“Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947) starring Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, & John Garfield

Philip Schuyler Green (Gregory Peck) is a writer/novelist from California recently hired by a national magazine (Smith’s Weekly) in NYC for a series of articles. Phil is a widower w/ a young son- Tommy (Dean Stockwell- best known for Quantum Leap and Battlestar Galactica) – and a mother (Anne Revere) who is facing health challenges. He’s NOT too keen on the topic his editor John Minify (Albert Dekker) chooses- antisemitism. He wishes he could talk w/ his best pal, Dave Goldman (John Garfield), but Dave (who is Jewish) is serving overseas w/ the Army Corps on Engineers. For a week, Phil isn’t sure how to tackle it, then it comes to him- he’ll pretend to be Jewish! Of course, it takes little time for him to start experiencing bigotry. Phil’s anger at the way he’s treated starts affecting all aspects of his life, including his growing romance w/ his editor’s niece, Kathy Lacey (Dorothy McGuire).

Tommy: What’s antisemitism?

Phil: Well, uh, that’s when some people don’t like other people just because they’re Jews.

Tommy: Why not? Are Jews bad?

Phil: Well, some are and some aren’t, just like with everyone else.

Tommy: What are Jews, anyway?

Phil: Well, uh, it’s like this. Remember last week when you asked me about that big church, and I told you there are all different kinds of churches? Well, the people who go to that particular church are called Catholics, and there are people who go to different churches and they’re called Protestants, and there are people who go to different churches and they’re called Jews, only they call their churches temples or synagogues.

Tommy: Why don’t some people like them?

Phil: Well, I can’t really explain it, Tommy.

I re-watched this Oscar-winning movie (directed by Elia Kazan) last week; I saw it a few times over the years. Though there are things to admire, there are scenes which will look quite dated (and insensitive) to modern viewers. After he decides on his angle, Phil looks into the mirror and assesses his own features (“dark hair, dark eyes”) as being consistent w/ the Jews. This reveals that he has been influenced by the stereotype of there being a “Jewish look.” You may find Phil’s talks w/ his (Jewish) secretary, Elaine Wales (June Havoc), to be cringe-worthy (as the young people say). Of course, June herself says some self-hating/prejudiced stuff re: her people.

Phil: I’m going to let everybody know I’m Jewish.

Kathy: Jewish? But you’re not! Are you? Not that it would make any difference to me. But you said, “Let everybody know,” as if you hadn’t before and would now. So I just wondered. Not that it would make any difference to me. Phil, you’re annoyed.

Phil: No, I’m just thinking.

Kathy: Well, don’t look serious about it. Surely you must know where I stand.

Phil: Oh, I do.

Kathy: You just caught me off-guard.

I thought it was refreshing that the main love interest was smart (teacher), posh, and divorced; this is rare for a woman in a ’40s movie! (BTW, both Peck and McGuire were only in their early 30s.) However, Kathy is a part of her time and (high) society, so she doesn’t always know what to say (much less do) when her man is faced w/ prejudice. Admit it, we all know some “nice” WASP lady like this! There’s a lot of emphasis (too much for many viewers) on the romance between Phil and Kathy; it also happens very fast. I thought that the actors had good chemistry, though I preferred Anne Dettrey (Celeste Holm) over Kathy. Anne also works at the mag, enjoys single life, and has a bubbly personality; we can tell she greatly respects and likes Phil.

I enjoyed all the family stuff; Phil has a great relationship w/ his mom (who was only 12 yrs older- wow) and son, who both get some good character development. Stockwell is not just adorable (w/ his dark curls), but also a natural kid actor (rare in that time)! The first act will seem slow to many viewers; Phil suffers from writer’s block (which doesn’t equal great drama). It takes some time for Garfield (who was Jewish) to show up; he took a supporting role b/c he felt this was an important story to tell (but was paid his star’s salary). I loved how he played Dave; it was a subtle performance which holds up well even today! This was also the year when a (smaller) movie also tackled antisemitism- Crossfire.

[1] Green is adamantly and unwaveringly sure of himself and woe betide any who do not share his abhorrence at any manifestation of discrimination, starting with Kathy.

