Tagged 1963

The Wonderful Foolishness and Biting Satire of Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. 1964. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick, Peter George, & Terry Southern.
Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, & Jack Creley. Columbia Pictures/Hawk Films.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
Comedy/War

★★★★★
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Based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove is easily what I consider as one of the funniest films of all time. I love me a good Farrelly Brothers flick, In Bruges is another one that kills me, Anders Thomas Jensen’s movie Adam’s Apples is a god damn riot. Then there’s stoner comedies like Cheech and Chong among others that give me a kick, some of the Broken Lizard movies are downright hilarious. Point is, I’m not snobbish about my comedy, nor do I think this film in particular is high brow. But I love comedy from any time, any era, any corner of the world.
Dr. Strangelove is so good because it came along at a particular time. In the midst of the Cold War, in a time where extreme ideology certainly reared its head in the U.S. and had people paranoid of communists infiltrating society, Kubrick – along with Peter George himself and brilliant writer Terry Southern – turned the book Red Alert from something sombre into an absolutely knock ’em down, drag ’em out riot. All the same, there’s nothing slapstick about this, and even in its ridiculousness there’s still always a contained feeling; that clinical process that Kubrick seems to inject into almost every one of his films. It’s capable of being incredibly funny while also taking on the concept of nuclear war, completely inept heads of government and more.
I still remember seeing this for the first time. Each viewing since then feels like the first all over again because every joke is still fresh, especially in this day and age where lunatics are all too near the big red button. I’m always laughing just as hard. And for that, I thank Kubrick. So much of his filmography is quite serious, which I love. However, it’s nice to see the funny side of that great director, in no less than one of the greatest comedies – if not THE GREATEST – in cinematic history.
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Sterling Hayden is pitch perfect as General Ripper. There’s no way anybody could’ve given Ripper such a funny turn. When he starts going on about his “essence” there’s no way I can keep a straight face. It is at once frightening and all the same makes you giggle. That’s the overall genius of the film. Certainly when it comes to Hayden’s character. He is just a great actor, whose performances in films like Kubrick’s The Killing and The Godfather are memorable. Although not near as memorable as General Jack D. Ripper. And what a hilariously dark name for his character.
This brings me to the fact of names. Look at a few of them: Buck Turgidson (sounds slightly like turd yet also literally spells out ‘turgid’), President Merkin Muffley (do I need to point out what a merkin is, or what that then means for his last name?), Colonel Bat Guano, Major King Kong (played amazingly by Slim Pickens). Many of the main characters are named with tongue planted firmly in cheek. However, the President himself is most interesting, as his name seems to play into part of the character’s purpose.
One major aspect of the satire in this story is how the President of the United States of America is made out to be the ultimate pawn. Merely a figurehead. The whole fact he’s been overridden when Ripper goes mad and starts the nuclear attack on Russia points to the fact he really has no ultimate power, when it comes down to the wire. The fact the POTUS is named Merkin Muffley suggests a couple things. Mainly, the idea of a merkin – a pubic wig – suggests he is a fake, or a literal wig that hides something, concealing. So Merkin himself, as a figurehead for the government, is just a peon. He’s made to look all powerful when really it’s everyone underneath him, mainly those in the War Room (and obviously General Ripper who overstepped his rank) holding all the real power.
Love when Kong reads out all sorts of materials in the plane, including condoms, nylon stockings, lipstick. Such a farce, yet unless you’re really paying attention you might just pass off this brief moment. That’s another brilliant aspect to the script. There are a number of points where the writing weaves a serious situation through excellent satirical dialogue that you could miss it if you’re not focused. Then in other scenes it’s almost dripping with satire to the point that if you miss it, you’re just not watching the film.
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The actors are all in fine form. You cannot ignore the pure genius of Peter Sellers, though. Three different parts. Each more hilarious than the last. It’s hard for me to even decide which one of them I love most. Mandrake is priceless in his juxtaposition with the perpetually crazy General Ripper ranting on about fluoridation and how Commies never drink water, only vodka, and all sorts of further madness. President Muffley’s conversation with the Russian Premier is one of the film’s highlights, as well as perhaps one of the most prevalent instances of the absurdist satire at play. But you’ve also got the eponymous Dr. Strangelove. He is appropriately the big finisher, giving us an awesomely performed finale to both finish off the film, and also the performance of Sellers. He is one of the greatest comedians to have ever graced the silver screen. Even if you recognize him slightly, each character has their own way of talking, on top of an accent, and they even move differently. All a testament to his impeccable acting talents.
In addition, the great George C. Scott brings General Buck Turgidson to life. Right from the get go he has me laughing. As the scenes wear on and the situations become dire, his comedic efforts and timing only serve the plot even better. One of my favourite moments from Scott is after Turgidson answers the phone and it’s his secretary, the one with whom he’s sleeping; he gives her this great little speech that makes me crack up. Everything about Scott’s performance is stellar, right down to the incessant gum chewing of General Buck.
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There are so many impressive elements to Dr. Strangelove, but above all else it is funny, it cuts deep while also making things laughable. The satire and its execution, from George C. Scott to Peter Sellers in his three roles, is first and foremost what makes things work. As usual, Kubrick makes good directorial choices. There is an ominous feeling even throughout all the comedy, and that clinical sense of direction further seen in his later work is very much at play. All in all, I’m comfortable calling this my personal favourite comedy of all-time. Enough moments make me tear up from laughter that I can easily say that. Never will I get bored of the political commentary and satire jammed into this movie. In my top three Kubrick, which is saying something. If it’s not your cup of tea, I understand. But damn, are you ever missing out if this doesn’t strike you as funny as it does me.

