Fortress and 42nd Street,
and a few more films

Force of Evil (1948)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Joe Morse (John Garfield) is the lawyer for some gangster-guy who's in the numbers racket. Joe's brother Leo (Thomas Gomez) is in the numbers racket, too, but strictly small-time, and he runs an honest shop.

In Joe's realm, the winning numbers can be rigged, and with the Fourth of July coming up, he's set '776' to be the winning number. His slick reasoning is, lots of rubes will bet on '776' because it's Independence Day, and with so many winners the smaller players in the numbers racket will go broke, and turn to Joe and his cohorts to bail them out. Once the scam is in motion, Joe's brother Leo hasn't got a chance.

#274  [archive]
APR. 10, 2024

No idea whether it was the filmmakers' intention, but to me this plot is an allegory for American capitalism. Little guys like Leo work their shiny heinies off trying to get ahead honestly, but when a big guy makes a big play, the little guys go down.

Then again, maybe I'm reaching. I don't really understand how the numbers racket works.

It's a fine piece of noir. Garfield is delightfully hateworthy, Gomez is a rare movie good guy who's chubby, and a pretty woman (Beatrice Pearson) is inexplicably drawn to the shady Joe. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

A Foreign Affair (1948)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Jean Arthur plays US Congresswoman Phoebe Frost, an ice-chilled but highly efficient politician who comes to Berlin to investigate misbehavior by American troops during the post-war occupation of Germany. Ms Arthur is charming, as always. She was probably born charming. 

John Lund plays Captain Johnny Pringle, who's inappropriately entangled with Erika von Schluetow, played by Marlene Dietrich. Lund has a difficult task, trying to play at romance while fraternizing with the enemy. Lund and Johnny are both mostly successful.

As for von Schluetow, she sings at a popular nightclub, and complains about the harsh post-war conditions in Berlin. During the war, she was the mistress of high-ranking Nazi official, and in a flashback we see Adolf Hitler familiarly kissing her hand. I'm a Dietrich fan, but that's hard to take.

"Bombed out a dozen times, everything caved in and pulled out from under me. My country, my possessions, my beliefs... yet somehow I kept going. Months and months in air raid shelters, crammed in with five thousand other people. I kept going. What do you think it was like to be a woman in this town when the Russians first swept in? I kept going."

Understood. It must've been rough to be German after the end of World War II, seriously. The movie says there aren't many good guys or bad guys; most of us are nebulously in between, and that's a valid point.

The film is certainly sexist, lags in the middle, and it's odd feeling sorry for Nazi sympathizers, but A Foreign Affair is a comedy with plenty of memorable moments and lines and laughs.

It's directed by Billy Wlider, and co-written by Wilder and Charles Brackett. They also co-wrote The Lost Weekend, Ninotchka, and Sunset Blvd, among other classics, so this is probably better than I think it is. And I think it's pretty good.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Fort Apache the Bronx (1981)

This looked dumb to me when it came out, and I wasn't interested. An acquaintance at the time, Philippe, invited me to see it with him, but I said no, and soon he drifted away like everyone does in my life.

Eventually I wondered what became of that guy, so I Googled him, and found out that Philippe had been killed in a car wreck around the turn of the millennium. In his honor I added this movie to my watchlist, and several years later, I'm finally getting around to watching it.

Aaaand… my instincts way back when were right. It's only pro-cop propaganda, about how rough it is to be a policeman on the rough streets of the Bronx.

Officers Murphy (Paul Newman) and Corelli (Ken Wahl) aren't just good cops, they're kind cops — friendly, nice to the natives, trying to avoid violence. Danny Aiello is the bad cop, who encourages Murphy to pull his gun more often. The great Pam Grier is reduced to walking around dressed like a hooker, but she's actually on a murder spree. Ed Asner is the tough new station captain who doesn't understand how things are in the Bronx. 

But it's mostly about Murphy and Corelli. In what appears to be just one day on the beat, they rescue a suicidal man by grabbing his ankles to keep him from jumping off a tenement roof, then Officer Murphy clowns around to distract and disarm a crazed man with a knife, delivers a baby and says it's his 17th, and gets angry when a pimp offers him a bribe. Then somehow Murphy and Corelli also find time to return to the hospital to check on the suicidal guy from that morning.

Other extreme impossibilities arise along the way, too many to list. All that needs to be said is: There are no cops like Officers Murphy and Corelli in our world, but there are lots of movies like Fort Apache the Bronx.

Verdict: Rest in piece, Philippe, but it's still NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Fortress (1992)
Streaming free at Tubi

This is one of my favorite schlock movies, low budget but high entertainment. I've seen it 10-12 times over the years, so it's flabbergasting that I've apparently never written a review.

In an apocalyptic near-future, having a second child is against the law, even if the first baby has died. Karen (Loryn Locklin) is illegally pregnant, so she and her husband John Brennick (Christopher Lambert) try to cross the border into Mexico. She gets away, but he's arrested, and it's always tickled my sci-fi and anarchist sympathies that's he's trying to escape from America.

Brennick is sent to a high-tech private prison that's cruel as a rule. Called The Fortress, it's the world's largest underground penitentiary, 33 stories deep, and armed with neutron cannons and android guards on rails in the ceiling. Other inmates include a pre-Re-Animator Jeffrey Combs, and the warden is a marvelously snarling Kurtwood Smith (That '70s Show). 

With plenty of fights, thrills, zaps, and zingers, this is a near-perfect schlock-action-prison-sci-fi flick, and the prison's grisly torture mechanisms still seem futuristic. The movie hasn't aged as much as I have over the last 30 years. 

On check-in, inmates are fitted with 'intestinators', belly-borne devices that inflict pain as discipline, and transmit dreams to the warden's office, so he can watch. I'm sure the CIA is working on such tech.

Directed by Stuart Gordon (Dolls, Re-Animator, Robot Jox).

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

42nd Street (1933)
Streaming free at Tubi

A rich old man (Guy Kibbee) agrees to underwrite a new musical on Broadway, and make Dorothy (Bebe Daniels) the leading lady — if she'll sleep with him. She's in love with her vaudeville partner (George Brent), but show business is rough, so she says yes. Welcome to pre-code!

This might be the movie that invented the genre of backstage melodrama. Dick Powell plays a sweetie sweetly, but 42nd Street is mostly owned by the ladies. Ruby Keller plays Peggy, the rookie who's never been on stage before, and Ginger Rogers plays "Anytime Annie," whose nickname means what you think it means.

Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) plays the high-power big-ego stage director, and he's determined that this'll be his last and best show, so he spends the entire movie being bastardly to the cast. He never stops haranguing the dancers, never has a compliment or a word of encouragement, and when a performer is nervous, he offers a long anti-pep talk full of exactly the wrong things to say.

The songs include "You're Getting to be a Habit with Me," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," and of course the titular "42nd Street."

What's best here is the dancing, with always-inventive choreography by Busby Berkeley — dancers on a ballroom-size turntable, overhead shots of perfect dancing that looks like animated gift-wrapping, street crime staged as dance, and the classic camera swoop through the showgirls' legs, borrowed in The Big Lebowski. When everyone's whirling and twirling to Berkeley's setup, this flick is frickin' amazing.

And what's worst is Warner Baxter, as the cruel boss. Berkeley should've choreographed someone socking him in the face.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Foul Play (1978)
4D Man
4:44 Last Day on Earth
Four Horsemen
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
The 400 Blows

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
'Movie reviews' that that recount the plot, paragraph after paragraph, suck. My pledge to you: I'll only give the basics of a movie's premise, with no spoilers after that.  
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. 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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