Sunday, February 8, 2015

LIZABETH SCOTT (1922-2015) - A Tribute
And farewell to the Golden Lady of film noir. No offense to any other actress out there, or up there (or down there), but, for me, if there was one actress who represents the film noir ideal, it's almost certainly Lizabeth Scott.
Let the film titles speak for themselves, like a rogue's gallery roll call of noir themes and emotions...The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)...Dead Reckoning (1947)...Desert Fury (1947)...I Walk Alone (1948)...Pitfall (1948)...Too Late For Tears (1949)...Dark City (1950)...The Company She Keeps (1951)...Two of a Kind (1951)...The Racket (1951)...Stolen Face (1952)...Bad For Each Other (1953).

Oh sure, she did films in genres other than dark dramas, like Scared Stiff (1953) with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Carmen Miranda, or Loving You (1957) with Elvis. But that touch of noir often crept in no matter the genre, as it did in the western Silver Lode (1954), in which she co-starred with those other frequent visitors to the Dark City, John Payne and Dan Duryea. You could take the girl out of the noir, but it was hard to take the noir entirely out of the girl.
Part of that was, to be sure, The Company She Keeps  - or kept, anyway. Lizabeth Scott hung out with a tough crowd, co-starring with actors like Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, Dennis O'Keefe, Edmond O'Brien, Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, Raymond Burr, and William Talman. She also did multiple stints with the aforementioned Dan Duryea, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and Charlton Heston. In a short, compact career, Lizabeth Scott fought as a heavyweight.

Born in the decidedly unglamorous Scranton, Pennsylvania, and gifted with the less than marketable name of Emma Matzo, the woman who became Lizabeth Scott spent a more than solid decade blazing through Hollywood like a platinum comet. Then, for all intents and purposes, she walked away from it all, leaving behind a legacy that is as much a tribute to her as it is a treasure for film fans.
Scott was sometimes tagged as being nothing but a knockoff of Lauren Bacall, which, in my opinion, is a false premise. Were there some similarities between the two actresses? You bet. But, if anything, Scott proved herself to be even more distinctive than Bacall, if not as critically acclaimed. Those eyes, that voice - there's no mistaking them. Bacall may have known how to whistle, but Scott had her hands down when it came to whispering.

Two of my favorite Scott films put her in very different roles. In The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, she is not only sensitive, but also very sympathetic, leaving the villain's role to Barbara Stanwyck. But then, in Too Late For Tears (which I got to see in its restored glory on the big screen last year), she is every bit the money-hungry, heartless femme fatale, with a character so hard she makes her creepy co-star Dan Duryea look sympathetic.

Which is to say, she had range. She also clearly had guts, brains and ambition. Sprinkle on a little luck, and goodbye, Scranton!
And now it's the big and final goodbye. Hopefully her passing will inspire someone, somewhere to put together a Lizabeth Scott film festival. It would be one hell of a lineup.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

THE DEAD 2 (2013) - A Review
We ended the year by finally getting to see the Ford Brothers' sequel to their excellent 2010 zombie masterpiece, The Dead. This was a film we'd been anxious to see, being that we had loved the first film.
So, it is with a heavy heart that I have to report that this film is, sadly, not nearly as good as the previous instalment. Mind you, it's not a disaster, but it was something of a disappointment. Of course, given just how right the first film was, it was a difficult task to match it, yet alone exceed it. But it is too bad that this falls so short of even equaling The Dead.
This sounded so promising. The first film had been (as mentioned in my earlier review) a great inversion of the classic Night of the Living Dead (1968). The Dead told the tale of a man lost in the wild and wide open spaces of Africa when a zombie epidemic breaks out. The Dead 2 seemed like it would in turn be somewhat of an inversion of the first film, moving the action from the sparsely populated African savannas to the densely populated Indian city of Mumbai. That seemed like a good sign, showing that the Ford Brothers, though making a sequel, weren't simply going to be doing a remake of their original film.
And this isn't just a remake of the first film - but it comes perilously close at times. It takes a long time for the lead character, Nicholas (Joseph Millson) to make it from...the sparsely populated Indian desert to Mumbai, where he's headed in the hope of saving his pregnant girlfriend, Ishani (Meenu).

So, while this is technically (and geographically) a different picture, it's also fairly familiar.
It also has a great deal more dialogue than the first picture, which went for great stretches without anyone saying a word. The Dead showed the Ford Brothers to be creative and capable storytellers and filmmakers. The Dead 2 shows them to be not quite so capable when it comes to crafting a strong and wordier script. Much of the dialogue is fairly hokey and hamhanded exposition and/or backstory, sounding more like rough notes for the story than it does a finished script. That being the case, and being that this film has more talk and less action than the first one, the deficiencies are hard to miss.
I think the film is also saddled with one too many "audience identifiers" for the leading man to handle. Having him rushing to Mumbai to save his pregnant girlfriend would be one thing; having him pick up a street-smart orphan boy en route to Mumbai would be another. Having both dumped on him seems like warm and fuzzy overkill, and only serves to bog the story down. A film that could have been a fairly lean and mean thrill ride instead makes frequent stops for unnecessary heartwarming moments. Not to be too obvious, but, this is a zombie film, right? Are so many hugs and poignant pauses really necessary?

Having said all that, let me say a little about what I liked in the Dead 2. For starters, Meenu is very good and believable as the leading lady. She is attractive, but not all Bollywood glammed up. The zombies, when they come, are still slow and creepy, and the make-up effects here are top-notch. And, as in the first film, the location shooting can't be beaten. (The DVD contains some behind-the-scenes discussions with the Ford Brothers about the particular difficulties they faced with shooting this on location. Some of those difficulties very clearly influenced the look and feel of this film. I don't usually get that interested in the behind the scenes stuff, but for this film, it's very helpful context to have.)
I would also still say that the Ford Brothers are more than capable storytellers and filmmakers. Absolutely. But, moving forward, they might well benefit from some outside collaboration on their scripts, particularly the dialogue. If they keep this series going - something I certainly wouldn't object to - and if you look at a map of the world, going in a fairly straight line from Africa to India puts a potential next stop in China. That would be interesting. Or you could turn northwest, and have a zombie outbreak in Pakistan or Afghanistan, if the Ford Brothers really want to double down on difficult location shooting.

Oh, yes, one more thing by way of a request/suggestion (a requestion) for the Fords. If you are going to keep making these films, and if they are going to continue to be set in places inhabited mainly by people of color, could you please, please dispense with having the obligatory white male lead? I can buy into a zombie epidemic; I can't buy into the notion that the only heroes in the world are white guys - and I am a white guy.