Movie Review: Sullivan’s Travels

1941. Starring Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake. Directed by Preston Sturges. Preston Sturges deserves a national monument. I doubt that he’s going to get one at this point, so maybe I’ll just suggest that his films deserve a renewed round of appreciation. Sturges was a screenwriter and director who packed his scripts with wit, packed his scenes with his stock players, and filled his films with anarchic slapstick, comic misunderstandings and exaggerated reactions. Maybe the best place to begin with him is his masterpiece, “Sullivan’s Travels.” Joel McCrea stars as successful director John L. Sullivan, much beloved for his box-office hits …

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Passings: Paul Newman

Just weeks ago, I wrote in a review of Hud that there’s no other actor I’d rather be than Paul Newman. I guess I hadn’t heard much about him for a while, and that usually means one thing for a celebrity his age. I knew it was coming, and yet it depresses me. There are fewer and fewer of his type: men who provided unreproachable role models and examples of how to live one’s life. A comment that I’ve read in several tributes this morning quote him explaining why he was faithful to his wife, the beautiful actress Joanne Woodward: …

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Movie Review: Eyes Without a Face

1959. Starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli. Directed by Georges Franju. This Criterion Collection release includes among its features a mixed trailer of this film (albeit an English-dubbed version) and a two-headed-man low-budget horror film called The Manster. I guess they are kinda thematically related. . .but it must have been a surprise to drive-in horror fans who stayed awake for both movies. Les Yeux Sans Visage, as the French prefer, is a haunting and sad examination of medicine’s inability to repair the past. The Manster, in comparison, looks like a hoot. Pierre Brasseur plays Dr. G√©nessier, a surgeon whose daughter …

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Elsewhere Online: New Jayhawks Tunes Coming

New West Records is preparing for the release of new recordings by original Jayhawks members Mark Olson and Gary Louris, and feature three of the new songs on their site. If you long for the days of Blue Earth and Tomorrow the Green Grass, this sounds like pretty good stuff. No word on a new version of “Sixpack on the Dashboard.” New West Jayhawks page: http://olsonandlouris.newwestrecords.com/

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Movie Review: The Furies

1950. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston. Directed by Anthony Mann. There are movies that have used the Hollywood western as a package to tell a different story — The Magnificent Seven is the Hollywood western version of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, for example. And there are those Hollywood westerns that transformed the genre¬† — The Searchers would inspire Taxi Driver, for example, or The Wild Bunch’s violence would soften up audiences for the blood supplied by Bonnie & Clyde and Tarantino. The Furies accomplished a bit of both, mixing Greek tragedy with Douglas Sirk soap-opera complications, and setting it all …

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Country Music Reclamation Project: Will Your Lawyer Talk to God

Kitty Wells is one of country music’s queens, as the first female to top the country charts (with 1952’s “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”), and has reigned a good long time, having just turned 89. Wells’ long career was very successful and consistently good, right up through the 1970s, with many hits, including “Making Believe” and “Heartbreak USA.” Wells surely provided inspiration for assertive female artists like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, who recorded their own statement songs in the 1960s. I’ve got numerous favorite Kitty Wells songs, but none is better than this one, as she …

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Thank You Lord (for Neko Case)

Those who write about Neko Case are usually overwhelmingly adoring of her work and her performance; I’m not any different. From the first listen to Furnace Room Lullaby, hearing that unbelievable voice, I’ve been hooked. If you start to write about her gothic country sound, you’ll be forced to repeat favorite lines from her songs: “The girl with the parking lot eyes,” “looks a lot like engine oil and tastes like being poor and small, and popsicles in summer,” “you be my guest, and I’ll let you stay, leave me the check and I’ll pay with the rest of my …

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Movie Review: Blast of Silence

1961. Starring Allen Baron. Directed by Allen Baron. I would have never know about this film without seeing the Criterion Collection logo on its cover. A late US film noir, it is quite apparently a labor of love for Baron, who not only wrote the screenplay and directed the film, but stars as lonely hitman Frank Bono, after original lead Peter Falk dropped out. It has all the elements of an auteur favorite — many scenes were filmed on the streets of Brooklyn and Harlem by a car-transported camera, and it features a hard-boiled but flowery narration (provided by the …

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Country Music Reclamation Project: Cocaine Blues

Where did the concept of “outlaw country” come from? I know about Waylon and Willie, but I remember when they smelled more of bourbon and aftershave than leather and weed. When I think about the term, “outlaw country,” I picture big hairy guys in vests, playing pool and listening to weepy tunes about how they used to be tough, but got old. And it’s not a thought I want to think about for very long. I think “outlaw country” began with the clean-shaven and talented Roy Hogsed and his perky, homicidal song, “Cocaine Blues,” much better known as a hit …

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