11.22.63 – Episode 3: “Other Voices, Other Rooms”

Hulu’s 11.22.63
Episode 3: “Other Voices, Other Rooms”
Directed by James Strong
Written by Brian Nelson

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Kill Floor” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Eyes of Texas” – click here
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Following the events of “The Kill Floor”, 11.22.63 continues with Jake Epping (James Franco) driving Bill Turcotte (George MacKay), trying to explain to him how a newspaper from 1963 showed up in 1960. Jake attempts to tell him about the whole mission with which he was tasked by Al Templeton (Chris Cooper). He reveals being from 2016. That’d blown your mind if you were in ’60, that’s for sure. Poor Bill has got no clue what’s going on, though, I’m willing to bet he’s about to dive in head first.
At a motel, Jake continues explaining the complexities of his time travel situation. Bill tries his best to understand the complicated in-and-outs, but keeps holding a gun to Jake, demanding proof of his being from the future. Then he wants Jake to go back and save his sister. Jake’s got to further explain how he can only get back to October 21st, 1960. That’s the only way back, as far as it goes.
Flashes of the Dunning house, the near massacre, keeps coming back to Jake. He accidentally strangles Bill coming out of a waking nightmare. Things get even more on edge than they were. But despite all odds, Jake has a new travel companion in Bill, who seems unwilling yet simultaneously wanting to believe in the whole story. Now, we move to Dallas, as Jake starts explaining the future situation of JFK’s assassination; the Grassy Knoll, the book depository, all that.
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Jake: “What I wouldnt give for a minibar right now?”
Bill: “A what?”
Jake: “Nevermind
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Jake the writer, like Stephen King, finds himself a teaching position. This gives him a reason for hanging around and awaiting the coming events. Afterwards, Jake and Bill head out to celebrate in Dallas. Of course, Bill gets a bit wild. At the bar, up shows Jack Ruby (Antoni Corone) – “Looks like youve seen a ghost,” Jack laughs when Jake gives him a strange stare. Interesting to watch him in the past coming up against people he knows, himself being from the future and all. There’s this strange reverse sense of deja-vu. Very cool, very weird for Jake.
Engaging with everyone around him, Mr. Amberson takes up his post at school. He doesn’t vibe well with the racial politics, first asking the black secretary if she’d like a cup of coffee; this pauses everyone nearby, not understand why he’d do such a thing. It’s 1960 – duh, Jake. So silly to watch from our perspective, and Jake’s, as those of us not born and living during that time in the Southern U.S. can’t comprehend how people would be so cold. But Jake does get along with his students, something which hasn’t changed from 2016 to 1960. He gets by as best he can, anyways.
Finally, Jake is reunited with Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon) – she’s the new school librarian. She does remember him after awhile. Even better, they get shackled to chaperoning a dance at the school. A natural romance is beginning to brew. But like Al warned: not wise to get close to people, it may get messy.


Bill and Jake follow Oswald around via a timeline of where he was in those periods. They wind up in a rundown, “mixed race neighbourhood” where the word “niggers” gets tossed around easily, without a thought. The pair get themselves an apartment across from where Oswald will be moving in.
Running into the secretary from school, Miss Corcoran (Tonya Pinkins), Jake finds her unable to buy gas from a station. She walked miles to get there and is refused service by the attendant. He claims she can buy gas in her own neighbourhood. “Why dont you shut your fucking mouth?” Jake yells at the man loudly, grabbing a can for some gas, then tossing bills at him walking away. Definitely bought him some points with her, which may prove to be helpful down the road in some way. For now, it’s just a moral gesture.
At the airport, Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) arrives home from Russia after supposedly defecting. His disdain for the U.S.A is clear already. Jake is following nearby, too, as expected. He and Bill continue their mission, ordering up surveillance equipment. This is like a period piece throwback, with a technician (who incidentally served with Gen. Walker) explaining all sorts of different pieces they can use to spy from afar; all under the guise of being for Jake’s hopeful divorce.
The school dance is full swing. Jake and Sadie try policing things, including all the booze being sneaked in. They decide to “inspect” the punch that the jocks clearly spiked. A nice little romantic segue for these two characters, getting closer, learning more of one another. Only Jake is playing with fire. Will he realize that before it’s too late? Doubtful.


