The 400 Blows and
4:44 Last Day on Earth,
and a few more films

Foul Play (1978)
Streaming free at Internet Archive 

A recently-divorced librarian (Goldie Hawn) picks up a hitchhiker, which unwittingly brings her into an assassination plot involving an albino, a man with a scarred face, a high-ranking Catholic official, a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado, and Billy Barty as "the dwarf." Chevy Chase plays the cop who shows up when Goldie calls 9-1-1.

In 1978, I took a dame to see this at the long-gone Town Theater in Seattle. We both liked it, and a rewatch has been on my playlist for years. Last night was the night.

Local critic John Hartl, writing in The Times, had called Foul Play a "paint-by-numbers Hitchcock imitation," and I thought Hartl was being a highbrow movie snob. Back then, though, I hadn't seen much Hitchcock, and watching Foul Play again, it's exactly what Hartl said. The plot and situations are borrowed from Hitch, along with some of the camera angles. The only thing they didn't steal was a Hitchcock cameo.

#275  [archive]
APR. 12, 2024

Objectively, there's a lot wrong with this movie. The plot is a mess of MacGuffins that can't be untangled and doesn't try. It can't decide whether it's a thriller or slapstick. Chase is mostly unfunny, and sometimes obnoxious. And it's set in San Francisco, but clearly filmed in Los Angeles.

And yet, Goldie Hawn has never been cuter, and saves the show almost all by herself. Dudley Moore is her co-star more than Chase, and Moore is hilarious. Burgess Meredith kicks ass, playing Hawn's lovable landlord.

Written and directed by Colin Higgins, who wrote the wondrous Harold and Maude, this has some small sliver of that movie's sparkle, mostly in Hawn. I even liked Barry Manilow's song, "Ready To Take a Chance Again." 

I ain't proud to recommend Foul Play, but I do.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

4D Man (1959)
a/k/a Master of Terror
Streaming free at Internet Archive

James Congdon and Robert Lansing play brothers, both mad scientists, working on getting two objects to occupy the same space at the same time. The brothers also want to occupy the same space inside Lee Meriwether, though not at the same time.

Lansing passes his fist through solid steel, walks through walls and doors, etc, so the movie needs excellent greenscreen and double-exposure work, but the effects are the weakest thing here. The greenscreens look obviously unreal, even by the standards of '50s special effects.

It's a good movie, though, with a memorably swinging score by Ralph Carmichael, and lighthearted direction by Irvin S Yeaworth Jr (The Blob), who has the actors occasionally show playful body language. 

Movie buffs might be confused by the first several seconds here. I sure was, and still am: the Columbia Pictures logo shows (you know, lady with a torch) while the Warner Bros fanfare plays. Bizarre.

Patty Duke is in the credits, but I never spotted her, and the movie's good but not good enough to watch a second time looking for an identical cousin.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011)
Streaming free at The CW

Abel Ferrara made two fantastic, gritty, pessimistic films that I loved, Ms 45 and Bad Lieutenant.

In 1993 he did a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, titled simply Body Snatchers, and I was there for the first matinee. I was pumped, man. It should've been a perfect match of cynical moviemaker and dark source material, but instead, Body Snatchers simply sucked.

After that, Abel Ferrara dropped off my watchlist.

Everybody makes occasional mistakes, though, and Ferrara has had a long career since the '90s, making movies I've never heard of. Sometimes "never heard of it" is a good thing, especially if your tastes run outside the ordinary. This is a film I'd never heard of, written and directed by Ferrara.

"At 4:44 AM tomorrow morning, give or take a few seconds, the world will come to an end. It will be the result of the ever-weakening ozone layer, that has now thinned and dissipated far more rapidly than even the worst doomsayer could've imagined. So the final explosion, meltdown, will come with fair warning, but no possible means of escape. There will be no survivors. The world will end."

That's the concept. Everything's over at a quarter till five tomorrow morning.

The film opens with a long, unsexy sex scene, to remind you that Ferrara is a sick fuck, but after that 4:44 is unique and very worth a watch. It's about little moments, and like life itself, some of the little moments are stupid and some are profound.

