A Big Screen, Some Popcorn, and JAWS (Universal 1975)

Dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun…..

This past Wednesday night, I went out to New Bedford’s Zeiterion Theater to watch a screening of the summertime classic JAWS. The Z, as we locals call it, began life as a vaudeville palace in 1923, and five months later changed its name to The State and ran the latest silent movies. The State operated as a movie house until the late 70’s, with the historic building refurbished in 1982 and retro rebranded as the Zeiterion, hosting concerts, plays, dance, and other performing arts. The city (which now owns and operates the Z) recently purchased a state-of-the-art high-definition digital projector and, after an absence of almost a year,  movies are back in New Bedford! They kicked off a “summer series” of films with Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster scarefest, filmed not far from here (just a fast ferry ride away aboard the Sea Streak) on Martha’s Vineyard.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

And what a FIN-tastic experience it was! It was the perfect film to start with for the #1 fishing port in America, and the place was jam-packed. Imagine that, an almost full house to watch a 42-year-old film on a Wednesday night! I enjoyed watching the little kids seeing the movie for the first time as much as I did watching it myself. Everybody jumped and screamed when Richard Dreyfuss , exploring an abandoned boat underwater, was startled by a dead body popping up – including me, and I’ve seen JAWS at least 30 times! A similar reaction occurred at the shark’s first appearance, scaring the bejeezus out of both Roy Scheider and us. Spontaneous applause erupted from the crowd on three different occasions; when Jaws is blown to smithereens, when Dreyfuss emerges from the deep alive, and of course at Scheider’s iconic “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” line!

Capt. Quint enjoying a Narry!

The audience was crazy about Quint, the crusty sea captain played by Robert Shaw . It seems everybody around these parts knows a “Quint” down at the docks! Dreyfuss had more than his share of fans in the seats, too. As for myself, I liked all of Spielberg’s little “in-jokes” and film quotes, honoring Hitchcock and the 50’s sci-fi movies he grew up with. And the sound was awesome, with most people humming along to John Williams’ famous “dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun” theme. All in all, a great night out watching a great film with a great crowd. Much as I sometimes complain about all the negative shenanigans that go on in New Bedford these days (drug dealing, gang violence, etc) , there are still a lot of good people living here, and some good things going on as well. Next up in the Z’s “Summer Movie Series” they will be showing another one of my favorites, 1993’s coming-of-age baseball comedy THE SANDLOT. Anyone want to guess where I’ll be on July 12?

The State Theater hosting the World Premiere of “Down to the Sea in Ships” (1949)
The Zeiterion Theater today

Somebody’s Watching Me: Jane Fonda in KLUTE (Warner Brothers 1971)

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I was going to post on KLUTE last week, but between my Internet service going on the fritz and getting swept up in Oscar Fever, I never got around to it. Better late than never though, and KLUTE is definitely a film worth your time. It’s a neo-noir directed by that master of 70’s paranoia, Alan J. Pakula, who’s also responsible for THE PARALLAX VIEW, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, and SOPHIE’S CHOICE. KLUTE is both an intense thriller and character study, with an Oscar-winning performance by Jane Fonda.

PI John Klute is sent to New York City to investigate the disappearance of his friend, Tom Gruneman. Seems Gruneman has been sending obscene letters to Bree Daniels, a call girl he met there. Klute sets up shop in her apartment building, shadowing her and tapping her phone. When he finally goes to question her, Bree says she doesn’t remember Gruneman, but it’s possible he could be the guy who once beat the crap out of her. Bree takes Klute to meet her ex-boyfriend/pimp Frank, who leads them to a hooker named Arlyn Page, now a hopeless junkie. Klute thinks Arlyn may hold the key to the mystery, until she’s found dead in the river. Meanwhile, Bree has the strangest felling that Klute isn’t the only person who’s been watching her….

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Jane Fonda won a well-deserved Oscar for her role as Bree. Tough on the outside, vulnerable on the inside, Bree’s a hot mess, only feeling empowered when she’s turning tricks, as she explains to her shrink. When she first meets Klute, she berates him (“And what’s your bag, Klute? What do you like? You like talking, a button freak?…Or maybe you like to have us wash your tinkle. Goddamned, hypocrite squares!”), but soon they sleep together, and she discovers she has feelings for him, making her extremely uncomfortable. It’s an edgy, honest performance, and Fonda nails it from beginning to end.

