Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS andTHE FRONT ""

Monday, March 3, 2014

Twilight Time - THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS andTHE FRONT

THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974; Michael Cimino)
Road movies were a wonderful staple of the 1970s. They were different than the road movies of today (as were most 70s takes on the types of films we still see today). The road films of the 1970s were much more existential and certainly something like TWO-LANE BLACKTOP is the quintessential example of this kind of thing. THUNDERBOLT also has a certain kinship with EASY RIDER as well. These movies could kind of be called "road to nowhere" in that were often much more about the journey itself than the destination. There are many reasons that THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT has stood the test of time and has a solid cult following to this day. You can start with the cast of course. Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges together are some kind of dynamite combination. After that you have one of the most remarkable galleries of character actors of any film I can think of. Let me just lay out the roll call for you: George Kennedy, Geoffrey Lewis, Gary Busey, Catherine Bach, Bill McKinney, Vic Tayback, Dub Taylor and others (including some faces that will be familiar to Sam Peckinpah fans). 
After the cast you have a young director named Michael Cimino who wrote the script and was making his first film here and it's up there with the best debut films ever in my opinion. For me, it's my favorite Cimino film ever. This movie is also one of those lovely 2.35 to 1 widescreen films of the 70s. It is a gorgeously shot (mostly in Montana I believe) film with fantastic landscapes, fast cars and lots of young ladies.
Twilight Time's Blu-ray does the film plenty of justice in the transfer department. Lovely to look at. In addition to that, the folks there have included another crackerjack commentary track from Lem Dobbs, Nick Redman & Julie Kirgo (see my recent Twilight Time reviews for more praise of these folks and their commentaries). When I see that one of these tracks is to be included on a TT disc, I absolutely cannot wait to listen to it. This commentary is no exception and may be my favorite of the commentaries they've done due in no small part to the fact that I just adore this movie and was anxious to hear what they had to say about it. It fits right in with the string of commentaries I've heard from Twilight Time this year already. Great stuff. Tons of excellent observations, analysis and so forth that I really enjoyed. One thing they point out here is that this film was a Malpaso production (Eastwood's company) and that Clint undoubtedly had an impact on Cimino and the filmmaking in THUNDERBOLT. Eastwood is of course famous for his "we got it, let's move on" mentality of very few takes for each scene (whereas Cimino would later become famous for just the opposite style). Apparently Eastwood said that directors who did tons of takes were more "guessers" and that directors who knew what they wanted and what they were doing didn't need to do that. Very insightful (as is this whole track which is a splendid supplement to this fantastic film). As I've said before, it's always fantastic to hear a scholarly commentary track that isn't dry and is clearly being done by people that truly love the movie they are talking about.

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989; Woody Allen)
"If it bends, it's funny, if it breaks, it's not funny."
This is one of the great nonsensical yet brilliant comic lines of the 1980s in my mind. Alan Alda really made me a fan of his with this boorish asshole performance (prior to this movie I didn't think much of him either way). Woody Allen had much of his heyday in the 1970s some might say, but the 80s was quite a fertile period as well. This might be the pinnacle of his 80s oeuvre for me. It's an outstanding existential dramedy and perhaps Woody's last truly great film to date. He's made many solid movies since this one, but for my money this is his last great movie. It's a neat thing that Woody decided to take on two distinctly different but equally compelling stories that end up converging in an interesting way with a great scene at the end. And speaking of good scenes, CRIMES has one of my favorite romantic scenes which is just Woody and Mia Farrow watching SINGIN IN THE RAIN on a flatbed editing machine whilst they eat Chinese takeout. Such a lovely, simple scene that has stayed with me for decades. Overall though, I'm a fan of the way this morality play shakes out. Not to spoil for those who've yet to see it, but it didn't go quite the way I expected and nonetheless rings quite true. 
The disc has a good looking transfer and I'm very glad to finally have this Woody Allen classic on Blu-ray. Included here as a bonus is an isolated score track as well.

THE FRONT(1976; Martin Ritt)
I had heard a little bit about blacklisting prior to seeing this movie. Being from Wisconsin, I certainly knew of Senatir Joe McCarthy's 'crusade' against communism. But this movie really impacted me in that it put a face on the evils and destructiveness of blacklisting. And that face was that of the wonderful Zero Mostel. Using Mostel in this way was particularly heartbreaking and memorable. 
Director Martin Ritt was no stranger to making films of a challenging nature. Movies like THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, THE MOLLY MAGUIRES, NORMA RAE, CONRACK and NO DOWN PAYMENT all deal rebellion on some level or another. Ritt just seems drawn to those kind of socially conscious stories. Ritt himself was blacklisted by the TV industry (for which he had worked quite successfully) in the 1950s. Same thing with Zero Mostel. So this film has personal roots for both and that makes it hit harder for me. Though Ritt made this film with only a bit of a comedic approach, it was apparently criticised for not taking things seriously enough. I find this funny because, as light a touch as the film has at times, I never remember it as  a comedy at all. The heavier scenes with Mostel and the ending in particular are the things that tend to stick in my mind as far as the tone of the thing. I think that at the time I saw this first saw this film, I wasn't watching many socially conscious movies so it really impacted me in a big way. It sort of planted the seeds of  some ideas in my head about big companies having much leverage behind the scenes than they let on. All that combined with a much more serious Woody Allen than I was used to (I think I had mostly seen his comedies at the time) and a incredibly memorable closing scene really helped this movie stay with me for years afterwards.
Even though it was pre-MANHATTAN, it is neat to see the early interplay between Michael Murphy and Woody Allen. Though my first experience with Murphy was seeing him as the villain in CLOAK & DAGGER, I have since come to associate him much more with Woddy Allen and Robert Altman. Such a great actor.
Included here as a bonus is a great little commentary track with actress Andrea Marcovicci and film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. Marcovicci gives some wonderful personal recollections and insights into the production and the cast (Zero Mostel and Woody Allen in particular). Kirgo and Redman do a great job moderating and giving factual context to both the events portrayed in the film and their real-life inspirations as well as lots of details about the actors, and Ritt himself. Another solid TT commentary.
This disc also includes an isolated score track.

As always, Twilight Time Blu-rays can be purchased via Screen Archives.com:
http://www.screenarchives.com/display_results.cfm/category/546/TWILIGHT-TIME/

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