Lee Marvin might have fallen into his acting career, but he was a natural as a hardboiled tough guy. He became one of Hollywood’s iconic leading men and parlayed the power he wielded to work with the directors he wanted on the projects he wanted. Point Blank was one of those projects. Filmed in the Sixties, the movie hyper-focused on a particular look, Mod, from the word Modernist. The clothing, furniture, and art were the most recent in style and production. Clean sharp lines, shapes, and textures created the look. The mod scene consisted of coffee houses, jazz music, cocktails, and a desire to look graceful with simplicity, fueled by America’s post-WWII economic boom and mass production. It’s in this glossy utopian world that Point Blank is set. The clothing, props, and buildings show little of the past nor any hint of the emerging hippy esthetic. When such breaches do occur, they are for a reason. Alcatraz, from which our hero emerges at the beginning of the movie, sits on the bay like a tombstone of past mobsters in a cemetery. A careful viewing of Point Blank will show the importance of the imagery to the underlying tone and message of the film. The creative world-building is just one of many elements that turned a fairly decent, hardboiled thriller into a cult classic thoroughly enjoyed by film critics and fans. Point Blank might be a time capsule to a specific look from the ‘60s, but the underlying story in this work of thrilling suspense gives it legs. And it is one of several films that provide a worthy legacy to Lee Marvin and the others involved in its production.
The Home of the Creative Mind
Welcome to PooBahSpiel, the online voice and home of the creative mind of Mark Monlux, Illustrator Extraordinaire. Prepare yourself for an endless regaling of art directly from the hand of this stellar artist. And brace yourself against his mighty wind of pontification. Updates are kinda weekly and show daily sketches, current projects, and other really nifty stuff.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Cleopatra is the movie that nearly destroyed 20th Century-Fox. About everything that could go wrong during production went wrong. The script kept getting rewritten. Actors and actresses were replaced. Monumental salaries kept getting bigger even as production scheduling dragged on. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s relationship developed from a mere movie relationship into an epic in its own right. Elizabeth Taylor became deathly ill and had to be hospitalized. A new director was brought in. Several factors led to a new shooting location, and with scenes incomplete, this meant the huge sets and props had to be completely and perfectly reconstructed there. The new director, Joseph Mankiewicz, tried to convince the studio that their story was huge, and they had more than enough material to produce two films, Caesar and Cleopatra and Anthony and Cleopatra. The studio, however, was well into financial crisis by then and wanted to take advantage of the public’s infatuation with Taylor and Burton’s romance. So they pushed for the story to remain one single film. As a result, the final editing was brutal and removed large sections that would have made for a truly compelling story. Taylor was not pleased and said that they gutted key scenes from the film and kept war scenes to placate the audience. Watching Cleopatra, you can feel how Mankiewicz was right: Cleopatra should have been two films. Cleopatra is still a wonderful spectacle, but as daring and ambitious as it was, it would be the last in a long series of movie epics. The likes of it would not be seen again until the advent of CGI would allow grand shots on a reasonable budget.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Woman in the Dunes is filled with allegories. They are layered over each other. Some are obvious and others construct the full meaning of the film. There are so many interesting possibilities that cinemaphiles spend hours discussing them. Woman in the Dunes has always been an art house film. For its very skillful use of sound, cinematography, and story, it received a nomination for Best Foreign Film from the Motion Picture Academy. However, an average viewer might find the film dull in places. Dry sand flowing like water might have deep meaning to the narration, but its constant appearance might be boring to an audience more accustomed to explosions and jump scares. There are moments of high tension to be had. But they cycle back into an ever-growing feeling of frustration and exhaustion that is a good portion of the story. While you watch Woman in the Dunes, you should prepare yourself for a full meal of hidden and obvious meanings behind situations, objects, how the objects are shown, and the sound. The sound is one of the best things about Woman in the Dunes: it creates a narrative onto itself. Viewers might be tempted to re-watch it just to capture the narrative of the sound and how it changes, just like our hero does throughout the movie.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Topper is filled with so many goodies; I hardly know where to start. All of the actors and actresses are familiar faces. Some of them are mid-career, others are just starting out, and others will go on to achieve fame outside of acting. The success of Topper set Cary Grant up as a leading man in screwball comedies. The actor who plays the elevator-operator-turned-bellboy would go on to play Dagwood Bumstead in a series of Blondie movies. The birdlike voice of Billie Burke, who plays Mrs. Clara Topper, is instantly recognized as belonging to Glenda the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz. Alan Mowbray’s portrayal of Wilkins the Butler would land him dozens of similar roles to the point that his onscreen character and delivery would be quoted by Raymond Chandler. One of Hoagy Carmichael’s movie appearances, this one goes uncredited—but it’s hard to miss as he’s singing his Old Man Moon with the two leads leaning on his piano. And Roland Young presented Cosmo Topper’s dry delivery so elegantly that he received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, which was quite impressive as that was unheard of at the time. Oh! And don’t get me started about the car. The car is practically a character itself. Do some research and you will find a whole history of car customization you’d never heard about. Topper is light-hearted and gay. Topper was well received because the actors and characters they played endeared themselves to audiences.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Hell is for Heroes is a unique war movie. It doesn’t play up war in the least. There is no significant objective mentioned. No general provides us with a clue of strategy. There’s just a squad of men hoping to go home and not face the terror of being on the line. That hope is dashed, along with the private plans the soldiers have made. The men are sent to the front. They don’t know why. They don’t really care. They just want to survive. Only a few of the men are fully up to the task of being a soldier. But Hell is for Heroes shows how most of the soldiers are out of their element. In case the cruel comedy of this is somehow lost on the audience, we are given Private Driscoll. Played by comedian Bob Newhart with his now well-known deadpan delivery, Pvt. Driscoll blunders onto the front with a jeep full of typewriters, a clerk plunged abruptly into the life-and-death struggle on the front line. All the men are trying to make the best decisions that their own experiences have given them. But with its unrelenting deadly nature, war is cruel, taking any decision and turning it into one that cost lives. Hell is for Heroes’ message is that war is men killing and dying. And not much else.
Monday, February 19, 2018
During World War II, a Finnish writer by the name of Mika Waltari explored an ancient Egyptian text known as the Story of Sihuhe. Waltari’s goal was to create a narrative so thoroughly researched that it would entertain not only a casual reader but also bring a smile to the lips of Egyptologists. The book “Sinuhe egyptiläinen” was published in 1945. The book became very popular and was printed in English in 1949 under a simpler title, “The Egyptian.” Its tale of the hero’s disillusionment and war-weariness impressed readers who had just endured a world war. 20th Century-Fox thought The Egyptian perfect for CinemaScope. Never to let a good thing go to waste, another studio, Paramount, would reuse The Egyptian’s wardrobe, props and sets two years later for The Ten Commandments. And, as was often the case in the studio era, some of the actors and extras appeared in both movies. Also, two well-known studio composers shared the workload to create the score for the soundtrack. The Egyptian fared well at the box office. And was nominated for an Academy Award for its cinematography. While it didn’t win an Oscar, Bella Darvi did receive a New Star of the Year - Actress award at the Golden Globes for her portrayal of Nefer, the seductive Babylonian courtesan. I always loved watching The Egyptian. I saw it regularly on television when I was growing up. And it was in our family’s collection of books, where I discovered a copy of the novel that inspired the movie. I was overjoyed to read a lavishly expanded version of the story where I envisioned Victor Mature, Peter Ustinov and others in their designated roles. When I discovered the musical score was available digitally, it didn’t take me long to find my wallet. It’s hard to explain why The Egyptian captivates me so much, why I’m such a fan. I’ve been rattling off trivia about the film, but not going into the story. I guess the same chord that struck readers in 40 countries through the novel and millions via the box office struck me, too.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Citizens Band Radios were another craze that swept the country during the seventies. When technology reduced the size and cost of transistors, suddenly owning a citizens band radio became affordable. Truckers were the first to make use of mobile CBs for practical reasons. With gas shortages a serious problem, truckers were able to network and locate stations that had supplies. And it wasn’t long before average citizens started to take to the CB airwaves. Their popularity was so high that what little licensing was required was eliminated altogether as enforcement become impossible. C.W. McCall, aka Bill Fries, wrote the song “Convoy” to perfectly capture a slice of America, that of the American trucker dealing with the economic and fuel crises gripping the country. The use of CB jargon was a hook that set deep with the radio listener. While it’s common for books to be made into movies, songs doing the same thing are a bit more rare. When Convoy was released, the storyline of the movie didn’t quite match that of the song. Knowing when to adjust to a good thing, Bill Fries rewrote the lyrics to match the storyline of the movie and re-released the song. Trucker movies like Convoy, employing car chases, out-witting police, and heavy use of CB radios would remain a staple through the ‘70s, with homage paid to them in subsequent films. And later, CB radios would remain in basements, rec rooms, dens where they would eventually gather dust as the Internet and cell phones became the next big things.
My copy editor John Markuson would like you to know:
[Fries was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.]