December 2010

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Reviews by Jonathan Wallace

I thought I knew all the earlier Hollywood movies about racial equality and integration ("Pinky", "A Patch of Blue"), but Kings Go Forth (1958), directed by Delmer Daves, was new to me. Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis are American soldiers, fighting the last dregs of World War II in France, who somehow manage to get passes every weekend to drive to the Riviera and visit the woman they both love, Natalie Wood as the daughter of Americans raised in France. Her big reveal, partway through: her late dad was black. Sinatra hesitates, then returns; Curtis forges straight ahead and gets engaged, with no real intention of marrying her. Its an unusual war movie, alternating scenes of combat with scenes set in little bistros with checkered table cloths. Because Natalie Wood didn't really have any black blood, romantic and kissing scenes are possible which probably would not have been with a genuinely interracial actress; the hair and makeup people don't even make any concessions to her supposed heritage (they could have given her curlier hair). However, the movie, without being overly didactic, serves as a plea for tolerance--but the ending, with Sinatra looking longingly at Wood as she conducts a choir of orphans, begs the question of whether they will marry, and where they will live. Ultimately, movies about race were ineffective until they starred people of the actual heritage they were claiming to portray.

The Country Girl (1954), directed by George Seaton, is a mildly interesting melodrama, based on a Clifford Odets play, about a washed up, alcoholic actor, and the woman who resigns herself to taking care of him when no other spark remains. It is notable for an unusual dramatic, and desperate, performance by Bing Crosby, and a very unglamorous one by Grace Kelly (which won her an Oscar). It is fun to watch for anyone involved with the theater: the producers fret whether Crosby will be able to remember his lines or cues, and the backstage detail is always interesting.

Rebecca (1940), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, demonstrated that the master of suspense could handle wildly different tropes. This movie contains no violence, and no cliffhangers, yet wields power via gothic motifs and the layering of subtle psychological cues. Joan Fontaine, in a wonderful, understated performance as a naive, adoring commoner who weds Laurence Olivier's nobleman character, is oppressed and overshadowed by the shadow of her predecessor, Olivier's first wife who supposedly drowned while sailing alone. We see not so much as a painting of Rebecca (there would definitely have been one in a lesser movie, or even flashbacks); her offstage character is formed entirely of people talking about her, and Fontaine feeling inferior. As in "Wuthering Heights" there is a fire, which clears away the influence of the absent wife. The movie has a happy ending, not a given in Hitchcock's oeuvre.

Mickey One (1965), directed by Arthur Penn, is a pretentious imitation of French new wave films, Godard's in particular. Warren Beatty is a stand up comedian, fleeing from the mob, but not sure if they are really after him. There is a Harpo Marx imitator, almost a mime, who shows up gesturing to him, then turns out to be a performance artist, deploying a self-destroying Rube Goldberg machine called "Yes" and rescuing Beatty at crucial moments. Beatty is forced to perform twice with his enemy unseen in the lighting booth, including in the ambiguous ending. The movie is only worth seeing as a '60's artifact. Two years later, Penn and Beatty made the much more memorable and influential "Bonnie and Clyde".

Seven Days in May (1964), directed by John Frankenheimer, is a chilling and compelling, and completely contemporary, tale of a narrowly averted military coup. Burt Lancaster, as an ambitious general, and Kirk Douglas, as his suspicious assistant, turn in excellent performances. The supporting cast, particularly Frederic March as the President, are also strong. The movie portrays something I half expect will happen in our lifetimes.

The Runaways (2010) directed by Floria Sigismond is a better than average rock biopic about the formation of Joan Jett's all female punk band, the Runaways. It deals with the blurred boundaries between power and objectification, authority and exploitation. And the music is great.

Lord of the Rings part I, the Fellowship of the Ring ( 2001) directed by Peter Jackson, began a near-perfect adaptation of the beloved trilogy. In the end, I'm glad we waited until the technology caught up to the tale (orcs in rubber suits is a queasy concept). Most of the actors are extremely well cast, the illusion of their relative sizes is handled believably, and Jackson shows a mostly very sure touch for translating the story telling to cinema. Particularly memorable: the balrog falling into the abyss; just as you think everyone is safe, its flame whip rises up to grasp Gandalf's ankle. Jackson nevertheless also commits a few howlers ("Nobody tosses a dwarf!"). Other times, when he makes slight changes, it is in a good cause (assigning Arwen a more heroic role). Elijah Wood as Frodo particularly carries the movie on his (apparently) small shoulders.

