Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - HARDCORE and TONY ROME/LADY IN CEMENT on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Twilight Time - HARDCORE and TONY ROME/LADY IN CEMENT on Blu-ray

HARDCORE (1979; Paul Schrader)
TAXI DRIVER is often regarded as one of the great films of the 1970s. This is due in no small part to the remarkable direction of Martin Scorsese and a career high performance from Robert De Niro as the disturbed Vietnam vet Travis Bickle. Let's not underestimate the importance of Paul Schrader's script though. Many have called it one of the best from a decade already overstuffed with amazing writing on the screenplay front. That said, Schrader sometimes doesn't get remembered as much for his own films I think. Granted, it's difficult to get out from behind the gigantic shadow of a visionary like Scorsese, but Schrader is certainly no slouch as a filmmaker. His movie BLUE COLLAR (depicting the hardships and issues of a trio of Detroit auto-workers) is actually an all-time favorite of mine that gets far less press than TAXI DRIVER. Also underrated by many is his movie HARDCORE. Granted, the subject matter sounds even less appealing than the adventures of a psychotic vigilante cab driver, but the movie itself is solid. It's the tale of a conservative Midwest businessman who is desperate to find his runaway daughter and ends up having to enter the seedy and unpleasant world of the Los Angeles pornography film scene to get her back. One look at the poster for the film and the pained look on George C. Scott's face with the tagline, "Oh my God, that's my daughter" and a potential viewer may respond with potential queasiness or even laughter. I think this must have been my third time watching this movie and with each viewing my perspective has shifted. The first go round I took it seriously, but at the college-age that saw it the film was mostly a downer with some funny moments of perceived overacting by Scott. The second time was within the past ten years and I was able to see it more in the context of Paul Schrader's other movies like BLUE COLLAR and AMERICAN GIGOLO and that really helped me recognized more of its greatness. This time, my situation had changed drastically in that I know have my own daughter (she's only seven, but still) and that made the experience even more tense. It played more like the horror movie I imagine it's supposed to and I found myself riddle with anxiety for my little girl's future. There's one particular shot where George C. Scott's daughter looks at him innocently before she's about to leave the house and go off on this trip to California with some folks from their church. This one shot was so powerful and so resonant knowing what's to befall this girl in the movie and it also made me hyper-aware of the fact that there are hard and fast limits to the thing things I can do to protect my own daughter from the evils of the world. The opening scene of HARDCORE is a Christmas celebration with several families gathering to share some food and each other's company. Right off, when we hear some of the elder gentlemen speaking of god and the bible (and even quoting verse), it is made clear that the journey that the movie will take us on - from gentle, snow covered Grand Rapids Michigan to the scummy underside of the streets of Los Angeles - will be a tough one. As I said, the movie plays more like a horror movie amidst these trappings and that makes it all the more engaging and terrifying. George C. Scott's character is a single parent on top of having to deal with the evils of the porn world so that makes everything even more resonant. What I would do without the help (nay - guidance) of my wife with regard to my daughter I really don't know so to think of this man dealing with his child's situation is extremely powerful to me personally. Gone are the snickers I may have had at Scott's bad wig or his over "acting" when he has to play the role of a porno producer himself to accomplish his goals. This time things were much more deadly serious and melancholy. And I don't mean to make the film sound like an arduous watch either. It is quite harrowing though and that was a good thing. I've always liked the malleable nature of the cinematic experience and how seeing films multiple times over a several decades can change things dramatically. For those that are looking for an uglier, but no less effective entry into a Schrader-ian world like that of TAXI DRIVER - they need look no further than HARDCORE. One carry-over from TAXI DRIVER is Peter Boyle. Here, Boyle plays an odd and sleazy private investigator that George C. Scott hires to help him. It's a classic Boyle role and one that will undoubtedly leave an impression. Also in the cast are the lovely Season Hubley and also Dick Sargent from the BEWITCHED TV show. It should also be noted that the opening of the movie was shot in and around where Schrader himself grew up. He clearly had a specific connection to the material in that he was also raised in a strictly religious environment (and did not see a film for the first time until he was seventeen years old). As much as TAXI DRIVER has a lot of Schrader in it, HARDCORE may be one of his most personal movies in a lot of ways.

Special Features:
-An Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Paul Schrader. I'm a huge Schrader fan, so I relish any opportunity to hear him speak about his work. Once he starts in about HARDCORE being a variation on THE SEARCHERS , I'm fully in and hooked by what he has to say about the film and his memories of it. His story of meeting George C. Scott for the first time about the movie is fascinating and so is the whole track.

-An Audio Commentary with Film Historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo. 
-An Isolated Score Track of Jack Nitzsche's music for the film.
-Original Theatrical Trailer
You can purchase HARDCORE directly from Twilight Time here:

TONY ROME (1967; Gordon Douglas)
As TONY ROME opens, we hear Nancy Sinatra singing the title tune about her father's character. Let's sample the lyrics shall we:
Mothers lock your daughters in
It's too late to talk to them.
'Cause Tony Rome is out and about
And Tony Rome'll get 'em
If you don't watch out.
Tony Rome'll get 'em
If you don't watch out.

So forgive me, but isn't it even the tiniest bit creepy to have your daughter sing about you in this way? I'm implying absolutely nothing other than that it seems a bit in weird taste. That said, the whole movie is thrown a touch off kilter by the fact that Sinatra himself was about fifty-two at the time it was made and the Tony Rome character seems to have been written originally as a younger man. I couldn't get my hands on Marvin H. Albert's source novel - Miami Mayhem - to verify, but this would appear to be a classic case of an older actor playing a part that they are too old for. So of course, most of the ladies in the movie are almost inexplicably drawn to Rome, despite him being waaaay older and frumpier than Frank was in his prime. Frank also looks older than he was by a good ten years and it'd be easy to credit that to the kind of living he did. Jill St. John (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) is sort of the main romantic interest in the movie and she was close to thirty-five years Frank's junior at the time. Anyway, not to dwell on that aspect of the movie, but it always has been something that tends to take me out and think about the main actor as a movie star and not the character. That said, I still enjoy TONY ROME as a film and a somewhat traditional detective story. It resembles a copy of a copy of something like THE BIG SLEEP, with Rome getting entangled with a rich family via one of the daughters and her questionable behavior. I always kind of enjoy watching a story like this unfold wherein the private dick just keeps peeling away layer after layer and new angle after new angle. Sinatra is just sarcastic enough to play the world weary shamus part pretty well
and make him affable enough. As much as TONY ROME is a good time and it features the likes of Richard Conte, Gena Rowlands, Simon Oakland and other recognizables, I find myself being a bigger fan of its follow-up - LADY IN CEMENT. This may or may not have something to do with Raquel Welch being the female primary in that one, but there's more to it than that. In LADY, Frank is back as Tony Rome, but he is somehow more flippant and the movie plays slightly more tongue in cheek than its predecessor. It's like Frank wanted to acknowledge his age a little more this time and the movie feels better for it overall. Richard Conte returns and that's always a plus. 
You can purchase this TONY ROME double from Twilight Time here:


C Chaka said...

It's funny how having kids can totally change the way you look at a film. I watched The Hills Have Eyes right after my first son was born and some of the scenes I laughed at before now made my breath stop.

Rupert Pupkin said...

Absolutely! Pretty sure that the next time I rewatch that one (which will be soon), I'll have the same reaction.