Skipping out on the dance, Jake heads back with Bill to start setting up the Oswald apartment for broadcast, so they can hear everything going on inside the house. They find themselves interrupted when Oswald returns. On their sneaky escape through the attic, Bill puts his hand in a nest of spiders and freaks out. This causes Oswald to go on alert. But they make it out luckily.
Inside Oswald’s place, the surveillance bugs start working. Success for the fumbling team. Their Oswald mission is officially underway with everything up and running. And this is the beginning of Jake living a double life; he forgot to go back to the school dance, as he promised Sadie before running off to attend to the Oswald project. Sadie isn’t too pleased the next day, nor is Ms. Corcoran. Such is the price of trying to change the course of history.
One of the following days, George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne) arrives at Oswald’s place. “This could be the start of the whole thing,” Jake tells Bill. Only problem is they’re speaking Russian almost constantly. This does nothing for them, and throws a wrench into Jake’s plans. Great addition, both to the book and the series. Makes things much more interesting. I guess at least they’ll hear the name Walker if it’s thrown out there. Everything else is out the window, unless Jake can track down a Russian-English dictionary, which he does soon as possible. When he comes back, Bill is knocked out on the floor, bloody nose and all. Some of the junkie-type guys from outside the building downstairs stole everything. Jake and Bill pose as FBI to get their machinery back, but the tapes are all done for pretty much.


Things are looking up for Jake on the romance end of things – Sadie wants to move fast, she kisses him and pretty much sets up their date. Again, Jake doesn’t realize these are things which will be hard when the time comes to either leave, or possibly worse. Who knows.
At a Sisters of Southern Heritage meeting, Jake and Bill attend, spying Oswald with de Mohrenschildt. Curiouser and curiouser. Particularly seeing as how General Edwin Walker (Gregory North) is speaking at the podium. Things are getting more murky by the minute. Outside, Oswald causes a commotion and then gets beat on by a few officers. Lee makes a massive scene, calling Walker a “fascist” and claiming: “I have something to say! Wake up! Wake up, you fucking fascist. Or I will kill you. I will fucking kill you.” Wow. Strong evidence towards the theory of Oswald, but is it what we’re meant to see? What the higher-ups want us to be seeing, as in the way history’s been shaped for us? We’ll have to dig deeper together. Let’s find out more.


Next episode is titled “The Eyes of Texas” and I cannot wait to see it. Stay tuned with me, fellow fans.

Psychological Trauma in The Haunting

The Haunting. 1963. Directed by Robert Wise. Screenplay by Nelson Gidding; based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
Starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn. Argyle Enterprises. Rated G. 112 minutes (Black & White).
Horror