Stoner (1965) by John Williams is a triumphant exception to my rule that I detest all novels about adultery in academia. It is the tale of an almost entire life, picking up a boy from the farm in his twentieth year as he leaves for a college in Missouri, and then following him until his death almost fifty years later. While most novels set in universities tend to be vain and trite, this one is modest and, at moments, quite stunning. Its protagonist, William Stoner, has very modest expectations of life, and his existence proves not even to meet those. He is a very buttoned up man, ordinary and not very courageous, unable to imagine life outside the university. But he shines at moments when he teaches, and must exercise great moral courage in confronting a department head who is protecting a lazy, arrogant doctorate candidate who hasn't bothered doing most of the reading. The descriptions of internal politics at the university are compelling; as a result of his righteous opposition, Stoner is assigned only first year courses for years on end, and never promoted beyond assistant professor. Yet he hangs in, enduring a loveless marriage at the same time. Then a much younger female graduate student comes along, and the book still doesn't lose balance. She is highly intelligent, great at her work, and their union seems like a match of two lonely, smart people finding each other in a wasteland. And there are consequences, when his adversary finds out; one of them must resign and Stoner, unable to imagine living elsewhere with her but without the university, lets her go. We have the compensation of learning that she landed on her feet, is teaching at a prestigious eastern university and has written a well received book based on the dissertation with which he helped her. Stoner never publishes again after the book which got him tenure; his life doesn't give him the space or the peace; his adult daughter, whom he loved dearly, is an alcoholic, his wife half crazy, his old adversary still trying to destroy him. Yet he never feels sorry for himself, as he goes quite gently into that good night.

Jane Smiley's Good Faith (2003) is an almost perfect novel set in the business and political environment of the 1950's. Its protagonist is a sort of Prince Myshkin, a man who is inherently honest and kind, but has no rigorous moral alarm system to warn him when he falls in with people much more manipulative than he is. He goes from selling houses, which he is very good at, to developing a huge four hundred house project with the aid of the local savings and loan. Married and divorced, he sleeps with the married daughter of an older friend whose husband is also an acquaintance; at every moment he meets the world with a cheerful, get-along-go-along demeanor, and never gets too worked up about anything. Living in a world of basically ordinary people without moral compasses, he keeps running into well-sketched surprises, like the good girl everyone wants him to marry who brings out the cocaine the first time they go to bed together. Smiley's characters and events ring true and resonate with some of my own experiences in that same decade. His crazy, over-reaching and ultimately felonious partner and mentor promises to pay his bills, then allows his phone to be turned off for nonpayment. I had a law partner who, squeezed for funds, stopped paying our malpractice insurance premiums without telling anyone. The novel, in the first person, spends a certain amount of time contemplating the ownership of a penis, including the circumstances under which its owner touches it, the way he feels about it and particularly the effects on it of snorting coke for the first time. Its pretty brave for a writer of either gender to write from a first person perspective about anatomy they don't personally have, and Smiley mostly gets it right. I imagined she must have interviewed some guys to get some of the details, a prospect which provided some entertainment on its own.

Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), directed by David Lean, is one of the first of the existential war movies; almost everyone you like dies, and it ends with a shot of circling buzzards, so you don't catch much of a sentimental break watching it. What makes it really epic are the dueling moral schemes. There is a detail and code oriented colonel, excellently played by Alec Guinness, a prisoner of war who gets so obsessed about showing British excellence and maintaining troop morale that he builds a better railway bridge than the Japanese could have. Opposing him in a parallel story line is the commando squad sent to destroy the bridge, guided by William Holden as an escapee from the same camp. Guinness, on the day the bridge is opened to receive its first train, spots the wires the commandos have laid, and without thinking, informs the Japanese commanding officer. There is a grueling series of confrontations in which the commandos are incapacitated before pushing the button, and the badly wounded Guinness realizes what he has done, stumbles towards the detonator--and then pushes it accidentally by dying on top of it, sparing us one more kitschy moment (struggle of conscience leading him to set off the explosive himself). To cap everything off, the surviving commando kills the wounded ones deliberately with a mortar so they can't be captured alive--then the buzzards.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2010), directed by Daniel Alfredson, is an acceptable if somewhat unexciting translation of the last of the best-selling trilogy to film. The novels themselves are only fairly good; half or more of their success is due to hype. Larrsen was not yet really in control of his medium when he died; the stories wander, go in unneccessary or confusing directions, and he constantly makes odd, if often interesting choices for his characters that a better storyteller might not make. The movies then of necessity have to elide much of the detail, including some interesting stuff, such as the love affair Michael has in this third installment with a woman detective. Another problem of movies faithfully based on books is that (even after elision) there tends to be so much backstory that the film bogs down as characters tell each other things we need to know to understand the plot. So films based on novels tend to be very different than the pure Hitchcockian cinema in which we set loose a protagonist and a mcguffin and fuck the plot. Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander is extraodinary, on of those rare times when an actor and character merge and become indistinguishable. (Great name, too.) She is tough and interesting and, at times, beautiful, by virtue of being tough. It will be intriguing to see whether, in the American remakes, they go with an actress who is more girly. One thing I enjoyed about this series was watching a character who can triumph in confrontations without being supernaturally strong, good with guns or a karate master. Lisbeth is unafraid--or smarter and angrier than she is afraid--and always seems to have, or find, a taser or nail gun when she needs it.

