold from the perspective of RJR Nabisco CEO F Ross Johnson, played by James Garner. We're supposed to be pulling for him, and of course he's Garner and Garner is always likable. Toward the end, he delivers 2½ fiery 'good guy speeches' worthy of Jimmy Stewart, but the people he's talking to aren't buying his baloney, and neither am I. Johnson is simply another big-money bastard running a giant company. He's not someone anyone should be pulling for, and there's no-one here who is — all of the film's principal characters are assholes.

Certainly, every plot development, every single thing that any of the principles characters do in this film, ought to be illegal. 

It's fun watching, though. Jonathan Pryce, Peter Riegert, Joanna Cassidy, and Fred Thompson co-star.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Edge of Fury (1978)
Streaming free at DailyMotion

Time for some kung fu!

Bruce Li plays Fang, the driver for a bad guy / drug kingpin, but Fang's not a bad guy himself. So why would the movie's good guy work for a bad guy? Sentimental reasons, it turns out, but I shan't say anything more about that. 

Anyway, when his boss is captured and executed, everybody wants the drugs, and the boss's money and power and wife.

As kung fu movies go, it's not bad but certainly never good, and seems content to define itself as an ordinary genre picture. The MP4 I saw was dubbed in English with a British accent, which is sometimes amusing, more often weird.

"Bruce Li" is, obviously, fake name, one of several actors misspelling his name various ways, who emerged in Hong Kong cinema after the genuine Bruce Lee died.

I'd only seen Li in films where he was playing, basically, Bruce Lee, but here he's not mimicking the real Lee. He's trying to be a chop socky star on his own, and I've read that in this film's Asian release, Li was billed under his real name, Ho Chung Tao.

That's a step in the right direction, but it's not a very big step when the movie is as ordinary as this. If you've seen a few non-Bruce and non-Jackie Chan chop socky movies, well, watching this is watching another.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦    

• Coming attractions •

Brain Donors (1992)

Go West (1925)

Go West (1940)

    • And then •

American Revolution 2 (1969)

Caged Men: Tales from Chicago's SRO Hotels (2017) 

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Delicatessen (1991)

The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)

District 9 (2009)

Eight Characters in Search of a Sitcom (2003)

The Flipside of Dominick Hide (1980)

Following (1998) 

Freaked (1993)

High-Rise (2016)

Hit! (1973)

Inherent Vice (2014) 

The Invisible Man (1933)

Jurassic Punk (2022)

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

My Life in Monsters (2015) 

Naked (1993)

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (first season, 2022)

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)

Tunnel Vision (2023) 

12:01 (1993) 

Upstream Color (2013) 

White Lotus (first season, 2021) 

Who Killed Captain Alex (2010)    

7/31/2023  

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:

Alter
Cineverse
Criterion
CultCinema Classics
DocsVille
Dust
Fandor
Films for Action
Hoopla
IHaveNoTV
IndieFlix
Internet Archive
Kanopy
KinoCult
Kino Lorber
Korean Classic Film
Christopher R Mihm
Mosfilm
Mubi
National Film Board of Canada
New Yorker Screening Room
Damon Packard
Mark Pirro
PizzaFlix
PopcornFlix
Public Domain Movies
RareFilmm
Scarecrow Video
Shudder
ThoughtMaybe
Timeless Classic Movies
VoleFlix
WatchDocumentaries
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, or at least spoiler-warned. 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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48 comments:

  1. Nice list of upcoming attractions.

    I have a hankering to see The Big Lebowski if only to watch John Goodman make a tasty snack of the scenery. Maybe only that. The Cohen boys accidentally ended up with a terrific story played out in an over-the-top script. Fucking dream sequences.

    jtb

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    Replies
    1. That's one of the great movies. Used to watch it 2-3 times a year, but always with my wife, and I'm not going to watch it without her.

      Delete
  2. Having just finished Phil Lesh's book on his years with the Dead, I thought I'd treat you to a song Lesh, almost uniquely, both wrote and sang. The song is Pride of Cucamonga. From the Mars Hotel is a wonderful Dead album that got shelved for years for contractual reasons. In any case, I recommend the book about a pretty normal guy who got sucked into the crazy storm that was Jerry Garcia and somehow learned to play the bass. Hey, when the bass player gets a vocal there should be dancing in the streets.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFSnOZy955U

    jtb

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    1. I forgot to mention that the Dead toured. And toured. Long, grueling tours packed so close together that they had two sets of speakers (with which to build their "Wall of Sound"), two big ass trucks, and two separate crews which each did the setup and teardown at every other concert. In all those performances, the Dead never performed Pride of Cucamonga -- not once.

