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Monday, February 25, 2013

Louis Malle | Zazie dans de métro (Zazie in the Metro)


in search of the underground
by Douglas Messerli
 
Louis Malle and Jean-Paul Rappeneau (based on the novel Raymond Queneau) (screenplay), Louis Malle (director) Zazie dans de métro (Zazie in the Metro) / 1960

Like the “naughty” boys of Jean Vigo’s Zéro de conduit, the bad-behaving Zazie (Catherine Demongeot) begins with a train ride, she, on her way to her uncle’s place in Paris. Her mother has dumped on the perfume dabbling, female impersonator Gabriel (Philippe Noiret) so that she might have short time her new lover, and the girl, well aware of the situation, clearly intends to “misbehave.” Zazie’s major desire is ride the metro, which is on strike and closed during the girl’s visit.

      Accordingly, Malle, using Queneau’s story, sets up a situation in which youth, represented by Zazie, knowing who they are, seek out a world of the underground—a world down and away from the “ordinarily” city life—while the adults, pure pretenders, have no idea who they are or even where they are. The film begins, in fact, with Gabriel noting, in the slang, neologisms, and argot that dominate, that something stinks. While driving the girl to his house, he points out, time and again, famous Paris sites which are not what he names them, as if he has never even visited the city in which resides.

     

     His beautiful wife, Albertine (Carla Marlier), seems, at first almost saintly, but we soon perceive her as being so placid and cold—so unlike her loud and foppish husband—that she seems to be hiding something, and later in the film, undergoes her own kind of transgender transformation. Others, such as the seeming pedophile Trouscaaillon (Vittorio Caprioli), are even stranger. But none of them are up to the bad girl tactics of the young rapscallion Zazie.

      Once Zazie escapes her uncle’s environs, there really is no plot as Malle’s film turns into a kind of comic cops and robbers chase—reminding one at times, in its cinematic splices, cuts, and photographic impositions of the Beatles’ movies, scenes out of the Monty Python series and, of course, Godard’s Breathless. Malle’s film, unlike any movie he made after, literally takes one’s breath away as Zazie runs wild in a world anyone and everyone is on the make, including a sex-starved older woman, Madame Mouaque (Yvonne Clech) and a half-busload of young German tourists who are desperate get their hands on Gabriel.

       Symbolically representing a body in action, Zazie is filled with one-liners, most famously “My ass!” Her only major question is whether or not her uncle is a “hormossuel,” which despite his profession, is never truly answered; but then nobody is who he or she claims to be—except Zazie, of course. And it precisely what she is, a liberated youth, that the others so desperately seek. Perhaps Zazie and others like her are absolutely right to desire a life apart.

      As the various chases and Gabriel’s performance come together, everyone and everything explodes into a brutal brawl. But by that time Zazie, tuckered out, has fallen asleep and misses the brouhaha. As critic Leo Goldsmith expresses it: “After formenting a revolution, she misses the war.” The next morning she is whisked away by her now sexually satiated mother just as the labor strike ends, and the metro opens up its gates.

February 25, 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

Aki Kurismäki | Le Havre


release
by Douglas Messerli
 
Aki Kurismäki (writer and director) Le Havre / 2011
 
Aki Kaurismäki’s 2011 film, Le Havre is an agreeable if slightly sentimental tale about a former author (André Wilms), who inexplicably has given up his bohemian life to become a shoeshiner in the famed French port. At one point the character mutters something about his line of work as bringing him closer to the people, but that does not sufficiently explain why this figure, Marcel Marx, who was featured also in Kaurismäki’s La Vie de Bohème (see page ___ in this volume) was named after the great Socialist thinker. But then the director also names several of his characters after famed French film figures. Marcel’s wife (the wonderful Kati Outinen) is named Arletty, after the music hall singer and actress in several of another Marcel, Carné’s pictures, the director who also set his La Quai des brumes in La Havre. A doctor in this movie, played by the French comic director Pierre Étaix, is named Becker after French film director Jacques Becker. The film’s detective, Monet, somewhat similar to the detective of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, also reminds us that the artist Monet painted a series of Le Havre scenes, portraying the same foggy atmosphere of Carné’s. While several of these references, accordingly, do play a role in this film, it also appears that Kaurismäki simply enjoys the referential ricochets of these names.