★★★★★
haunting_xlgWhatever the equivalent of a Renaissance Man in film, it certainly was Robert Wise. He crossed over genres and did so many incredible movies in the span of his career that it’s almost not even sensible. Not nowadays, even with lots of great filmmakers popping out here and there.
Think about it – The Curse of the Cat PeopleThe Body SnatcherThe Set-UpThe Day the Earth Stood StillSomebody Up There Likes MeWest Side StoryThe HauntingThe Sound of MusicThe Andromeda StrainAudrey Rose, and even Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That’s not even all of them, just the good ones (except for the first Star Trek).
Wise has that classic sensibility about his filmmaking. Here, he uses such beautifully constructed angles and lighting, shadow, to create a haunting feeling. His ability to put us in the perspective of a character is uncanny. The Haunting is not just a ghost story, nor is it simply a typical haunted house horror movie. Wise constructs a supernatural type film around very psychological premises. Working off the excellent novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, the screenplay by Nelson Gidding is woven finely and Wise makes it something intimate, as well as very universal. Though we spend so much time getting into the head of one particular lead character, the story and its trappings draw on a widely held fear – one that comes out of wondering what lies beyond the veil of death.
featured-hauntingDr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) plans on conducting experiments concerning ghostly entities. He is able to secure the use of Hill House: a legendary home built by Hugh Crain (Howard Lang) for his wife, though now supposedly haunted after he was plagued by the deaths of his wives.
Markway invites several people to come to the house, all in the name of studying fear specifically. Two women, Eleanor (Julie Harris) and Theodora (Claire Bloom), along with a young man named Luke (Russ Tamblyn) come to Hill House in order for Markway to start experimenting. However, not long after her arrival Eleanor starts to lose her grip on reality. Not too long and everything begins to get more terrifying, not just for Eleanor but for every living person who comes into contact with Hill House. No telling if any of them will make it out of its walls alive.
0df304cc937306011d0b1b25b3cd9b2c-russI don’t care what anyone says, some of the old school film techniques are the best. For instance, just the way Wise creates a disorienting feeling with simple methods instead of using any elaborate effects is part of The Haunting‘s charm. Early on, after Eleanor reaches the house and everyone’s settling in, she has a sort of panic attack and the camera dips, giving us an inverted look at her as she screams out. It’s such a deceptively simple shot, but god damn if it doesn’t work proper. Even so far as very quick angles and switches of point-of-view, which Wise executes flawlessly. Particularly there’s a scene where Eleanor goes back to her room alone, lying on the bed, then the camera moves from above her looking down to a shot next to the bed, no edit. Such a smooth switch and it just has a nice look. Lots of modern horror is so concerned with pushing a scare on you and throwing it in your face. Wise lets a lot of the psychological effects of the noises, the ghostly whispers (and so on) really sit with you and he twists and turns things about as you’re sinking in it. Again, it’s the fact we’re so often thrown into Eleanor’s perspective I find the film is so creepy. You eventually get a sense of something terrifying happening, even in the times Eleanor is with someone else and the ghostly presence is banging a door or shaking something – it still feels very much like we’re riding along with her specifically. I enjoy all the characters, it’s simply the way the story is told and how Wise is able to give us such a close, intimate feeling of seeing things through her eyes.
So much of the psycho-horror comes out of the innovative filming and creative editing, such a spooky overall product. Wise deliberately wanted to throw people off, so there are cuts where characters walk through a door on the right only to enter through the left of the screen, thereby confusing any sense of understanding the layout of Hill House (so remember this people when you think about Kubrick’s The Shining). I love that because it adds another purposefully, and awesomely, eerie sense of disorientation.
One of my favourite moments in terms of technique is the staircase. We get that neat shot, strangely creepy, where the camera seems to zoom down through the stairs. As per commentary on The Haunting Blu ray, this was achieved by basically using the staircase as a dolly and sending the camera down slowly, then once in reverse the effect came out weird and highly effective. Just like another shot where Eleanor is alone, thinking to herself and letting the thoughts of dead Mrs. Crain get in her head, then the camera sort of zooms down at her from high above, her wide and screaming mouth open – then a quick cut to Dr. Markway grabbing hold so she doesn’t fall off the balcony. This quick bit is so unsettling, it draws you closer and closer towards Eleanor’s mindset.
MaisonDiable2The performances are all pretty top notch, classy style acting overall. Of course it’s Julie Harris as Eleanor who steals the show. Without her ability to portray such a damaged, fragile woman, the plot wouldn’t have been able to take hold. Not only does Wise put us in her shoes visually, her skills as an actor take us the next leap forward. She’s very quiet and subtle at moments, then others time there’s a fire inside her, in her eyes, and it rises up quickly. Harris has wonderful range and displays it, fine-tuned here.
Further than that, this movie had a great depiction of a lesbian woman for 1963. Usually there’d be a foolishly stereotypical version of a gay woman in other big films. Instead, Theodora (played by Claire Bloom) comes off elegant, feminine and not someone trying to lure the only other woman around into a sexual encounter – funny enough, the 1999 remake sort of retracted all that and made her into a hound for pussy, but whatever, that movie was awful. This one, though, it really did good things for the character. That’s just another example of a nice addition to the source material. Jackson is very, very present throughout this adaptation. But Gidding and Wise have their hands in some places where it counts, including Theodora’s character and the in-depth focus on Eleanor and her mental state.
the-hauntingIf there were ever a quintessential haunted house-style horror movie, it is absolutely Robert Wise’s The Haunting. 5 stars, hands down. I can never see this movie enough. It’s especially good for Halloween, but every day is good for horror. This will sink in if you let it. Too many people today are getting desensitized by gore and blood. But that is not the epitome of horror. The real creepy stuff, the genuinely unsettling horror movies, they’re the ones that slowly climb into your brain and don’t let go. They’re the things made up of well crafted writing, careful direction – both in terms of cinematography, editing, and also regarding the design aspects of the house, the look of it all. The Haunting has every bit of this, and more. You need to experience this Wise masterpiece in Blu ray, it will blow your mind. Excellent horror and one hell of a classic.