The film isn't apocalyptic, nor science fiction. It's not a realistic look at how a sudden, known-in-advance end of the world would play out, nor is it trying to be. It's a think piece, that's all — a meditation on the mood when you know everything's almost over.

CNN signs off, so staff can go home to their loved ones, but there's little panic in the air. Cisco (Willem Dafoe) checks his email, visits his brother, and spends most of the last day with his wife Skye (Shanyn Leigh). She's an artist, painting a canvas that'll never be finished. With mere hours to go, they order Chinese food delivered. "Ain't That a Shame" plays on the soundtrack, a fitting theme for a sunset that won't be followed by sunrise.

"The world's been ending ever since it started, man. We've been ending ever since we were born. Don't take that shit too seriously."

Verdict: YES.

Best of all, 4:44 puts a long backlog of Abel Ferrara movies on my watchlist. Even Body Snatchers might merit a second look.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Four Horsemen (2012)
Streaming free at Tubi

This is a documentary made in the aftermath of the financial crisis circa 2008, and I think it's arguing that the banking collapse was symptomatic of the end of American or western civilization. The film does quite a poor job making its point, though. It's full of odd, flowery assertions made without much evidence.

"Just as Gutenberg's printing press wrestled control of the cognitive map away from an ecclesiastical and royal elite, today the internet is beginning to change governments, finance, and the media."

Is it? How so? It's unexplained here.

"… We need context from people who speak the truth in the face of collective delusion, because to understand something is to be liberated from it."

Uh, no, understanding is not liberation. That's the dumbest line since "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

Immediately after promising "context from people who speak the truth in the face of collective delusion," we're introduced to one of the world's great liars, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell. Wilkerson helped Powell prepare the infamous false reasons for war, delivered at the United Nations, and thus should be disqualified from punditry or being a talking head in any documentary.

"People who speak the truth," my pimpled white ass.

The four horsemen, if you're wondering, are crooked finance, ecological collapse, state violence, and poverty. OK, but what's gained by calling these things 'horsemen,' beyond creepy religious implications?

Watching the first ten minutes of this — that's as far as I got — is like listening to a kindhearted kook ramble on and on about politics. Even if you agree with him, he's not making much sense, and unless he's family, you have better things to do.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is a famous silent movie, beautifully photographed, and tinted scene by scene to match the mood. It has some great war scenes, but I kinda hate war movies. The Biblical prophecy of the four horseman of the apocalypse is presented well, but religion bores me. Mostly, this is an big, kinda bloated and boring silent melodrama.

The story is about a rich family in Argentina, where the patriarch is a Spanish cattle rancher. One of his daughters marries a German man, the other daughter marries a Frenchman. Because of the politics of the time, Dad prefers the French-married daughter, and adores his half-French grandson, who grows up to be Rudolph Valentino. 

This made Valentino a star, and he's very handsome, but his acting is of a different era. So's the movie. It was a big hit in 1926, but seems stale today.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The 400 Blows (1959)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is a coming-of-age story about a French kid named Antoine, who's about 15 years old. He's a low-key troublemaker at home, and frequently scolded at school, which is shown as being all about discipline and control, and barely about education at all.

Antoine's parents argue frequently, and his mother is endlessly exasperated with him, so after skipping school one day his excuse at school the day after is that his mum died. Of course, that gets him in even worse trouble.

The boy moves on to theft, stealing a typewriter, which in our day might be akin to stealing a laptop. In this movie's France in the 1950s, it's enough to get Antoine sentenced to a juvenile prison, which seems excessive to this bleeding heart liberal — it's discipline and control again, a rotten thing to do to a kid.

François Truffaut's The 400 Blows is widely hailed as one of the finest films of the 20th century, which seems a bit much, but it's excellent — the best film I've seen this week, maybe this month. It's heartfelt, thoughtful, funny and sad, with fine direction, sweet performances, and a great black-and-white look to it. 

Verdict: BIG YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Four Lions (2010)
Four Sided Triangle
14 Days in a City with No Laws
Fourteen Hours
The Fox
Foxy Brown

... 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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  1. I love love love instrumental rock'n'roll. The good stuff is perfect for headphones at work; a fast beat keeps me awake through the boredom, and the lack of words means it's never an interruption to my mundane chain of thought.

