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Bradford Dillman

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 19

“My appreciation for his inspiring and innovative cinema grows deeper as the years go by. He had a unique vision in his films and in his artwork, that was deceptively simple yet hard to copy, like that of Parajanov. He always stayed true to himself, to his creative impulses, striving to fulfill his own artistic urges and curiosity rather than following certain modernist fashions in filmmaking. In this way, he challenged many stereotypes and clichés of conventional representations of people and their stories on screen.” Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa—who once (with Jonathan Rosenbaum, whose site hosts this essay) wrote the book on Kiarostami—considers some of the tropes of the director’s cinema, and the philosophy (and genuine humility) behind them.

“An unfortunate side effect of these [political] aspirations is that the aesthetics of Loach’s cinema have sometimes been undervalued by critics. “It has been said of Loach,” wrote Peter Bradshaw in his review of I, Daniel Blake, “that he would do without the camera if he could, and that doing-without aesthetic is absolutely right for the unfashionable, uncompromising seriousness of what he has to say.” While meant as a compliment, this sentiment nevertheless sells the director’s cinema short: it obscures the rigorous preparation and carefully worked-out production methods that Loach has gradually refined over decades. The feeling of authenticity that I, Daniel Blake exudes, seemingly without effort, is the result of a myriad of thoughtful decisions made about setting, casting, shooting, and (especially) dialect.” Girish Shambu finds the artistic merit of Loach’s I, Daniel Blake as valuable as the already measurable impact it’s had on the debate over Britain’s benefits system.

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Review: 99 44/100% Dead

[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]

The title sequence of John Frankenheimer’s new film utilizes Lichtenstein-like pop art images which ultimately prove to have been inappropriate and misleading indicators of what might follow. Whereas Lichtenstein and other pop artists use conventional symbols and forms (e.g., the comic strip) as a means of commenting upon those forms and upon the social and intellectual atmosphere from which they arise, Frankenheimer appears to be bound by the very conventions he wants to parody. Thus, the ingredients of 99 and 44/100% Dead include basic gangster genre stuff, ”romantic interest,” western overtones, a lot of violence, and a hush-hush attitude toward sex coupled strangely with 1960-type Hollywood male dominance themes. And the problem comes from Frankenheimer’s failure to demonstrate decisively that all, or at least some, of these elements are not to be taken at face value. By the time the predictable climax comes along and everyone bad is dead and the girls are saved, we have a strong suspicion that this is no parody at all, but rather, that Frankenheimer is actually out to elicit genuine emotions from his audience. And this simply will not do. It is like a comedian going through his act and then, at the end, telling a sad story and expecting us to take him seriously.

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Review: 99 and 44/100% Dead

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

The hyperchromatic comic-strip explosion terminating the credits sequence gives way to an American flag flapping over Puget Sound, and the camera half-crawls, half-pans toward the dock to pick up a black limousine sleeking toward us. The cut recalls the zany political surrealism of The Manchurian Candidate—generals snapping to attention to salute a brainwashed assassin, a fat Senator pinked through the milk carton by a silenced bullet—and what immediately follows also suggests the offbeat cinematic imagination that, eight or twelve years ago, enabled John Frankenheimer pictures to crackle. Two black-suited gangsters spill a corpse out of the backseat, his feet cased in concrete, and heave him into the drink; down the body sinks to land kachunk on the bottom among a submarine orchard of similarly weighted cadavers in various stages of corruption; and with them rests and rusts a nostalgia-ridden criminal landscape, a grand Guignol hall of memories: slot machines, chemin-de-fer tables, safes, skeleton-stuffed phonebooths and automobiles. It’s a giddily hilarious moment in spite of, more than because of, the rinkytink Mancini music on the soundtrack. And the grim comedy continues as the dumpers of the latest human detritus are themselves spilled into another part of the water mere moments later—in a less reputable corner of the graveyard.