City Primeval (1980) by Elmore Leonard is good early work, from the period when he was somewhat grimmer and more violent (his Detroit vs. his Florida phase, when his work became sunnier and funnier). There is a homicide detective and a killer who is impulsive yet clever enough to cover his tracks so he can never quite be connected to the crimes he doesn't deny committing. This works because he is not Hannibal Lecter style improbable, just a Southern boy who is a bit smarter than most. This (like most noirs) is also about dueling moral schemes, with those of the cops and the killer in opposition, and some others (notably a local Albanian criminal underground) thrown in for relief. The ending is a great set up in which the detective, gripped by an obscure combination of vanity and conscience, frees the killer from a safe room in which he has been secretly imprisoned to starve to death, so they can have a western-style duel. In a lesser writer's hands, this would be absurd, but Leonard completely sells it. The killer announces he is reaching for a can opener stuck in his belt to open them a couple of beers, the cop shoots him--and then draws out a can opener. But feels no regret.

I am worried about Netflix and our movie patrimony. (Think I have too much time on my hands?) Early in my Netflix relationship, I ordered a DVD of Andres Wajda's "Kanal" which arrived cracked. I sent it back and Netflix took it off their available list; it was the last copy. More than a year later, it is not available again. Every month now, three or four old, often classic movies in my queue become unavailable, probably for similar reasons. Netflix knows that instant play, not the expensive stocking and mailing of physical DVD's, is its future; it is building a Canadian business which will deliver movies online only, and not handle DVD stock. Yes, Netflix is a private business, but as a virtual monopoly, and self appointed custodian of all cinema, the company should consider maintaining electronic copy of all movies in its possession, in case the last DVD's of out of print films crack in the mail. I know there are rights issues; not all copyright holders may consent; but if they fail to, the shame is on them, not Netflix. On a similar note, since instant play is the future, it baffles me that Netflix takes movies out of that form of distribution. Movies (including recent ones like "Rachel Getting Married") seem to time out with some regularity and go back to being available only on DVD.

Repo Men (2010), directed by Miguel Sapochnik, is a trope soup. These can be done with unusual ingredients which mesh well, a la Quentin Trantino, but this one is a murky mess. The movie starts off with a high faluting narrative invocation of Schrodingers' Cat, and seems to launch on a fairly knowing, snarky level, as a satire of capitalism, in a near future world where violent repo men come to reclaim your artificial heart if you don't keep up the payments. But soon enough, people are hitting each other with hammers and saws. It is endlessly surprising that any movie can raise the bar on violence at this late date, but this one does. The shameless steal from a Monty Python routine included in "The Meaning of Life" is at least acknowledged in a brief video clip; but the movie invokes a lot of others, and then shamefully ends by ripping off the ending of Terry Gilliam's "Brasil". Telling us that the movie, or a significant part of it, was Just a Dream is one of those tropes that should just be retired from films forever.

