The Day of the Locust,
and a few more films

The City of Lost Children (1995)

Ron Perlman speaks French and plays a good-natured giant named One, who teams up with a little girl to try to rescue a little boy who's been kidnapped by an old man named Krank, who's upscaled kidnapping to an industry of the future. 

Visually it's phantasmagorical, with lots of swoopy camerawork and morphed images and people making pained faces for comedic effect and being loudly outrageous. Every scene and every shot is designed to be a little gruesome, but in a wholesome way.

#242  [archive]
FEB. 3, 2024

It's from the same people who made Delicatessen, and looks exactly the same — different actors, but we're one door down the hall here. The only important difference is that Delicatessen had a plot and some laughs. This one just has weirdness for the sake of weirdness.

Whether you'll enjoy it depends on how much time you want to spend in a universe of flying and floating camerawork and stretched and faked images and people being loudly out-ray-gous. Me, my patience ran out.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Day of the Locust (1975) 

"Oh, Lord, forgive me for harboring such unworthy thoughts, but sometimes I wish I could tear it all down!"

We're in Los Angeles in the late 1930s, where everyone's either in the movie industry or wishes they were. Among the wishers are Faye (Karen Black), her father Harry (Burgess Meredith), and Tod (William Atherton). They all live at the same seedy rez hotel, as they wait for their big breaks. Harry's a senior citizen magician who's been waiting his entire life.

Tod is an underling at Paramount with hopes of promotion to the art department, and less realistic hopes of winning Faye. Donald Sutherland plays a very repressed and closeted gay Christian named Homer Simpson. 

The movie tells a complicated, dark story, painting Hollywood as a wretched and wicked place that swallows anyone who approaches. My hatred for most of its major characters, then, is indicative of the movie's triumph. I despised Faye and Homer, and I ain't wild about Tod, and that's about 90% of the movie — yet the movie is marvelous. Day of the Locust is a masterpiece of pessimism and cynicism, right up there with Ace in the Hole and Sweet Smell of Success

There's casual but accurate racism, a cockfighting scene I fast-forwarded through, and the movie certainly tested my patience for the song "Jeepers, Creepers," which is performed in its entirety at least four times. There are, however, no locusts.

I'll say nothing about the end, except that it's so gloriously extravagant that I'm unsure whether it takes place in Hollywood or in Tod or Homer's head. And it's fabulous.

That's the end of my review, but two thoughts linger:

Handsome men and beautiful women have always had the advantage, sure, but until the 20th century even beautiful people couldn't parlay their looks into much more than marriage to someone equally beautiful, and maybe some affairs on the side. The movies changed that, much to society's detriment, and suddenly vacant people like Faye could plausibly dream of fame and fortune.

And remarkably, there's an annoying little girl in the movie, always dancing and singing like she's Shirley Temple but obnoxiously. Really, she's one of the all-time most horrible children in a non-horror movie — and she's played by 13-year-old Jackie Earle Haley (Breaking Away) in drag. Haley is one of my favorite character actors, and I knew he'd been a child actor, but nobody could've known that he was thew girl until the credits. 

Verdict: YES, on the cusp of BIG YES, but I can't forgive all the renditions of "Jeepers, Creepers."

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Saint in New York (1937)

Long before it was an enjoyable TV show with Roger Moore and then a disappointing reboot with Val Kilmer, 'The Saint' was a series of novels by Leslie Charteris, about a wisecracking crime-fighter named Simon Templar. As I unreliably remember from the TV show, Templar was a private investigator, but in this first film inspired by the novels he's simply a smart-ass vigilante. 

The New York Police Department has been unable to stop a crime wave through legal means, as they lack the evidence that's required in American courts, so cops reach out across the Atlantic to hire Templar (Louis Hayward), a British playboy nicknamed 'The Saint'. Cops want him to track down a criminal kingpin known as 'The Big Fellow'.

"Don't you think that the law in its zeal sometimes loses all sight of right and wrong?" 

As soon as Templar shows up in NYC, he shoots a bad guy dead from across the street. The dead guy was one of The Big Fellow's key men, and Templar leaves a note behind. That's literally his calling card: wherever he's done something Saintly to make the world a better place, he leaves a note with a handwritten wisecrack, and a drawing of a stick man under a halo.

It's a B-movie, barely an hour and intended as the second half of double features, and the concept is of course offensive to anyone who cares about justice. But the film has fun with its premise, and Hayward's Templar is a sly, cocky wiseacre with a gun who smirks at the sight of danger. For me, there was no turning back after he donned a nun's habit. 

"You're real smart, ain't ya?"

"It may sound like boasting, but since you asked me — I am."

Hayward's portrayal is fine, but seems curiously American despite the actor himself being British.

After this first flick, the Templar role was recast with George Sanders, who's British to the bone and also one of my favorite actors of the era — unforgettable in All About Eve, and always reliably good. Sanders seems likely to be even cockier and more British, so I'm adding this movie's several sequels to my watchlist.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦   

The Saint Strikes Back (1939)

Val Travers (Wendy Barrie) is the daughter of a San Francisco cop who killed himself amid allegations of being a syndicate stooge, and she wants to clear her dead father's name. Once again, The Saint is there to solve crimes by committing them, which is still amusing as heck.

Jonathan Hale (Dagwood Bumstead's boss in the Blondie movies) is back from the first film as The Saint's police chaperone, who yearns to arrest Templar but rightly finds him too charming for handcuffs. Neil Hamilton has a featured role, and 25 years later would be Batman's Police Commissioner Gordon. Here he's so young I only recognized him by his distinctively wooden delivery.

It's George Sanders' first spin as The Saint, replacing Louis Hayward. The new Templar is still silly and impudent, but now he's a few years older and all-British, both of which help the character, and nobody does cocky better than Sanders.  

Directed by John Farrow, father of Mia. 

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •   

Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
The Shooting (1966)
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Winter Soldier (1972)

... plus schlock and surprises

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:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • 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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  1. Wow, I saw Ace In The Hole for the first time around the same time I saw Day of the Locust and never made that connection! I love them both for the same reasons, though I've been able to re-watch Ace a few times. I don't know I'll ever watch Day of the Locust again despite thinking it was one of the best movies I've ever seen. Like you, there are a few scenes I wish I had fast forwarded through (the party scene after which she hooks up with Miguel while Homer watches just made me want to murder everyone in that house), but probably more scenes I wish I had watched more than once (the collapse of the set for one). Just incredible this thing got made, much less released in the form it has rather than watered down.

    1. The conclusion was almost more than I could take. It's rare indeed when something sneaks out of Hollywood that's not merely entertaining but unsettling, and has something to say.


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