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Review: Gold

[Originally published in Movietone News 37, November 1974]

Gold joins On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in support of the thesis that Peter Hunt is going to make one hell of a fine picture some day. The property itself is distinguished only in its preposterous anachronism and the fact that some bestseller by Arthur Hailey or Irving Wallace hasn’t provided the impetus for bringing it to the screen in this day and age. There’s this crusty, cigar-puffing old mineowner in South Africa (Ray Milland) whose grandson-in-law, a Doctor of Economics (Bradford Dillman), is getting set to knife him in the back by creating a natural disaster that will put his and all the neighboring gold mines out of business, thereby trebling the value of the world’s remaining goldfields. In this Dillman is the agent of an international financial syndicate (headed by Sir John Gielgud) who don’t mind drowning a thousand mineworkers, or even blowing up each other, if it will have a favorable effect on the stock exchange. The general manager who’s been in on the plan gets himself killed in an accident, fercrineoutloud, and so Dillman decides he must (1) promote the greatest threat to his endeavor, the supervisor of Underground Operations (Roger Moore), to the general managership and (2) divert said greatest threat’s attention during the key phase of the plan by throwing his own scrumptious wife (Susannah York) at him.

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Review: Gold

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Gold is a big potboiler of a movie, filled with action, violence, gore, and adultery. It’s a genre piece, fraught with convention and predictability. It has no characters, only cartoon people whose actions are as unsurprising as their motivations are unlikely. And I enjoyed the hell out of it. The credit is due largely to Peter Hunt who, on the basis of only two films, may already lay claim to being one of the finest action directors around. Hunt had his apprenticeship as editor of several of the James Bond movies, and he has brought a skilled action-editor’s grasp of pace to the director’s chair. During the whole of Gold he gave me one minute out of 115 to sit back, temporarily bored, and say to myself, “This really isn’t very good.” And I’m not one to argue with 99.13 percent success.

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Review: ‘Bug’

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

Because it tries to become a new film every 15 or 20 minutes, Bug seems about three times as long as its hour-and-a-half. The effect is, I am sure, the unintended result of both cast’s and crew’s having no idea at all what they wanted to do with the film. It begins as an effort to fuse the horror picture with the disaster epic: in the first reel we have a heat wave, an earthquake, several horrible conflagrations, and the emergence into human affairs of a plague of subterranean beetles capable of starting fires by rubbing together their flinty appendages. The beasties subsist on carbon, which they lap from inside the exhaust systems of automobiles. Bradford Dillman plays Jim Parmiter, a neo–St. Francis of a biology teacher who bemoans humanity’s loss of the primordial power of communication with the animals. He finds his hobbyhorse in the firebugs and in a reversal of the usual invaders-from-beyond formula tries to find a way of keeping the bugs alive when they begin to die from reduced pressure on the earth’s surface. He preserves one female firebug in a diving helmet and mates her with a common cockroach, naming the hybrid species for himself and for the Greek god of fire: Parmitera hephaestus. First the bugs destroy their parent, the last of the firebugs; then they reveal themselves to be carnivores, eating only raw meat, and only as a group; then they show themselves capable of communication with Parmiter by arranging their bodies on the wall so as to spell out words; then they are once again no different in appearance or behavior from their mother, eating carbon and making fire; and finally they prove capable of tactical organization, flight, and divination, luring Parmiter to his Promethean doom in the fault through which their forebugs entered the world. Both they and the good doctor sink into the earth, and the fault seals up again.

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Review: The Enforcer

[Originally published in Movietone News 54, June 1977]

James Fargo’s The Enforcer, with Clint Eastwood billed as “the Dirtiest Harry of them all,” also makes him the limpest, and represents the deterioration of the Dirty Harry Formula—if indeed there ever was such a thing.

Donald Siegel’s Dirty Harry (1971) told a many-layered story built around two men “above society”: Scorpio, a homicidal maniac whose madness figuratively puts him above society even as Siegel’s camera and mise-en-scène place him there visually, and Inspector Harry Callahan, who is set apart by his badge, the emblem that begins and ends the film. Contrary to the report of many who reviewed the Siegel film, Harry is no cold blooded, fascist executioner. He is sensitive, feels responsibility, takes unto himself the guilt for the inadequacies of the System and its failure to provide proper protection for the people. It is the clash of his individual morality (more that of guardian than vigilante) with the complex sociopolitical realities of the world around him that really informs Siegel’s film, and culminates in Harry’s throwing away his badge and walking into the distance behind the final credits to become one of “the little guys.” Guided by Siegel, one agrees with Harry’s impatience at a System musclebound by its own laws and procedures; yet one also understands the legitimate concern of people like the Chief of Police, the D.A. and the Mayor, and knows that Harry’s impetuousness, however effective in the Scorpio manhunt, would be grotesquely inappropriate in most police work.

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