    Several years ago I spent weeks scouring the internet to pirate my favorite instrumental tracks, so I expect all of these will be known to me, but it's always a happy listen and I'm starting right now...

  2. And here's a sort of recent fanzine piece on Sid King . . .


  3. That's a great article. We rarely hear about the people who *almost* made the big time, and to me it's more inspirational than all the success stories. Certainly more relatable.

    I'll be he did fine haircuts and trims, too.

  4. The success stories frequently lead to more spectacular failure: Booze, drugs, hungry women, corporations, plane crashes. This guy got to tour Europe with his group when the people in Europe thought he was a big deal back in the states. He typically signed autographs for at least an hour after a show, and he signed for everybody who wanted one. He knew how fragile fame was and how fragile life is. Then he came home and nobody came to see his group so he went to barber school. Man, I've heard sadder biographies so far this morning.


  5. If you ever get tired of movies, there's a book called The Birth of Loud by Ian S. Port about the evolution of the electric guitar and the birth of the solid body electric guitar. If you're interested in the way music is made -- our music -- this book might be for you. I finished it and reread the whole thing. Never done that before. Oh, I've reread books before; I've just never gone from the last page to the first page.


    1. I would need the book to explain the difference between an electric guitar and a solid body electric guitar. Also, I would need the book to be less than epic length — my brother gave me a 550-page baseball book, and it's interesting and all, but I'm recliner-bound, and it's difficult balancing a thick hardcover in the recliner.

    2. Well, my copy is a paperback, so it's neither large nor heavy, but as I recall, it's just under 300 pages. I'm not home now, so I'll write a little bit about guitars when I see my own keyboard again. As you know, I'm on a multi-year quest to try to understand 20th century culture through popular (and unpopular) music. I hope I get there, but I never pray.


      see also: Brown, Jackson "Song for Adam"

    3. Thanks for the link. I knew the broad outlines, but not the particulars. I've never been a serious concert guy. Sure, Dylan and Hendrix and a few of the gods, but because of that one song, which I fell in love with I went to see Jackson Browne in Seattle in the 70s. He was a bigger draw then, and filled a moderately big theater, but it was small enough to have acoustic properties. He played the song on acoustic guitar (not electric, not solid body), with a viola, a violin, and, I think, a mandolin behind him. No percussion and, as I recall, no bass. When you have the perfect arrangement for a song, fifty years means nothing. A particular song about a particular guy that applies to everybody in the concert hall. Some things fall away and are forgotten, and some things last. Thanks again.


    4. Someone wise or a wiseacre said, we all die three times. The first death is when the body gives out. The second is when we're ashes to ashes, dust to dust, buried or cremated. And the third death comes a few years, maybe a few decades in the future, when the dead are never mentioned again, eternally forgotten.

      For me, I figure it'll be about five years between death #1 and death #3. Jackson Brown probably gets fifty years or a century, and he brought Adam Saylor with him.

    5. Claude Reigns, MLSApril 16, 2024 at 1:54 PM

      "For me, I figure it'll be about five years between death #1 and death #3"

      And that's why, my friend, we need PATHETIC LIFE: THE BOOK, for posterity's (or posterior's) sake. Eternity awaits in the Dewey Decimal System!

    6. I've never been a big fan of posterity.

    7. Once again, having a hard time finding a place to comment. Above and below here there are other comments worth responding to.

      History might just be bunk or even a bunk bed, but Henry Ford retracted: said he was misquoted, misunderstood, and maybe even mistaken, then built a huge museum in Michigan to try to understand the past. I wouldn't want to track the path of the world on the Web, but that's only the last six years of the 20th century, a century (and a millennium) in which nation states, agricultural and industrial technology changes, and, toward the end, environmental changes mattered, at least to the atoms and cells that figured out how to get up and walk around. In North America, European Americans fenced off Native Americans and, after owning and horribly mistreating African Americans, experienced a significant African American migration and a seemingly successful search for identity that gave the European interlopers your man G. W. Carver, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Barak Obama, who put BB King in the White House on multiple occasions (where he belonged). Of course it's more complicated than that, and details matter, but ignoring the details and suggesting we can't learn from the past just makes us dumber, and we can hardly afford THAT.