      Strangely, while in the director’s earlier film Paris was portrayed as foggy, shabby town akin to Carné’s view of Le Harvre, Kaurismäki’s Le Havre is beautifully lit and, although a little shabby at the edges, is portrayed as a basically friendly city where Marx and fellow shoeshiner Chang (Quoc Cung Nguyen) stand placidly together as they greet train passengers who might desire a shine. Although he certainly does not make much money, Marx is rewarded free drinks by neighborhood bartender and the local grocer grudgingly allows him open credit. Spending only a small amount of his earnings, Marx returns home to the protective arms of Arletty and to his faithful dog, Laika (named presumably after the famed Russian dog in orbit), where he hands over his daily wages to his wife and is served up a restorative meal. When Arletty suffers what appears to be a heart attack, all neighbors come together in support.

     Similarly, when Marx encounters a young African boy, who has escaped police capture upon the discovery of several African would-be immigrants hiding in a cargo container, the old man feeds the boy and takes him in, again with the open support of his friends—despite the newspaper headlines demanding the boy’s arrest. Marx even goes to the length of traveling to Calais to find a relative of the boy, and despite his wife’s illness, which necessitates regular visits to the hospital, he is able put together a concert in order to raise money to secretly ship the boy on to London, where his mother apparently lives. Even the nosey detective Monet helps Marx to get the boy out of the country. In short, while in Carné’s Le Havre there is “no escape,” in Kaurismäki’s port city everyone helps the characters to be free themselves from the predicaments and limitations of their lives.

      At film’s end, even Arletty returns home, miraculously cured from what she has been previously told was an inoperable condition. As fleeting as joy was in Carné’s world, here it is almost contagious. If neither Carné’s tragic vision nor Kaurismäki’s primarily positive presentation of life is very realistic, who cares? Such is the stuff of films and books!

Los Angeles, February 14, 2013

   
  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Joshua Logan | South Pacific


carefully taut
by Douglas Messerli
 

Paul Osborn (screenplay, based on the musical by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Joshua Logan), Joshua Logan (director) South Pacific / 1958

A few years ago I wrote a piece on New York’s Lincoln Center’s revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific, which I titled “Confused by Paradise,” centering on the US Seabees’, sailors’, and nurses’ difficulty in handling the very different values from their own they encountered in the south pacific islands to which they had been stationed. The musical version, I argued, was much more explicit in the sexual variances of its characters, particularly in connection with the character Luther Billis, as well as the sexual openness of the French and islanders as opposed to the Americans, than was the film.

      After hearing the other day of actor John Kerr’s death, I determined to revisit that film, a movie I first saw the year of its creation, 1958, and about which I have long had mixed feelings. Although I loved much of the acting and singing, as a child, I felt from the beginning that Logan’s heavy reliance of colored filters—although wonderfully theatrical—was distracting. And I have always had difficulty with Ray Walston’s comically grouchy character, Billis.

       This time, moreover, I felt even more ill at ease with the American characters, who, in the film version, seem less “confused” than utterly tense, unable to enjoy even those emotional states of which they sing and dance. And it is this tension, it seems to me, which helps to make this film musical such a discomforting and emotionally unfulfilling experience.

        By beginning the film with the on-the-beach Seabees’ and sailors’ “complaint,” “There’s nothing like a dame,” Logan immediately sets up a series of problematics: the handsome and sweaty sexual males of the island are segregated from the island’s women, from both the nurses, who they can glance at only in passing, and the native women, who the French have sent off to other islands for their protection. These men are not just expressing their yearnings, accordingly, but voicing their absolute frustration. They are lusty males without any hope of releasing their pent up emotions.

       Only Luther communicates with Nelly Forbush and the other women. But then, he is a special case. Luther does their laundry, sews grass dresses, and does various other “womanly” things that permit him entry into their company. In short Walston is asked to play the film’s only “gay” man while simultaneously having to pretend to be just another of the guys—a slightly more eccentric version of the desirous sailors—which helps to explain the actor’s somewhat dislikeable snarls and growls. Without openly admitting this character’s sexuality, the screenplay later asks him to have no interest in Bali Ha’i’s women (he seeks out the male-centered Boars’-tooth ceremony), and finally, requires that he dance in Forbush’s Thanksgiving performance in drag! Is it any wonder that he attempts to escape the island with the handsome and stated “sexy” Kerr (playing Lieutenant Cable), both by renting a boat and hitching a ride aboard the latter’s plane?

      Nelly Forbush, played with almost clueless romanticism by the ever-buoyant Mitzi Gaynor, quickly allows herself to fall in love with the island’s handsome Frenchman (Rossano Brazzi), without even pausing to ask why, as he has told her, he has killed another man. Yet she rises into an absolute panic when it is revealed the beautiful children she has admired (later Los Angeles gallerist
and my friend Candace Lee and Warren Hsieh) are de Becque’s own, fathered by a native woman.