The romance between Green and Kathy is as back-and-forth as any Hollywood potboiler, the difference being that their arguments and falling-outs revolve entirely over Kathy’s inability to grasp the absolute righteousness of her fiance’s crusade. The dispute is artificial and wearying to some degree and I rooted for Celeste Holm’s lovely, witty and totally tolerant Anne, a fashion editor with attitude, as the top gal in the film.

[2] Peck’s crusading writer who masquerades as a Jew is simply too zealous and unswerving for his own good. He has no faults, no inner conflicts and no doubts about himself. […]

She symbolizes the hypocrisy and passiveness of the everyday American on anti-Semitism, and he points it out to her every chance he gets-and that’s all.

[3] As John Garfield’s character in the movie showed: discrimination and racial intolerance can be eliminated if we fight it. Garfield’s willingness to take a supporting role in this movie because of the power of its message should compel the skeptics to watch this movie.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Iconic & Problematic: “Fatal Attraction” (1987) starring Michael Douglas & Glenn Close

Erotic thriller (perhaps a guilty pleasure for some of us in quarantine life) is a subgenre of film which is defined as a thriller w/ illicit romance or erotic fantasy. Most erotic thrillers contain scenes of sex and nudity (though the frequency and explicitness varies). Erotic thrillers emerged as a distinct genre in the late 1980s, as a result of the success of this film. As some critics/viewers have noted, erotic thrillers are connected to film noir of the 1940s and ’50s which explored the dark side of life in post-WWII America.

A one-night fling, with no strings attached. That’s what she said. That’s what he believed. -A tag line for the film

Most of you already know the plot, as Fatal Attraction is considered iconic, yet problematic (when viewed by our modern eyes). Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is a successful NYC attorney, and on a weekend when his wife and daughter are away from home at his in-laws’ house, he has a work meeting that includes Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), an editor for a publishing company. This leads to a drink at a bar, and that leads to a passionate one night stand that turns into a weekend when Alex attempts suicide when Dan tries to leave. Dan thinks it’s over, as Alex has seemed to come to her senses. Suddenly, Alex tells him she is pregnant, and she is having this baby b/c (at age 36) it may be her last chance. Dan insists he isn’t leaving his wife for her and that he doesn’t love her; he is feeling indifferent (not hating her). Alex stalks Dan and gradually turns up the heat until his family is at risk!

Alex Forrest: [to Dan] Well, what am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan!

I was surprised how good the film actually was; it’s an intense stalker-drama. The three lead actors (Douglas, Close, and Anne Archer as the wife) do a great job. Douglas was also working on Wall Street (1987) at the same time. When Close’s agent first called to express her interest in playing Alex Forrest, he was told, “Please don’t make her come in. She’s completely wrong for the part.” Director Adrian Lyne also thought that she was “the last person on Earth” who should play the role. I was impressed by Close, esp. in the first act of the movie; she plays it sophisticated, cool, and has obvious chemistry w/ Douglas. Of course, her transformation to stalker later is scary. The white dress she wears at the end of the movie resembles a straightjacket. Kirstie Alley, who was under consideration for the role of Alex, provided a tape of a woman who had been stalking her then-husband, actor Parker Stevenson, in which she was begging to be part of his life. The woman’s exact words were used for the tape Alex sends to Dan in the film- wow!

I would read that script totally differently. The astounding thing was that in my research for Fatal Attraction, I talked to two psychiatrists. Never did a mental disorder come up. Never did the possibility of that come up. That, of course, would be the first thing I would think of now. -Close in a 2013 CBS News interview

During the Trump era, SNL did a parody of it w/ actors playing WH advisor Kellyanne Conway and CNN reporter Jake Tapper. Though many enjoyed it, others were offended by how Conway was portrayed. There are elements in this movie that are outdated; recall Alex’s line re: her not likely to have another baby (she is only aged 36). The filmmakers also skip over the mental health issue- yikes! The original ending was changed (b/c preview audiences hated it), though it sounds a lot more interesting. The ending we see is quite brutal; at one point, Close suffered a concussion and was rushed to the E.R. While examining her, doctors discovered that she was several weeks pregnant w/ her daughter! A young female comedian recently commented that Alex needed therapy and also some girlfriends who supported her- quite valid points. I’ve been listening this Summer to a podcast focused on the erotic thriller genre (Fatal Attractions) hosted by UK and French cinephiles.