      Understanding the past is the surest way to understanding the present, and when global economies change (hunting and gathering to agriculture, agricultural to industrial, industrial to information, information to the now-thriving bio-economy and forward from here) EVERYTHING changes. Those changes can be broadly anticipated and, at least in a general way, managed (e.g., the regulation of bio meds in recent years). It's well and good to give up and cede the Earth to the wealthy, but history has shown that informed, stubborn people can make a difference (see also: the growth in democratic institutions in the last three centuries). It's a fight we might well lose, but hardly one not worthy our best efforts.


    8. Sorry, man, I'm lost as to where this fits in, and it must be my fault; I'm the first comment on this page but clearly responding to a comment from elsewhere. Too easy to get too confused about too many things these days.

      No disagreement with most of what you said above, but a couple of questions:

      Did Henry Ford say 'oops' and 'sorry' for writing and publishing his "International Jew" series of articles and books? Is there something more important about the Henry Ford Museum than just another museum of cool old junk, named after the rich dude who underwrote it so help his public image?

      Serious questions. I don't know the answers.

    9. Mr Ford is often quoted as saying, "History is bunk." He did say, in the context of Napoleon, "History is more or less bunk." Then he spent a lot of time and money building the Henry Ford Museum, which is pretty much a history museum. Henry also apologized for his comments about an international Jewish conspiracy. For a skinny guy he had to eat a lot of words.


    10. And he had a lot of words to eat. He wrote *books* on the subject of hating Jews. I remain not a fan, and hesitant to accept the apology. Some rapid research tells me it came only to settle a lawsuit, and he hired someone else to write it.

    11. I made my point clumsily. I'm not a fan of any kind of Henry Ford. History was only one of many things he was wrong about. I think we can learn from history, so I started with Ford saying "History is bunk." Ford was bunk. The Dodge brothers took Ford to the cleaners on multiple occasions. He wasn't even a good businessman, which is more or less what he was known for. When I try to get cute with my writing I confuse both myself and the reader. Sorry.


    12. Ah, you write fine, mate. I have a habit of free association instead of answering questions or staying on topic. I could've been a politician if I had less integrity.

      All I know about Ford is the anti-Semitism, and that he invented the modern assembly line. So, he had exactly one smart business idea. Was he at least a car engineer, designing the early Fords, or did he hire that work?

    13. Ford started out as an automotive engineer before there were automobiles. He ended up a capitalist who paid his workers $5 a day (about twice the going rate) but opposed his workers unionizing. As you might know, I'm a serious union guy (you won't get me I'm part of the union, 'till the day I die, 'till the day I die) so even though he was paying a fair wage, there were no processes for grievances or to improve working conditions. There have been worse capitalists, but possibly no worse Jew-haters.

      He had a long, complicated life, and this is off the top of my head. Maybe he was no better or worse than other capitalists.


    14. An early capitalist prototype, perhaps — the Jack Welch of his era. Eole model for other capitalists, who copied and opposite-of-improved on his worst ideas, and the part about paying well, or anything else if forgetting about it made more money.

  6. Running his own barbershop with a recording studio in the back, and being *happy* in his life as I think he was, is a victory over fate.

  7. Said, of course, in a third of the words it took me.


    1. I try to find the fewest words. Haven't spoken at all since Friday.

    2. To see a World in a Grain of Sand
      And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
      Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
      And Eternity in an hour

    3. OK, he only played in the Carolina League, but he had a series of groin pulls that kept him from hitting to all fields.


  8. I like 400 Blows, but I much prefer Vigo's Zero for Conduct, which was a big influence on it, and a much less sentimental, far more subversive film. Has one of my favorite endings - and favorite final shots - ever. Vigo made just two films, one of all my all time directors.

    1. I have not seen it, but Zero for Conduct was already on my list, but I trust you so much, I've added his other feature and a few shorts to the list, too. Thanks!


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