Engine Summer (1979), by John Crowley, is first rate post-apocalyptic science fiction, somewhat reminiscent of "A Canticle for Leibowitz" or "Riddley Walker". We are thousands of years after a poorly remembered and understood disaster, and human society has reconstituted into small, complex, nonviolent groupings. Crowley has an amazing imagination, and the extensively worked out details of the life and living of the several human collectives he describes are really marvellous. His protagonist, Rush That Speaks, is a young man from a sort of commune known as the Truthful Speakers; he goes out in the world and meets other groups, most prominently one of traders, caled Dr. Boots' List. The Truthful Speakers society is constituted of individual "cords" and, without ever becoming didactic, Crowley gives us fascinating detail of their endlessly revised warren, their myths and the commonplaces of daily life. The old, expired human wielders of war and technology are known as the "angels", and turn out to still live on a sort of space station, rotating the earth in the high atmosphere. In a stunning development, the first person narrator of the book (with occasional italicized interlocutions by an unknown "angel" of the space station) turns out not to be Rush himself, but a sort of computer back-up made in his eighteenth year. One of the fascinations of this kind of literature is the finding of routine objects from the past, the function of which is obscure to the narrator. We are introduced to one character who has spent sixty years trying to solve a crossword puzzle, on the assumption it will reveal some amazing truth. The book is more beautiful and poignant than the others I compared it to, which are more full of violence and terror. I had never read Crowley before, and am eager to track down his other books.

One of us was sick and we spent a lot of time in the house this week, watching old war movies. Beachhead (1954), directed by Stuart Heisler, is an over-written Pacific island movie with the always watchable Tony Curtis but with dialog which is simultaneously ambitious and trite. On the other hand, Battleground (1949), directed by William Wellman, is cynical, complex and apparently very realistic, as the soldiers (in the Battle of the Bulge) grouse about everything, look for ways to get out of combat (with wounds, tooth problems, fever, etc.) and fight ferociously to stay alive, not out of patriotism or high ideals but from self preservation and loyalty to one another. Submarine Command (1951), directed by John Farrow, is an acceptable tale bridging the last days of World War II and the Korean war, about a commander (well played by William Holden) struggling with self doubt about whether a decision he took (which resulted in the death of the captain) was motivated by fear or the best interests of the ship. There is something about the cameraderie, pinging, and shouts of "dive, dive, dive!" on the PA which makes submarine movies very comfortable. This is the rare one in which they actually do not put a dead body out the tubes to fool the enemy. "Attack!" (1956), directed by Robert Aldrich, seems to bear the message that sometimes in combat it is necessary to kill a cowardly, incompetent officer in order to save lives. This idea certainly didn't resonate greatly until the following decade in Vietnam, when killing officers seems to have become a form of popular entertainment. The concept and performances are gripping, but the movie jumps the shark as the deed is done.

John Sayles is one of the people I admire, for his existence as a one man independent production enterprise, practically a film genre unto himself (the vaguely leftish politics-infused human interest/adventure story). His decision to work outside Hollywood is practically unique; others who started out like him, such as Stephen Soderbergh and James Mangold, work entirely inside the system today or alternate independent productions and potboilers. Of course, Sayles has financed his lifestyle by writing Hollywood scripts and reportedly working as a script doctor. Still, his refusal since "Baby Its You" to put his name as director on anything over which he didn't have complete control is admirable. All that said, Sayles is definitely middle-brow and his ambition often exceeds his execution. I find myself liking only every other movie, and in many cases ("City of Hope") there are moments (the schizophrenic ranting "we need help up here, help in the building" as the central character dies of a gunshot wound) that exceed the whole. That same movie, with its sentimental reconsciliation between the mugged college professor and his attacker, illustrates Sayles at his tritest and most conventional. Limbo, which we just watched again for the first time since its release, is one of his better films. Set against the background of Alaska as a capitalist theme park, and with wonderful moments of Alaskan conversation about who drowned, shot himself during winter, got eaten by a bear, it crystallizes as a story about family. Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio, one of my favorite actors, whose career did not equal her talent, is excellent as an itinerant, wounded, funny singer, teenage daughter in tow. The ambiguous ending, in which the screen goes blank while we wait to find out if an approaching sea-plane contains rescuers or killers, predates the famous "Sopranos" ending.

Bhowani Junction (1956), directed by George Cukor, is a very interesting failure. Like "Kings Go Forth", it explores the implications of being bi-racial, with Ava Gardner (hair and make-up exoticized) almost persuading us she is half-Indian. In the course of the movie, she considers marrying another Anglo-Indian and a Sikh and, in the latter case, becoming wholly Indian, immersing herself in Sikh culture; but she winds up with a British soldier, Stewart Granger. The backdrop of the Indian struggle for independence in 1947 is interesting, and seeminly realistically and sympathetically portrayed, although the super-villain who emerges fully by the rote chase-scene at the end is an Indian Communist terrorist. The writing by then has become increasingly unbelievable, with the British lover forgiving Gardner manslaughter and conspiracy. The greatest problem with these movies in the end is the safe casting: they can show us a purported interracial kiss executed by two Caucasians, without shocking us by showing a real one.