[1] Glenn Close who had only played the nice girl roles blew everyone’s mind when she played Alex Forrest. What passion she put into the role and part of you couldn’t really hate her. She brings up a great point to Dan “Because I won’t allow you to treat me like some slut you can just bang a couple of times and throw in the garbage?” Your heart does break for her, but at the same time you want to scream at her to let go of Dan and not hurt his family. Michael Douglas as Dan plays the role extremely well. He gives Dan a sense of realism, he’s not a major jerk… Ann Archer as Beth was not only beautiful, classy, but incredibly intelligent. She makes Beth so real…

[2] Aside from the moral problems of adultery, doesn’t Alex have a point ? Isn’t she entitled to something besides simply being used for a night or two? The tension in this film is constant, although a lot of it seems too easily foreshadowed.

[3] The impact and influence of this great box office success has continued to be significantly stronger than would normally be expected, as it has successfully maintained its popularity over the years and even been responsible for the term “bunny boiler” becoming a universally recognised part of the language.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Heat” (1995) starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, & Val Kilmer

[repeated line]

Neil McCauley: Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.

This movie (written/dir. by Michael Mann) is considered a neo-noir; it’s slick, stylish, BUT also has plenty of substance. It was filmed in L.A. (which looks esp. beautiful in the night shots, thanks to cinematographer Dante Spinotti). You may have heard that this is the 1st time that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro shared a scene- wow! Rather than dubbing in the gunshots during the pivotal bank robbery/shootout, Mann had microphones placed around the set, so that the audio could be captured live. This added to the impact of the scene- it sounded like no other gunfight onscreen!

Eady: You travel a lot?

Neil McCauley: Yeah.

Eady: Traveling makes you lonely?

Neil McCauley: I’m alone, I am not lonely.

Career thief Neil McCauley (De Niro) and LAPD Lt. Vincent Hanna (Pacino) are BOTH great at their jobs and strong leaders who command respect. However, they are NOT so self-assured when it comes to their personal lives; they are facing loneliness (something that is NOT hard to relate to after surviving quarantine life). Hanna’s marriage w/ his 3rd wife, Justine (Diane Venora), has become strained; Justine’s teen daughter Lauren (Natalie Portman- in a small, yet touching role) is emotionally troubled b/c of her absentee father. McCauley meets an introverted/younger woman, Eady (Amy Brenneman); she works at a bookstore and as a graphic designer. He lets her talk about herself, but doesn’t reveal much about his life; he says he’s a traveling salesman. At first, Brenneman disliked the script and refused her role, saying it was too filled w/ blood with no morality; Mann told her that with that mind set, she would be perfect for Eady.

Vincent Hanna: I gotta hold on to my angst. I preserve it because I need it. It keeps me sharp, on the edge, where I gotta be.

McCauley’s crew includes Chris Sheherlis (Val Kilmer), Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore), Trejo (Danny Trejo- who’d spent time at Folsom), Waingro (Kevin Gage- who later spent time in jail), and eventually- Donald Breedan (Dennis Haysbert). Hanna’s crew from Robbery/Homicide Division includes Drucker (Mykelti Williamson), Casals (Wes Studi), and Bosco (Ted Levine). In preparation for their roles, those playing criminals spent time w/ former criminals and their families; those playing cops did the same. Unlike most heist movies, there are domestic scenes here, so we get to know McCauley’s crew. Chris is still in love w/ his wife Charlene (Ashley Judd); his gambling problem and quick temper are the issues that are driving her away. They have a baby son and live in a ranch-style suburban house. Michael has a wife, two young kids, and some savings; he stays in the game (even when things get dangerous) b/c of the thrill. Trejo has a wife who he dotes on. Donald, recently out on parole, thinks he doesn’t deserve his loving/loyal wife; he chafes against his job cleaning up a greasy diner (and disrespect from his boss).