      As absolutely enchanted as he is by Bloody Mary’s young daughter, Liat (France Nuyen), Cable cannot bring himself to marry the girl, reminding himself in song of his Philadelphia girl back home. But, at least, he clearly recognizes his hypocrisy, admitting the tensions within himself quite clearly in the work’s most morally responsible song, “Carefully Taught.” Kerr, however, doesn’t even get to sing that important admission, since it’s lip-synched; and Emile de Beque’s great ode to love, “Some Enchanted Evening,” is sung by Giorgio Tozzi, which may explain some of Brazzi’s inexplicable grimaces. Even original Broadway performer Juanita Hall’s wonderful Bloody Mary is sung by another. Only Gaynor and Walston get to belt out their own predicaments.

     In short, not only have the American figures of this work been “carefully taught” their racial and social isolation by their parents and society, but  their characters in this highly artificed film are “carefully taut,” prudishly tense in their separation from the more open islanders. In a film where no American seems at home in his or her skin—the writers going so far as to punish Cable’s sexual and racial transgressions with his death—it is perhaps appropriate that nearly every time anyone breaks into song, the sky unnaturally turns into garish yellows, purples,  blues and reds. In their up-tight sexualities these figures, understandably are slightly queasy, ill-at-ease in this brave new world.
 
      While the Broadway cast eventually came to comprehend the absurdity of their perverted love interests, symbolized by the “hundred and one pounds of fun, Honey Bun”—an absurd vision of fulfilled sexuality, the film’s actors know only that they are “moving on” and away from this frightening world at film’s end. Only Nellie remains, perhaps now more as a mother than a lover.
Los Angeles, February 13, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock | Dial M for Murder


key to the plot
by Douglas Messerli
 
Frederick Knot (screenplay, based on his play), Alfred Hitchcock (director) Dial M for Murder / 1954

Although Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope was shot entirely on set, a New York apartment, his 1954 movie Dial M for Murder, although it contains a scene in a gentleman’s club and a vague montage within a courtroom, seems far more stage-bound that the earlier work. Every time I watch this film, in fact, I feel a sense of claustrophobia, in part, because in the small Wendice flat at 61A Charrington Gardens, the characters are for much of the film literally in each other’s faces, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) intimately close to his cheating wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), Margot beginning the film with a kiss with her former lover, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), and, in later scenes, the murderer (Anthony Dawson) sprawling nearly on top of Margot, the Chief Inspector (John Williams) hovering over Tony’s every move.

      This film also has very little suspense going for it: we know who the killer is and the man behind him from near the beginning of the work, and we know his motives. And, accordingly, there is little action. Tony Wendice hires Captain Lesgate (Swann) to kill his wife so that he might inherit her money and to punish her for her long ago sexual transgression. His plans for the murder, including his involvement with the former school mate, is painstakingly detailed, in a long patch of dialogue, by Wendice himself. And, although, the murder actually fails, due to Tony’s machinations Margot is found guilty of Swann’s murder and sentenced to death. Even detective writer Mark is able to see through Tony’s veil of lies. The only unanswered question is how Mark and, perhaps the Chief Inspector, will save Margot and discover the labyrinthine “truth.” In short, much of this film creaks with a plot that Tony himself announces is “unrealistic.”

       Despite the work’s absolute staginess—or, one might argue because of it—this film works, mostly because of Milland’s delicious ability to placidly prevaricate, Cummings’ boyish loyalty to Margot, and Kelly’s gift of simply radiating a confused beauty.  And then there’s that hilariously complex plot to keep up all amused: Tony’s slow weekly withdrawals of bank funds to pay for the murder while hiding the fact from the police, his secret tracking of Swann, a shady character even in his schooldays who has committed numerous petty crimes against women before Wendice has tracked him down, and Tony’s voyeuristic stalking of the man at the dog races week after week. Add to that Tony’s accidental uncovering of Mark’s love letter to his wife, his fake blackmail attempts, the way he lures Mark into attending a stag party as a cover for his whereabouts the night of his wife’s murder, his planned-to-the-second telephone call to draw her out of the bedroom, etc. etc.—seemingly all for naught, since, when his watch stops, he’s late with the call, Swann nearly leaving, and Swann is murdered with scissors Tony has asked his wife to cut out articles from his past tennis career.