Westward the Women (1951) directed by William Wellman, is an unusual Western in which the ranching mogul of a new California development decides to go to Chicago to bring back "good women" to be wives for his men, leaning heavily on a top hand (Robert Taylor) to guide the wagon train back. After his boss recruits 140 women (letting a couple of prostitutes into the mix by naivete) Taylor hires fifteen men to assist the wagon train, strictly forbidding any sexuaL or romantic interaction with the women because it would rip the group apart. The men immediately disobey and when one commits a rape, Taylor shoots him. Almost all of the men leave the wagon train and Taylor decides, rather than turning back a thousand miles, to train the women to replace them. The film is a study of women rising to the occasion by learning to shoot, drive mules and haul on ropes. At the outset, he had a few who could hit a target or manage a horse; by the end, most can, and they work together with a kind of good faith earnestness which is a pleasure to watch and quite realistic (there is a little tension and one fight). There is a childbirth in the desert and the obligatory Indian attack, and a couple of people we have come to like are killed as wagons roll down steep hillsides or tip into rivers. When the survivors reach California, they refuse to come into town until Taylor has brought them some cloth to make new dresses, and then there is a final touching scene where the awed men treat them with consummate care and respect, lining up in a long queue to get married by the only available reverend.

The Long Ships (1964), directed by Jack Cardiff, is a really ridiculous Viking movie, where you keep expecting the warriors to burst into song or devolve into a Monty Python routine. It purports to be a version of the far better novel reviewed here last month, but instead makes up its own story. Two fine actors, Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier, look embarrassed to be in it.

I have always, but intermittently, read a lot of history, but always deflected away from the middle ages. I prefer times when there was an air of humanity, discovery and optimism, like ancient Athens or the American revolution, while the medieval period was one of extreme piety and wilful stupidity, combined with sociopathic violence. However, I have been on a medieval kick recently, possibly because it seems to me that we are again starting to be taken over by a pious, self righteous and stupid mentality. Johann Huizinga's Waning of the Middle Ages (1919) is a detailed sociological portrait of the limitations of the late medieval mind, through its poetry, literature and art. Huizinga, whose reputation is of a brilliant historian, and who died in Nazi detention, draws some mildly interesting conclusions, such as the visual arts being less fettered by the limitations of the medieval mind than the highly trite and formulaic prose and poetry of the era. The book, possibly because of a dense translation, was heavier sledding than some more popularly written works on the period, such as Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror", which I am reading now. Huizinga seems to dispel the notion that the seeds of the Renaissance were visible in the late Middle Ages, but I don't nearly get the sense of the extreme hypocrisy and violence of the era as I do reading Tuchman's history of the fourteenth century. Hope Muntz's "The Golden Warrior" (1949) is a masterpiece of historical fiction, little remembered today. Though a novel, it hews closely to historical fact, and the author was a historian. A story of the Norman Conquest, it opposes two great men, KIng Harold and William the Bastard on his way to becoming William the Conqueror. Muntz delves into the personality of each man: Harold's occasional weakness based on mercy and piety, and William's conviction that he has the qualities of kingship and a too limited sphere in which to exercise them. He is never presented as evil or murderous--he is in fact concerned to be a good king--but the common people of the English countryside turn into mere pawns, to be murdered and robbed in pursuit of the ultimate goal. Muntz also gives the women, the wives and mothers, a dignified and interesting portrayal. Sieges of the Middle Ages (1968), by Philip Warner, is one of those books I picked up for a dollar or so immumerable years ago at the Strand and which has waited peacefully on my shelves ever since. It turns out to be a short, engaging analysis of the tactics, trickery and savagery involved in taking castles, and the vicious reprisals which occurrred afterwards.1453 (2005) by Roger Crowley is an engaging and clear popular history of the final siege of Constantinople. A very interesting feature is the exhaustive first hand documentation of this crushing defeat, mainly by the losers, who were members of an extremely literate society. By contrast, much earlier medieval history is based on oral traditions, written down much later and almost indistinguishable from myth, or on rudimentary records of purchases and sales, births and deaths, visits and departures. Here, a century before Shakespeare's much less documented life, we have people writing accounts not only of extraordinary events but of individual lives and personalities. Also, the book provides a corrective to the perpetual plaint of victimhood by fundamental Islam today. Mehmet the Conqueror was the ruler of a wealthier, better armed society, which he led against the much diminished Constantinople with loot and power in mind, intermingled with more pious motivations. Crowley informs us that the Koran even contains rules for looting captured cities (not more than three days). On the night Constantinople fell, a thousand years of Byzantine history were destroyed in a few hours--churches were stripped of their trappings, tombs opened and the bones thrown in the street, thousand year old icons pulled apart for their frames. The civilian population was raped, murdered, and led into slavery. The crusading Christians had committed equivalent atrocities, of course, most notable of which was their own sack of Constantinople on the way to Jerusalem--the plunder and murder of fellow Christians simply for the available loot. On the Turkish side, twenty-one year old Mehmet presents as a man of high intelligence and military capacity, with moments of insane cruelty (the horrible impalement of numerous prisoners) and of a strange grace and mercy at other moments (sparing enemies who had fought him bravely, or inviting the Orthodox back to live and practice their religion in Constantinople after the conquest). Mehmet died at 49, probably poisoned by his own son, who would later be poisoned by his son. History is "indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind." (Gibbon).