Vincent: So you never wanted a regular type life?

Neil: What the f**k is that? Barbeques and ballgames?

Mann made the movie as tribute to a detective friend of his in Chicago, who tracked/killed a thief (named Neil McCauley), who he had once met under non-violent circumstances. The scene where McCauley and Hanna meet face-to-face has some great dialogue; it was shot at a real restaurant known for its late-night dining. Pacino and De Niro decided NOT to rehearse before they did this scene, so it would seem fresh; Mann agreed to this also. If you like your action films w/ something extra, then check it out.

[1]… Heat is a cinematic banquet of intense imagery and pulse-pounding action. Come hungry.

[2] The cops are similar to the robbers and vice-versa. Perhaps Mann is telling us were all the same. Except in what we do. Every speaking part holds substance in this movie…

[3] It seems one of Michael Mann’s main priorities was to make a film with a dreamlike feel to it, to portray LA as a dusty oil-painting on which complex characters could play out their lives. One of the main themes is the similarity of the career criminal and the street-wise cop. It is fascinating to find yourself really feeling for De Niro’s tragic bank-robber, a man of philosophical merit who realises he’s stuck in a life of crime he doesn’t want to lead. Pacino’s cop is less easy to sympathise with, but he too leads an in-escapable life of guns and crime.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Humoresque” (1946) starring John Garfield & Joan Crawford

Sid [to Paul]: You’ll do all right. You have all the characteristics of a successful virtuoso. You’re self-indulgent, self-dedicated, and a hero of all your dreams.

Paul Boray (John Garfield) comes from a working-class background; he and his family live above their humble grocery store in NYC. Paul has been playing the violin since he was 11 y.o. (which his mother supports). Paul’s father has a hint of an European accent; he’s skeptical re: his son’s musical potential. A section of the story is told in flashback; a very young Robert Blake plays Paul. While his older siblings work their retail jobs, as a young adult, Paul lives for his music and wants to become a concert violinist. One of Paul’s classmates at the National Institute of Music, Gina (Joan Chandler- her first role), has strong feelings for him; they have a connection and live in the same neighborhood. Like many young people, Paul is idealistic and feels that talent itself will take him to where he wants to go. Paul has potential, but he doesn’t have the right connections, his best friend/pianist Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant) explains.

Helen: Bad manners, Mr. Boray, the infallible sign of talent.

At a high society party w/ Sid, Paul meets Helen (Joan Crawford) and Victor (Paul Cavanagh) Wright, the wealthy/influential hosts. Victor (who is older) is perceptive, but also weak man; Helen is strong-minded, yet insecure (and relies on alcohol). Helen becomes Paul’s patroness; she finds him a manager, helps him choose a new suit, and sets up his first public recital. Eventually, Paul embarks on a concert tour and becomes a big success. Paul and Helen also fall in love, but it is a destructive type of love that may risk Paul’s career… and maybe more!

Sid: Tell me, Mrs. Wright, does your husband interfere with your marriage?

“Humoresque” is a must-see for classic film fans, esp. those who like classical music. You hear pieces by Dvorak, Chopin (Etude in G-flat major), Wagner (Tristan and Idolde), Bizet (Carmen), etc. Garfield’s violin “performances” were actually played by two pro violinists standing on either side of him, one moving the bow and one doing the fingering. The music was performed by Isaac Stern; in closeups of the hands alone playing the violin, those are his hands. Levant did all his own piano playing. The screenplay (written by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold) has great dialogue (w/ memorable lines); the movie is based on a short story by Fanny Hurst.

Helen: I spend my life doing penance for things I never should have done in the first place.