       The only truly dramatic event of the film is the attempted murder, where Swann is poised over the intended victim almost as in act of sex before Margot, reaching for the scissors, thrusts them into his back, he impaling them even deeper with his fall to the floor. This scene is pure Hitchcock magic!

       What follows is almost a purposeful unweaving of the whole fabric of Tony’s lies, as he redirects the very acts he has used to hide his involvement—including his silence on the phone, his insistence that she not immediately call the police, the discovery of money on the murdered man, and entry through the front door—upon his wife, freeing himself to guiltlessly end the relationship. Milland’s icy demeanor throughout makes him the perfect fiend.
     
     There is only one small element that has escaped this monster’s attention. The key found in Swann’s pocket, returned by Tony to his wife’s purse, is not the key to their flat, but to Swann’s own. Swann, thoroughly obeying Tony’s orders, has faithfully returned the house key to the rug upon the staircase outside the door. Since the inspector has switched raincoats with Wendice, and Margot, asked to return home, has no way to enter the flat; when the now keyless Tony checks the staircase, he reveals his guilt by his very entry.

       Even now, however, Milland as Tony retains his cool, pouring himself up a large drink before, presumably, going off to prison and his ultimate hanging.

 
Los Angeles, February 10, 2013

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Harmon Jones | Bloodhounds of Broadway


southern fried chicken
by Douglas Messerli
 
Sy Gomberg (screenplay, adapted from stories Damon Runyon by Albert Mannheimer), Harmon Jones (director) Bloodhounds of Broadway / 1952

In this 1952 mishmash of several Damon Runyon stories woven together in order to create a showcase for Mitzi Gaynor, the magic of Runyonland seems to have almost completely died out, the film beginning with a dirge-like torch song, sung by a somewhat dour Yvonne Dugan (Marguerite Chapman) to an empty chair. The famed Dave the Dude’s Club seems more like a morgue than a popular night spot. Indeed, gambling, so it appears, is about to come to an end! In the back room Robert “Numbers” Foster (Scott Brady) has called together his associates to explain the situation: they are all about to be called to testify before a Senate committee and plan to quickly forsake their beloved New York for the environs of Miami before disembarking for Cuba! Numbers’ girlfriend, Yvonne, will testify in their stead, carefully trained by a script held by Curtaintime Charlie (dancer-singer Richard Allen).

       Accordingly, this empty fable begins with a boring and unrevealing “trial,” one of the mobsters repeating “I can’t remember,” while Yvonne, true to her man, perfumes the room with lies. Even the senators throw up their hands in boredom: the inquiry ends as quickly as it has begun!

       Meanwhile, down South, since things have seemingly calmed down, Numbers hires a car piloted by the only truly funny figure in his work, Harry “Poorly” Sammis (Wally Vernon), to drive slowly back to the Big City, But Poorly’s poor driving skills sends them into the backwoods of Georgia, where they immediately encounter a gingham-clad Emily Ann Stackerlee (Mitzi) barnstorming over her granddaddy’s grave in a rousing chorus of funereal songs. As quick as you can say, “howdy, miss,” she invites the interlopers home for dinner, dancing up servings of candied yams and grits! Dinner, unfortunately, is interrupted by the gun-toting neighbor boys, Crockett Pace and his brothers, ending with Numbers, Poorly, and Emily Ann, along with her beloved bloodhounds, speeding off into the sunset!

       If you think these events might be lacking some credibility, hold on! For Numbers, having been “calmed down” by Emily Lee’s singing, suddenly gets the urge to take her along to New York where he might “mentor” and see to her education, hankering, evidently, to play “Daddy Long Legs” to this innocent country gal. But wouldn’t you know, the minute they get the Big Apple, where Emily Lee is given up into the tutelage of show-girl Tessie Sammis (Mitzi Green), the green country kid suddenly becomes a 20-something woman who, it turns out, can sing and dance as good as any Broadway star. As they play out a kind of “I can do anything better routine,” Tessie, Curtantime, and Emily Lee irresistibly patter “I Have a Feeling You’re Fooling.”

      The rest of this silly pastiche is made up of cutsey routines for Mitzi—some of them quite entertaining—trouble-making explosions by the jealous Yvonne, and the confused reactions of Numbers, who, losing his idiot savant ability to multiply and add all combinations of figures, has fallen desperately in love without his knowing it. Stitching these threads together are scenes in which the dogs, now hooked on Poorly’s pills, roam the streets of Broadway and, more often fall into deep sleep; Tessie’s cheerleading support of her protégée; and Emily Lee’s never-ending attempts to feed everyone she meets. A second investigation into the gambling racket, sends Numbers into hiding once again, as his former reform-school friend, Inspector McNamara (Michael O’Shea) attempts to convince Emily Lee to save her lover from years in prison by making a deal: one year in prison for going straight!