We have been watching classic Hitchcock films again, lighter ones from his middle period. Suspicion (1941) stars Joan Fontaine, who was so wonderful in "Rebecca" in a very different sort of role, here as a spinsterish, lonely, intelligent member of the British upper classes, who falls hard for Cary Grant's unreliable, charming ne'er-do-well. First she learns he is a liar and thief, then, based on strong and circumstantial evidence, that he is a murderer, and planning to kill her. Hitchcock proves that he can keep you on edge and fascinated, completely though the use of atmosphere, facial expression and understatement, without anyone being stabbed or dangling from a precipice. However, the turn-about at the end--most of what she suspected is wrong--is too abrupt and barely believable, so effective has the atmosphere and incident been in creating suspicion. To Catch a Thief (1955) is lighter still, but very compelling, with Grant as a retired, and tired, jewel theif who must prove his innocence when a string of copy-cat crimes are committed. Again, there is very little violence (one bad guy is killed while trying to kill Grant) and a lot of exotic and noirish atmosphere, as we mingle both with the super-rich and with former Resistance members working as waiters and restaurateurs--and wonder who is doing what, to whom.

Merchant/Ivory's Heat and Dust (1983), is a version of the East-meets-West interracial encounters also developed in "A Passage to India" and "The Jewel in the Crown". Two versions, in fact: in the 1920's, a young British wife, Olivia, commences a love affair with the Nawab of a small Indian state, against a back drop of double dealing, British colonialism and incipient rebellion. In the 1980's, one of her descendants comes to India to look for traces of Olivia, and has her own love affair with an Indian man and with the country. Olivia aborts her baby, her great niece decides to keep hers. There is a lovely moment at the end when the two narratives merge for an instant; we see Olivia and the Nawab through a window, and her great-niece's face reflected in the glass. The movie is full of small, excellently observed details and characters: in the 1920's, the British school chum, now confidant, captive and possibly lover of the Nawab; in the 1980's, the boy from Iowa who conquers his own ego and Western upbringing to become a sennyasin, but cannot conquer amoebic dysentery.

Seconds (1966), directed by John Frankenheimer, was a movie I had first heard of before the end of the decade in which it was made, reading Pauline Kael's capsule reviews of the most notable movies of the period. It is rarely shown, and I finally caught up with it on Turner this week. It is a sixties oddity in the "Mickey One" vein, highly influenced by the cinema outbursts of Godard, with relatively little dialog, lots of banalities, and a despairing story line. An aging banker is offered a second chance, to undergo a complete physical transformation that will make him thirty years younger (and turn him into Rock Hudson). He briefly has everything he ever dreamed of--he is a painter living in a Malibu beach-house, with a sexy girlfriend. Then it all falls apart, most poignantly at the moment (drunk at a party he has given) when he realizes that the girlfriend is essentially a high class hooker hired by the company which gave him his new life. Evil itself is banal in this film (as it is in its most chilling portrayals everywhere): the founder of the company is a twinkly, grandfatherish man who pays Hudson a brief, smiling, apologetic bedside visit before sending him off to be murdered at the end. The penultimate shot is Hudson's contorted face as a surgeon, lamenting that "you were my best work", aims a drill at his skull. The film is about the emptiness of American aspirations--it also contains a visit Hudson makes to his widow's home, posing as a friend of her late husband, in which she explains that her silent, puzzled husband had been dead for years before he actually vanished. It illustrates the proposition that: "Wherever you go, there you are."