Posted on Friday, July 27th, 2012 by Jordan Hoffman
Night and the City (1950); Jules Dassin, director.
The Olympics has real, Greco-Roman style wrestling. Our modern culture has the current WWE circus. But in the 1950s, there was some weird in-between version of wrestling that I still don’t understand.
This is the wrestling that is the backdrop to Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, one of the finer examples of film noir. This is classic stuff with hustlers, molls and gangsters, and every word out of their mouths is quotable. It is a bleak movie about desperate characters who, when foolish enough to try and get ahead, get smacked down by circumstance. If you like the vibe found in Al Swearengen’s bar in Deadwood, you’ll like this film.
Note: I’m pretty sure Jules Dassin has been mentioned more than any other director in these “The Best Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen” columns. Suffice it to say that you should probably just see anything and everything you can by this guy – it’s all great and, probably because of his time on the Hollywood blacklist and later ex-pat status, he isn’t as celebrated as one of our great directors should be.
Ping Pong Playa (2007); Jessica Yu, director.
Is it just me, or does everyone go a little nuts for the table tennis during the Olympics? Maybe it’s because it is a sport we all play, but, you know, with a bunch of Miller Lites while Tom Petty is on the jukebox. Then you see real table tennis and WOAH that is nothing like how you play.
Ping Pong Playa is no masterpiece, but it is a nice independent film and a hundred times better than most garbage aimed at the youth market. I bring it up as a light refreshment amidst some of these heavier films, and also as an excuse to remind you of George Carlin’s observation that tennis is merely ping pong played while standing on the table.
Drive, He Said (1971), Jack Nicholson, director.
Since I’ve already mentioned John Huston’s magnificent boxing film Fat City in an earlier column, I’ll let Drive, He Said represent “New Hollywood” this week.
A collection of collegiate vignettes that play like a cross between Animal House and Zabriskie Point, this is a movie that is very much of its time. The hero of the basketball team spends his off-court time screwing anything he can coax into bed, while slowly growing more paranoid and angry about the culture around him. This is certainly a “don’t trust anyone over 30” movie (or, at least, a film about the people who don’t trust anyone over 30) and, frankly, there are long stretches where it is more fascinating as a cultural curiosity than an actual good movie. Still, for those who are fascinated by the era, and since the film version of Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me was a dud, this is one worth checking out.
Horse Feathers (1932); Norman Z. McLeod, director.
The physical stuff is my least favorite part of the Marx Brothers. But the big football match in Horse Feathers is one of the more famous set pieces in their curriculum vitae. (The bit with Harpo riding into the end zone is one of those images put in every classic cinema clips reel.)
In this one, Groucho runs a college and gets professional football players as ringers for the school team. Somehow Chico and Harpo end up in there, too. (Zeppo plays Groucho’s son, which is kinda weird.) Horse Feathers is where Groucho’s song “I’m Against It” was first heard, as well as the whole gang’s “Everyone Says I Love You.” Also: the use of the term “Swordfish” as a secret password has its origins in this one.
A lot of the early Marx Brothers pictures are available legally and in full on line. I couldn’t find Horse Feathers, however, so here’s Animal Crackers instead.