Garfield (then 33), a Method actor, tried to get an emotional bond w/ the character Crawford (42 y.o.) played by looking deeply in her eyes. This unnerved Crawford, who told director Joe Negulesco: “Tell him to stop looking at me!” LOL, but they have some great onscreen chemistry! Garfield had just come off filming The Postman Always Rings Twice (his most well-known role). While working on this movie, Crawford won the Best Actress Oscar for Mildred Pierce. There is some gorgeous B&W photography here, as well as some creatively framed shots. After sparring w/ Paul for the first time, Helen goes to the bar in the next room to make herself a drink; then we see Paul framed as if he’s inside her brandy glass. Looking back, we realize that Paul also became her addiction. Check this film out- you won’t regret it!

[1] As Helen, Joan Crawford gives her greatest performance and she should have been nominated for Best Actress that year. John Garfield is also at top of his form and he certainly is a good match for Miss Crawford. 

[2] A from rags to riches tale with an extra something. The extra something here is Clifford Odetts, the language is as pungent as its pace. The truth in John Garfield’s face rises everything several notches but, perhaps, the biggest surprise… is Joan Crawford’s performance. …she’s rounded and brilliant, torn between who she is and who she would like to be.

[3] ]This film is an outstanding example of the “noir” qualities which were a hallmark of the 30’s to the early 50’s – from the earlier stages of talking pictures, through the depression and post-WW II years. Joan Crawford was one of the two best (along with Bette Davis) at portraying this type of cold, possessive, and thoroughly selfish, powerful female presence.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Godfather: Part II” (1974) starring Al Pacino & Robert De Niro

[Don Cicci is threatening to kill young Vito]

Signora Andolini: But Vito is only nine. And dumb-witted. The child cannot harm you.

The early buzz on The Godfather (1972) was so positive that a sequel was planned before filming ended. Francis Ford Coppola re-wrote the entire script over a weekend b/c Al Pacino said he didn’t like the original and wouldn’t do the film. Later, he admitted to Coppola that he hadn’t actually disliked the first script all that much, but knew it could be better. Pacino was paid $500,000 plus a 10% share of the profits; he’d earned only $25,000 for the first film. Since Coppola had such a difficult time directing The Godfather, he asked to pick a different director for the sequel (and take the title of producer for himself). He chose Martin Scorsese, but the film executives rejected the idea; Coppola agreed to direct again and was given a lot of creative freedom.

Only the scenes about the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) have any basis in Mario Puzo’s book. The story re: Michael (Al Pacino) and family in Las Vegas is unique to the film. De Niro (just 30 y.o.) had screen tested for Sonny; Coppola was so impressed that he called him back again to audition for Vito. De Niro (who is 25% Italian) lived in Sicily for 3 mos. and studied the Sicilian language for 4 mos. – wow! This was the first sequel to receive 5 Academy Award noms for acting: Talia Shire (Best Actress in a Suporting Role), Lee Strasberg (Best Actor in a Supporting Role), Michael V. Gazzo (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) and Pacino (Best Actor); De Niro took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Sen. Geary: I despise your masquerade, the dishonest way you pose yourself. You and your whole f*****g family.

Michael: We’re both part of the same hypocrisy, senator, but never think it applies to my family.

The communion party here is a stark contrast to Connie’s wedding in Part I; it is out on Lake Tahoe (and for show/publicity), lacks culture (Frank Pentangeli laments that there is no traditional Italian food/songs), and (above all) seems emotionally cold. Sen. Geary (G.D. Spradlin) intentionally mispronounces “Corleone.” There is the awkward photoshoot w/ the donation check Michael gave to the local university. Before he died, Vito admitted to Michael that he hoped he’d a “big shot” who “pulled the strings” (like a governor or senator). We see Michael rebuffing the demands of the (openly racist) Sen. Geary, and making demands of his own. He is seeking respectability (still) and also trying to expand his empire to Cuba (w/ the help of Hyman Roth, played by renown acting teacher Lee Strasberg). Pacino requested that Strasberg take on this role, as he admired the man’s talent so much!

[during the play ‘Senza Mamma’]

Genco Abbandando: Vito, how do you like my little angel? Isn’t she beautiful?

Vito Corleone: She’s very beautiful. To you, she’s beautiful. For me, there’s only my wife and son.