      John

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    2. Why not? It's maybe not the ordinary Dead sound, but it sounds swell.

      I remember being close enough to hear GD, and hearing their concerts live on the radio, but I never attended. Should've.

      Life is a large collection of regrets.

      Delete
    3. I have no idea. I posted it as a mystery. jtb

      Delete
    4. Ever been to Rancho Cucamonga?

      I'm telling you, it has all the charm of Bakersfield, with less of the artsy-fartsy vibe.

      Delete
    5. I know just enough about Bakersfield to get the joke. I did a quick lookup on Rancho Cucamonga and only found the Cucamonga Service Station which looks fine, but doesn't give me a compelling reason to drive 2000 miles in a car that badly needs a real service station.

      I suppose that's the magic of the Dead. They can take the most boring city in their home state and make a damn fine song out of it. Mars Hotel doesn't get much love, but I owned the vinyl until it was involved in a semi-tragic divorce, and I continued to play it. The record, I mean.

      John

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    6. Actually, all I know about Bakersfield is Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and hot summer nights. I thought that sentence called for an Oxford comma, as does any sentence that includes Merle Haggard. The rules is complicated and life is short. What are you gonna do?

      jtb

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    7. I was more than half sure nobody would get the joke at all, so thanks.

      For a very brief time I lived in "the all-American city," Bakersfield CA. It's an interesting place. Just, not the way the Chamber of Commerce thinks it is.

      Always an Oxford comma. If there's ever any doubt, use two.

      Delete
    8. I had assumed that since Jerry Garcia played the pedal steel guitar (he said badly, others said fairly well), that it was Jerry on pedal steel behind Phil's vocal on Pride of Cucamonga. Nope. It was future Doobie Brother and multi-instrumentalist John McFee. (McFee would five years later in 1979 join the Doobie Brothers and he remains a Brother to this day) [McFee replaced Jeff "Skunk" Baxter with the Doobies because there was a law that Skunk was required to spend at least a year with every major American band. To this day, he occasionally still plays with the Doobies, although the other 237 bands he's been with have to sign off on his appearance].

      This could explain why the Dead didn't play Pride of Cucamonga live. Jerry messed around on the pedal steel guitar, but was never comfortable with it. He was a consummate guitarist and he felt uncomfortable playing an instrument he couldn't master. He did play it a few times in concert, but he reached a point (sometime in the 70s I think) where he wouldn't play the PSG unless he was playing with one of his side project bands, and a few years later he wouldn't play it at all. If you listen to the song (Pride of Cucamonga) it wouldn't be a song without the PSG. The rest is silence.

      jtb

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    9. As a longtime fan of Jerry & the dead, I will, in solidarity, also refuse to play the pedal steel guitar.

      Delete
    10. Buddy Cage, long-time pedal steel player for New Riders of the Purple Sage, a Dead spinoff band, said many people who get paid for playing the pedal steel guitar also refuse to play it correctly. Buddy wasn't a wise guy -- just a perfectionist. That's him playing behind Bob Dylan on the song Meet Me In the Morning on Blood On the Tracks.

      John

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE6-uc1zr3s

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    11. Well if I was going to play the pedal steel guitar, I'd at least try to play it right.

      I am listening to "Meet Me in the Morning" and not sure I can even hear the pedal steel guitar. I don't know what a pedal steel guitar is. How do they play a guitar with pedals?

      Delete
    12. This album is great:

      https://youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_k1RCEy3Vkv-hXBHCVJtiW23-6VQLwSiCA

      And he produced (and played pedal steel on) another of my favorites:

      https://youtu.be/hQBiwG8P9X4

      Delete
    13. Think of your two favorite genres of music: Hawaiian and Country//western. It sounds like that. I was going to explain it, but I'm not a musician and Wikipedia seems to be. If you're curious read the article. I'd just fuck it up.

      Meet me in the Morning shouts pedal steel as does Pride of Cucamonga. It all started with a lap steel: a guitar played in the lap, which isn't as dangerous as it sounds.

      jtb

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    14. Always trying to help: THIS is not a pedal steel guitar, as you will note the lack of pedals. It's not even a lap steel, since Santo is standing up. It IS an electric steel guitar which Santo had to have fabricated until Fender made this prototype.

      Since the only other instrument here is Johnny's background electric guitar, you will note the Hawaiian/Western sound made by the electric steel. The pedals and knee braces they throw in for free, but it costs a lot. Hope this helps.

      jtb

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rwfqsjimRM

      Delete
    15. On the extreme right (make your own joke) is a pedal steel guitar, but there are about ten people playing and the pedal steel is used here for its backup function (or maybe primary function): Sound effects. Train whistles, car horns honking, violins exploding, etc. But at least you can see the pedals. Sadly, it's not plugged in which is problematic for an electric instrument.

      John

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5ZycJC-pmo

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    16. Claude, I'd never heard of Bruce Kaphan, but now I have and I'm the better for it. An hour of that album would be great falling asleep music (a compliment).

      So that's a pedal steel guitar.

      Delete
    17. John, Wikipedia is the easy way. Asking you always yields a better answer anyway.

      Delete
    18. So there *are* pedals. And strings, so I guess it's a guitar, but it sure doesn't look like a guitar. Why isn't it called a pedal steel piano?

      Dick Clark was why I didn't watch American Bandstand much. He was always talking and talking like in that YouTube clip, when I wanted to get to the music and if the music didn't come quick, I'd change the channel.

      Delete
    19. It's about the best original video of Santo and Johnny. Yeah, Dick sort of grosses me out as well, (I'll wait for the double meanings). But Santo and Johnny were the shit for about 25 minutes, and they ate out the rest of their lives on that 25 minutes. Well, Johnny did. Santo got the joke after a few years and moved on.

      Santo actually wrote that song in about an hour in the middle of the night. He work Johnny and played it for him. Johnny went back to sleep, but Santo stayed up and called his agent. He knew a damn hit when he played one.

      jtb

      jtb

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    20. Answer to previous question. The Hawaiians played guitars in their laps, pointing up at them. This is unaccountably called "Hawaiian Style". The only other people to do that were in dusty western climbs. So the cowboys and the Hawaiians invented the steel guitar which can be played cowboy style, with the face of the guitar facing the audience if any, or Hawaiian style with the face of the guitar facing the sun if any.

      Somebody decided that if you plugged it in you could make it hum. But then you needed a stand because who wants to support an electric appliance with their penis? I'm summarizing, you understand.

      jtb

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    21. And summarizing well. A few days ago, I didn't know pedal steel guitars existed. Now I are an expert.

      Delete
  3. I loved Barbarians back then. It was HBO's first big thing wasn't it? I remember it as being funny and also political, better than your opinion but it's been a long time.

    I know I saw the original Thing but don't remember it much. Thanks for the links, I will rewatch it.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It was from HBO and it was long ago, maybe it was one of their first? Dunno.

      I'm sure it's better than my opinion of it. I'm not predisposed to finding millionaires lovable or even interesting.

      Garner was pretty good, though.

      Delete
    2. Garner was pretty good in Mister Budwing and Support Your Local Sheriff, a couple of less than mediocre movies. Garner virtually always made whatever he was in better.

      jtb

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    3. Remember Nichols?

      Never saw Support Your Local Sheriff; even as a kid, the title pissed me off. Sheriff's being paid, isn't he? What does he need my support for?

      Never even heard of Mister Buddwing, but it sounds possibly interesting.

      Delete
    4. I think it was meant ironically. Sheriff Garner gets very little support from the Good Government types. It's been a few decades, but I don't recall confusing this film with Cinéma vérité.

      John

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    5. Cinéma Garnér. I probably won't see it, but I gotta ask again, did you watch Nichols?

      Garner's best TV show, maybe. It was after Maverick and before Rockford. Modern old west. I loved it, so I knew it would be cancelled immediately, and whadya know, it was.

      Delete
    6. As you can tell, I enjoy just about everything Mr Garner was in. I've not seen Nichols. I'll check it out.

      jtb

      Delete
    7. Well, I was just a kid when it was on. Might suck. I'm kinda surprised to see that they actually released it on DVD.

      Delete
  4. Always had a soft spot for Barbarians, maybe Jordan is right that it was HBO's first big thing and that's why. The book is widely hailed as a classic in non-fiction and I enjoyed it quite a lot, and the characters in the movie were not far off from how they were described in the book. Couple of things that always stood out to me:

    1. James Garner's wife... is her voice dubbed? There's a real uncanny valley to it that always bugged me when watching, maybe it was just badly ADR'd but it's not something I notice with any other actors.

    2. Also like Jordan says, it had a political side to it, and not a pro-free market one, which is funny considering the future senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson has such a prominent role. It has a tone that you often see in Thatcher-era movies from the UK, where right-wing governments are cynical, corrupt and ridiculous but completely inevitable.

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    1. Did the book have everybody tossing funny insults at each other? It was funny, but the burns felt more MASH than reality.

      I didn't notice anything odd about the actress's voice. Felt a little sorry for her, having to be all flirty and sexy with Garner, who had to be twice her age.

      Always disliked Fred Thompson, in politics and in movies. He usually played pompous and cold, and that was his politics too.

      Delete
    2. The insults came like one-liners in Fletch in the movie but I remember some choice ones in the book too. That guy, Ted Forstmann, who is so theatrically disgusted by Henry Kravis really was like that. He had such an intense revulsion for leveraged buyouts that you'd forget he was just another dickhead financier himself.

      Delete
    3. > He had such an intense revulsion for leveraged buyouts that you'd forget he was just another dickhead financier himself.

      That's what I wanted to get across but failed to — there are good guys in the movie, like Riegert's righteous high-financier, and arguably James Garner, but they're not really good guys; they're merely the finest kernels of corn in the floating poop.

      Delete
    4. Right. Almost every primary character in this makes a show of their moral outrage - Kravis that Ross "stole" his idea of an LBO of Nabisco, Riegert that he's being undercut on "his" deal, Ross that he's the only one being whacked in the press - but it's a slim little fig leaf to cover up their greed.

      You could almost certainly never make a movie about real people like this today.

      Delete
    5. Yeah, all those people were still alive and rich. Bet they got paid just to have their names used.

      Sorry, I am feeling extra extra cynical today.

      Delete
  5. Our graphic literature has become so facile that we ask each other questions like "who's the good guy? who's the bad guy?"

    In the words of the wonderful movie Zero Effect, "There aren't a bunch of good guys and a bunch of bad guys. It's just a bunch of guys."

    John

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    1. A very good movie and a valid point and I don't even disagree, and yet, this is what came to mind and refuses to leave:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERd0VjJYgpE

      Delete
    2. Three part harmony is habituating. Ask the Beatles. I shouldn't like that song but it's pretty good. (OK, the third part is sporadic and clearly overdubbed, but how the soup is made isn't as important as how it tastes).

      John

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    3. I make soup with a can opener and it tastes pretty good. Never great, though. Soup is overrated. Stew can be marvelous, though. I make it with a can opener, too.

      Delete
    4. I don't cook, but I prepare food daily. I wouldn't even hazard a guess at how to make soup stock or stew goop. But I think if you could figure those things out you could make soup and stew from scratch but I can't say I recommend it. As with most traditional fare, one is a way to stretch sparse ingredients (see also: she'll be comin' 'round the mountain) and the other is a way to disguise ingredients that are past their pull date.

      I once went out on a pull date. Late at night I still feel the ache.

      John

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    5. And what board of arbitration is doing all this rating? I've never thought about rating foodtypes, but my rating of soup would depend on the cook and the ingredients. I've never even figured out how to eat soup without sounding like a hydroplane. Hot soup, I mean. Who want's cold soup besides the land and people of France?

      jtb

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    6. https://youtu.be/LRfHlBk4Pcg

      Delete
    7. My wife made a marvelous stew. Or perhaps marvelous stews. It was the same stew, but she made it repeatedly.

      Most of my dates as a young man were pull dates, if I know what you mean and you think I do.

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    8. Ha ha, I once ate at a fancy place that served cold soup. It was OK except for the price, but soup should oughta always be hot. Back to Russia indeed.

      Every once in a while I miss The Simpsons. After the first 10 or 12 years it works better as clips like this, same as baseball.

      I like watching yesterday's baseball game distilled to ten minutes, which is way better than watching the whole game.

      Delete

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