      Screenplay writer Sy Gomberg and adapter Albert Mannheimer don’t give Runyon’s suckers an even chance. The Southern fried chicken, oily as it is, is served up cold. Numbers, upon his release from the slammer, and Emily Lee grow fat as an old married couple, hoofing their lives away. Issinit sweet?

       
Los Angeles, February 9, 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013

Marcel Carné | Le Quai des brumes (Port of Shadows)


no escape
by Douglas Messerli
 
Jacques Prévert (screenplay, based on a novel by Pierre Mac Orlan), Marcel Carné (director) Le Quai des brumes / 1938 / the film I saw as a restoration of the original at The Royal Laemmle Theater, Los Angeles, 2013.

I almost think you have to be French to truly understand Marcel Carné’s masterful film, Port of Shadows. It’s not that the Jacques Prévert story is difficult to comprehend, a love story in which fate rules: this sense of destiny has been there at least since the Greeks. Any American admirer of film noir would understand the dark undertones of this simple tale—although one might argue that American film noirs are always more complex and murkier in their plots. The muddled morality of this film embedded in its seemingly permanent surrounding of dense fog is not so dissimilar to the elements of early German cinema and most of British film-making. No, there’s something more elusive than all that. Carné’s characters enter the film with a sort of intense halo of fatalism about their heads: nothing good will happen because it never does; while, there are pleasant moments, of course, life is not good to people like them. It’s as if Victor Hugo’s Fantine had never truly had a dream, but simply accepted her tragic life.

      It is so difficult, accordingly, to explain the quality of this film to a society that believes—so it imagines—that everything will eventually turn out all right, that life is a series of constant betterments and achievements; how even to speak to a society that believes in a dream of financial and social rewards about such French ennui? Jean Gabin as Jean, an army deserter, has no illusions left as he enters the environs of the port city, Le Havre. He has only his personal honor and nobility, and they mean nothing. He saves a dog by forcing a driver who has picked him up to steer out of range, yet later attempts to drive the poor beast away, nonetheless, feeding the animal even though he, himself, is nearly starving So too does the girl (Nelly, played my Michèle Morgan) he accidentally meets, through the goodwill of a passing alcoholic (people in this world are more defined by their behavioral type that by any individual eccentricities) who takes him to the Panama’s bar, carry with her the world’s sorrows. She, too, is hurt, a destroyed person, yet tough: she has, after all, although she can’t yet quite admit it, overhead the murder of her former boyfriend, Maurice, by her ugly godfather, Zabel (Michel Simon). This couple’s encounter, the immediate attraction between the two, their later short-lived affair (one night is all that Carné allows his figures) is part and parcel of the world of destiny these figures inhabit. So too are they quickly caught up in the sacrificial death of the local painter (Robert Le Vigan), who, after swimming out beyond his capabilities, leaves his clothing, his brushes, and his passport for Jean to “inherit.” The gesture is noble, but it too can have no ultimate effect in this world of dark shadows. Although Jean books passage on a ship bound for Venezuela, where he might escape the long hand of fate, once he has met Nelly, he has no choice but to return to the city, saving the girl from the fiendish hands of the jealous godfather only to have to face his own comeuppance for having belittled the local thug, Lucien (Pierre Brasseur). As Sartre would later express it—although far more metaphorically—there is “no exit.” Jean knew his fate the moment he left the military, and Nelly knew she would be left alone the moment she met Jean. The characters reveal this in their every movement. Jean, even as he, near starvation, cuts the bread and sausage Panama has awarded him, Nelly, in her deep, deep entrenchment within her plastic slicker, hands nearly always hidden, head pointed forward as if she were about to endure a deep rainstorm. Even Zabel seems to welcome his deserved punishment of murder by Jean.

      Shot, Jean orders Nelly to kiss him quick before he expires. This is only a world of only quick-fixes, love found on the run, of one-night stands, momentary pleasures than can have no meaning beyond the seconds in which they bring pleasure.

      Although Carné’s films have been described as “poetic realism,” they most emphatically have little to do with “reality,”—however one defines that—and even less to do with “poetic” expression, unless you define poetry as complete sentimentalism. Rather, Carné’s and Prévert’s theater is much more archetypal, having more to do with Kabuki and the French puppetry figures such as Punch and Judy, actors that formally play out the same stories again and again, than with what Americans might describe as naturalistic theater. Jean and Nelly are not realistic lovers but expressions of the desire of the French to discover love and the ability to give oneself completely over to it, while knowing that that can only lead to one’s destruction.