In flashback, we see the life of young Vito Andolini; his father was killed for insulting a powerful man, Don Cicci. Soon after, his older brother (in hiding) was killed. When his mother (boldly) appealed to Don Cicci, she was shot/killed also. Vito was hidden by some (brave) neighbors and travelled alone to Ellis Island. The clerk thinks that Vito’s surname is the name of his hometown (Corleone). Then the boy is put into quarantine for several weeks in a tiny room from where he can see the Statue of Liberty. Wow, what an impactful series of scenes (w/o much dialogue)!

Michael Corleone: My father taught me many things here – he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

As one astute reviewer noted: “The Godfather Part II is not really a movie about the mafia, it is a movie about a man’s life long struggle.” While Vito’s empire was built on respect, Michael’s empire is built on fear. Look at the way Michael treats his own family- yikes! He doesn’t even acknowledge the fiance of his younger sister Connie (who he compares to a “whore”). Connie (Talia Shire) has lived overseas, trying to escape issues at home; she hasn’t spent much time w/ her kids (which concerns Mama). As for older brother Fredo (John Cazale), he’s still handling the hotel/casino end of the business, but wants to do more. His blonde/buxom wife gets drunk and flirts openly w/ other men. Michael is embarrassed by her behavior; Fredo is emasculated as he can’t control his wife (w/o intervention from bodyguards). There is an (obvious) distance between Michael and his adopted older brother/lawyer, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), who is no longer privy to certain aspects of the biz. Kay (Diane Keaton) is still around, BUT we can sense the tension in the marriage; Michael had promised her that the biz would be “legitimate” several years ago. Then there is the audacious shooting in their bedroom; hitmen were able to come onto the estate w/o being noticed!

Vito Corleone: I make him an offer he don’ refuse. Don’ worry.

In 1920, Vito is already married w/ a baby son (Sonny) and delivering groceries in Little Italy; he is a quiet and observant young man. His best friend Genco (Frank Sivero) takes him to a show to see the actress he has a crush on. They see a flashily-dressed local man, Don Fanucci (Gaston Moschin), threatening the actress and her father backstage w/ a knife; Genco said they need to get out of there. It turns out that Don Fanucci is pushing around local businessmen; Vito loses his job b/c his boss (who is like a father to him) is forced to hire the don’s nephew. Vito handles this disappointment well, not even taking the box of food offered to him. We sense that somehow he will find a way to provide for this family. Enter Clemenza (a very young Bruno Kirby- best known for When Harry Met Sally), who is a petty criminal who asks Vito for help. Vito seizes the opportunity, hiding a bedsheet folded up w/ handguns in his apt.

This is NOT your typical sequel; it’s a mix of a sequel and prequel (as many viewers have commented). The two stories have distinct looks, as they take place in different time periods (mainly the early 1920s and late 1950s), and b/c of their different tones. Though Michael’s world is much bigger in scope than young Vito’s, it lacks the warmth of a happy home/family and close friendships/connections. Michael has distanced himself so far from his Italian/immigrant roots that he no longer recognizes the values of his father’s generation. Is Michael the villain and Vito the hero (some viewers have wondered)? De Niro (youthful/slim/handsome) knows how to play subtlety; he just becomes the character! You will even see a few gestures that Brando used, but they come off as natural.

[1] Al Pacino’s performance is quiet and solemn… He is cold and ruthless, with a whole contrast from the idealistic innocent war hero we initially met at the beginning of the first film…

De Niro’s rise, from an orphan child by a family feud back in Italy to a hood in New York and his position as a respected Don, provides a welcome break from Pacino’s relentless attitude…

[2] Al Pacino is the standout in the ensemble cast and its amazing how his eyes have changed from the first part. They are now cold , ruthless and unemotional and betray the price which Michael Corleone has paid for power.

[3] Without spoiling, I will simply say the Robert De Niro as the young Vito is the best acting performance of all time, a role for which he won a richly deserved Oscar.

[4] Nino Rota’s musical score plays an even greater role in this equal but different successor than it did in the predecessor. Yearning, lamenting, stimulating bygone ages, see how infectiously Nino Rota’s music affects our sentiments for the savage events on screen. It is the pulse of the films.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews