Thursday, July 7, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Single Location Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're always here, every Thursday, picking three movies that fit the week's theme - join us! The water's fine!

People talk a lot about the need to "open up" plays when they transfer to the big screen, their thinking being that because a film does not have to be confined to one set and can go anywhere, audiences do not want to sit for a couple of hours and watch something that takes place in only one location, unlike in the theatre, where you are somewhat bound by the constraints of the stage.

The following films, my picks for this week, are just three examples of films that put the lie to this idea. All that matters is that the film is made well, no matter where it takes place.

Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948) I could just as easily have made these picks only Alfred Hitchcock movies, but I decided against it. I've talked about him a lot recently. Rope isn't one of his best movies, but it's an interesting experiment that works more often than it doesn't. Famously ironing almost all the gay out of the stage play based on the Leopold & Loeb murder case (memorably brought to the screen several times, by lesser filmmakers than Hitchcock, but both Compulsion and Swoon have things to recommend them) and filming the whole thing so that it looks like it was done in one take, Hitchcock succeeds at the very least in putting us in the middle of the action of a stage play that also happens to be a locked-room murder mystery. In it's best moments, it's thrilling, but there's too much philosophizing from Jimmy Stewart, playing a character whose darker side he can't ably portray yet, and thus it drags for long stretches. But don't get me wrong: Mediocre Hitchcock is still better than the best films of many other directors!

Wait Until Dark (Terence Young, 1967) Now THIS is how you do a single-room thriller. Audrey Hepburn, Oscar-nominated for one of her best performances, is Suzy, a blind woman living in a basement apartment. Her husband has just returned from a trip, bringing with him a doll, taken as a favor to a woman he met at the airport. Unbeknownst to them, the doll is full of drugs, and some very bad men soon come to the apartment looking for them. What follows is one of the most tense, edge-of-your-seat, dig-your-nails-into-your-armrest-or-companion movies ever made, as Suzy must match wits against Alan Arkin's evil head baddie.


Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011) Oh, dear lord, this one. Look, Polanski is very damn close to the top of his game here, but I will never for the life of me understand why they didn't just go with the original Broadway cast (Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, and Hope Davis) instead of the cast they did, nearly all of whom are miscast and most of whom don't really pull it off. Don't get me wrong, for the most part Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz, and Kate Winslet are good, but.... when they're not, they're AWFUL. The story couldn't be any more basic: Two sets of parents meet to have a civil discussion about an incident where one of their kids attacked the other at school, and slowly things start to devolve until the adults end up acting just as much like children as their kids. But Polanski finds every possible angle from which to shoot in this cramped apartment, maximizing the set like no other.

14 comments:

  1. I also chose Carnage, I haven't seen the other two, but I've had them both in my never ending Netflix queue for a long time. Eventually, they'll get to the top. lol

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    1. LOL I know exactly what you mean! Someday I will get to the bottom of my Netflix queue... Someday....

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  2. Wait Until Dark is an excellent film and Audrey's great in it as is Alan Arkin but as much as I love Audrey I never understood why they didn't cast Lee Remick, a big star at the time, who had done the show on Broadway. Maybe Hepburn indicated that she was interested and her box office was more of a sure thing but I adore Remick and can see her ice blue eyes providing ample opportunities for arresting close-ups. Still a wonderfully taut film.

    I was so disappointed in Carnage, just a quartet of people acting like idiots.

    We match! I thought of Lifeboat first, a better film than Rope and one of my favorite Hitchcock's but I picked it before. Rope IS stagy, more of an interesting experiment than a compelling film.

    I don't feel so bad now about my first which has a preamble elsewhere to the main action as does WUD. My extra is just a big old pile of mess which in its unfocused shapeless way works for the theme.

    Albino Alligator (1997)-Starting with a trio of bungling thieves running from a robbery gone wrong they quickly take refuge in an underground bar in New Orleans. Suddenly the joint is surrounded by police but who the cops are pursuing is a murky issue. While the standoff endures emotions run high and dangers escalate. Kevin Spacey directed this stylish throwback with outstanding performances from Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise, William Fichtner, Viggo Mortensen and a wonderfully tough Faye Dunaway.

    Ten Little Indians (1965)-Ten guests arrive at a remote mountaintop mansion only to discover they don’t know each other nor their missing host. Before too long they start being killed off one by one in the fashion of the poem Ten Little Indians. Can any of them solve the mystery before it’s their turn? Second screen version of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” updated to the swingin’ sixties with more hep identities for most of the characters, i.e. Fabian as a rock star and the former spinster now a movie star!

    Rope (1948)-Two men murder a third, a friend of theirs, just to see what it feels like than throw a party while his body resides in a trunk in the middle of the room. Alfred Hitchcock directed this version of the Loeb/Leopold murder. An interesting experiment, the entire film was shot in sequence in extremely long takes, but very stagy. Good performances by James Stewart as the professor who innocently plants the idea in the men’s minds and Farley Granger & John Dall as the murderous lead pair. For a film released in the 50’s the leads are surprisingly obviously gay though it is never explicitly mentioned.

    Oddball Extra:

    “Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?” (1969)-Superstar Heironymus Merkin (Anthony Newley) is filming a movie of his life surrounded by piles of junk and a bed on a ribbon of beach as his mother and children bear witness. While the Greek chorus of devil’s advocate Goodtime Eddie Filth (Milton Berle) and The Presence (Georgie Jessel) battle for his soul Merkin works his way to the top of show biz becoming a drug loving sex addict along the way. Yet he longs for his lost true love, Mercy Humppe (Connie Kreski) despite his marriage to Polyester Poontang (Joan Collins-Newley’s wife at the time, their real life children play their kids in the film-Thaxted and Thumbelina!). Watching the uncompleted footage in a parallel time the producers of this opus scream for him to come up with an ending. Merkin shuffles through his memories to find some value in his life while singing a couple songs and screwing like a rabbit.
    Confused? What with a title like that you were expecting coherence? Watching the film won’t clear anything up for you! Newley directed, produced, wrote & composed the music (all badly) for this exercise in vanity which was originally rated X. This one’s a stretch but in the bizarro world in which it exists it fits, even though it seems to take place in multiple locations it all turns out to really happen at different spots on that damn beach!!

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    1. I actually never understood that about Wait Until Dark, either. I guess Audrey was a bigger name and I love the performance, but you're right - it would have been great to see Lee Remick in the role. It's strange how some Broadway shows kept the cast intact when transferred to film and some didn't, and the logic behind it often makes no sense. Ah well. That's Hollywood for you!

      I need to see Albino Alligator. Mostly for Faye. I actually don't think I've seen ANY screen version of Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None, which is surprising because I do love the book.

      I feel a bit of a special connection with Rope because I got to do the play once as a fill-in for the Farley Granger role. The play is much different, of course, but a bit more open to the gay than the film, where everything is coded except for the looks in the eyes of John Dall and Farley Granger, who were both gay and I guess couldn't quite hide it where it was appropriate. Anyway it was an incredible experience - I don't usually get to play characters like that and I had a great time despite being nervous as hell since the performance was my first time performing on the set LOL!

      WTF is that Anthony Newley movie?!?! I don't think I want to put myself through the experience of watching it, but that title sure is GLORIOUS!

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  3. "All that matters is that the film is made well, no matter where it takes place." Amen to that. Of course, that means I have not seen any of these, but they all sound excellent

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    1. HA! Yes, they are indeed all excellent (although Carnage a bit less so).

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  4. I still have to see Rope and I have rented twice, in the past and never got around to it. Carnage sounds interesting and I'd like to see it. I enjoyed Wait U til Dark and thought Arlin was just so evil but great in this part. I didn't know about Lee Remick originating the part and she would have been neat to see in this.

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    1. Arkin creeped me right the fuck out the first time I saw Wait Until Dark. Carnage isn't bad, it's just not GREAT. But Rope, you should see immediately.

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  5. Wait until Dark looks brilliant! Carnage seemed like it would be good but just from the trailer and a little bit of reading it seemed that the casting was off. I would have liked to see the original cast on stage.

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    1. Wait Until Dark is GREAT. Carnage is good, but it could have been SO much better.

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  6. Haven't seen any of these, but they sound interesting.

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    1. They are! And you should watch them!

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  7. The stage cast of Carnage sounds fucking amazing, even though I love the movie cast. Alas, I've seen neither version. I haven't seen your other two either, but I really want to make my way through Hitchcock and Rope seems necessary. Great picks!

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  8. Carnage is one that I do want to watch. I didn't know that the original Broadway cast were all film actors... I guess maybe they weren't able to get them on board due to other projects?

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