      It is no wonder that in the France of 1938, when this film first appeared—faced as it was with complete social betrayal and cultural annihilation—there was an outcry, politically speaking, against Carné’s seemingly uncontroversial movie, for it represents a kind of vision of love as surely locked into the French character as the German Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde represented the inconsumable passions of German culture. The cigarette munching, face-slapping, but tender-hearted Jean (Gabin at his best) represented a lover that might find fulfillment, but only in a single night—love could never to be sustained. It shares with Wagner’s neverland vision of consummation and sense of ever-lasting frustration, the idea of love and death being interminably intertwined.

     Although the American filmmakers of 1938 might never have been able to reveal the complete satisfaction of a sexual event as Gabin and Morgan express the morning after their night together, US directors would be sure, in the morning, nonetheless, that life would go on.  Love was love, death, death. Only an American could say that!

Los Angeles, February 7, 2003
Reprinted from Nth Position (March 2013).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lloyd Bacon | A Slight Case of Murder


going straight
by Douglas Messerli
 
Earl Baldwin and Joseph Schrank (screenplay, based on the play by Damon Runyon and Howard Lindsay), Lloyd Bacon (director) A Slight Case of Murder / 1938

Lloyd Bacon’s 1938 murder comedy, begins where Damon Runyon’s A Pocketful of Miracles ends, with the central character—bootlegger Remy Marco (played with wonderful swagger by Edward G. Robinson)—going straight. His former mobster cronies are told get shaves, to dress less loudly, and somehow alter their famed Runyon accents in order to become salesmen for Marco’s brewery which, suddenly with the end of prohibition, is legal! At home, Marco’s wife Mary (Jane Bryan), when told of his business plans, quickly attempts to speak like a society dame (for a moment successfully channeling Margaret Dumont) and nixes the various crap games going on in the living room during a raucous party. Their slot machine room now is  described as a music room! In short, their world is about to change!

      Fortunately for us, on one is very successful in his or her intended transformations, the accents they imitate slipping back into the street jargon, with Marco’s formerly illegal occupation—which once made him rich—now going bust. For Marco, a teetotaler, has never tasted his ghastly Velvet brew. Bankers are about to call in their loan in order to take over the brewery with the knowledge that it’s not the facilities that are at fault, but the product. As if that weren’t enough, Marco, who has been forced by finances to call home his expensively educated daughter, is determined to return to their rented summer house in Saratoga with a young orphan—the worst behaved boy in his alma mater, an orphanage headed by the eagle-eyed Margaret Hamilton—in tow.

       Meanwhile, unknown to them, their home has been intruded upon by five hoodlum acquaintances, who have just robbed a bank roll of millions belonging to gambling bookies. Four of them are shot dead by their fifth nervous partner just as the Marcos and their retinue  arrive, followed by a state trooper, Dick Whitewood (Willard Parker)—son of a wealthy Saratoga scion—who, unbeknownst to Marco, intends to marry his daughter Nora (Ruth Donnelly). Despite this comic works’ title, there is obviously nothing slight about Marco and his family’s dilemmas.

      This mulligan stew has so many loose threads, in fact, that it seems from the outset that they can never all be tied up, and Runyon’s tale can end in any number of various ways, as the discovered bodies are shipped out to various locations and gathered up again with the news of a “dead or alive” award; the murderer slinks through the house to reclaim the satchel of stolen money; the bad-boy, slightly drunken orphan uncovers the satchel hidden beneath his bed; and the trooper’s wealthy, frail father visits the roaring party that seems to be more of a reunion of lunatics than a civilized celebration. Nonetheless, the pieces all fall into the right places, as Marco pays off his debts (or, at least gets another loan), discovers how godly awful his beer is, and helps his future son-in-law to become hero by shooting the four-already dead bodies and, quite by accident, winging the fifth man on the run!

    At film’s close, I am sure there are still some loose ends (what happens to the orphan? how is old man Whitewood reunited with the Marco family?), but it doesn’t really matter! So much as happened in this funny farce, we have no time to cavil. And Marco, presumably, having changed the recipe of his beer, will finally be able to go straight and earn a living both!

      Employing dozens of Hollywood’s best character actors, Bacon’s spritely adaptation of Runyonland is a hit!    

Los Angeles, February 4, 2013