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The title role is played by Donald Sutherland, and he’s Fonda’s equal here. Klute’s more introverted than Bree, and equally awkward in expressing his feelings. Sutherland underplays as John Klute, and shows why he’s one of the best actors of the era. The supporting cast is more than capable, with Roy Scheider as Bree’s slimy former pimp particularly noteworthy. Charles Cioffi contributes a creepy piece of villainy, constrained yet obviously unhinged. The criminally underrated Dorothy Tristan has a brief but memorable turn as the pathetic Arlyn. Jean Stapleton (the beloved Edith of ALL IN THE FAMILY) and Shirley Stoler (THE HONEYMOON KILLERS, SEVEN BEAUTIES) are recognizable in small parts, but if you blink you’ll miss Sylvester Stallone, Warhol superstar Candy Darling, and porn icon Harry Reems in the disco scene.

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The great Gordon Willis does his usual superb job as Cinematographer, as he did with THE GODFATHER movies and his work with Woody Allen. Carl Lerner’s editing and Chris Newman’s sound add to the film’s paranoid mood. KLUTE doesn’t often get in the discussion of the classic movies of the 70’s, but it can stand right there with the best of them. The entire cast and crew combine to give KLUTE an existential sense of dread, a feeling that resonates as deeply as ever in today’s modern world.

 

Rough Justice: THE FRENCH CONNECTION (20th Century Fox 1971)

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First of all, I’d like to thank Kellee Pratt of Outspoken and Freckled for inviting me to participate in the 31Days of Oscar Blogathon. It’s cool to be part of the film blogging community, and even cooler because I get to write about THE FRENCH CONNECTION, a groundbreaking movie in many ways. It was the first R-Rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and scored four other golden statuettes as well. It also helped (along with the Clint Eastwood/Don Siegel DIRTY HARRY) usher in the 70’s “tough cop” genre, which in turn spawned the proliferation of all those 70’s cop shows that dominated network TV back then (KOJAK, STARSKY & HUTCH, BARETTA, etc, etc).

The story follows New York City cops Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and his partner Sonny “Cloudy” Russo as they investigate a large shipment of heroin being brought in from France. The detectives focus on Sal Boca, a small time hood suddenly spreading big money around, and connected to mob lawyer Joe Weinstock. They get a tip the drugs are coming in, and follow Frenchman Alain Charnier. The cat-and-mouse game is on, and the film essentially becomes the race to find and stop the shipment from hitting the streets, including an iconic scene where Doyle commandeers a car to chase down an elevated train carrying Charnier’s murderous associate.

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Gene Hackman won the Oscar for his portrayal of Popeye Doyle. He’s Archie Bunker with a badge, spewing profanity-laced ethnic slurs at every perp he comes across, tossing in non-sequiturs like “You ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?” to keep them off-balance. Doyle breaks the rules with abandon, doing whatever it takes to clean up his city. Popeye Doyle may be a flawed human being, and you may not agree with his methods, but he’s an honest cop doing a tough job. He’s an anti-hero, and Hackman deserved his Oscar for his stark, realistic performance.

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The rest of the cast is outstanding as well. Co-star Roy Scheider (Russo) went on to lead roles in JAWS, ALL THAT JAZZ, BLUE THUNDER, and 2010. Spanish actor Fernando Rey (Charnier) worked in many of Luis Bunuel’s films. Tony LoBianco (Sal) is a dependable character actor who never quite made the leap to stardom. The real life Popeye and Cloudy, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, appear in the film, with Egan playing Doyle’s superior. R&B group The Three Degrees (“When Will I See You Again”) are featured in the nightclub scene.

William Friedkin’s career was stuck in neutral before THE FRENCH CONNECTION. He made his debut directing Sonny & Cher in GOOD TIMES, followed by a few artsy films that went nowhere at the box office. He took on THE FRENCH CONNECTION after getting some advice from his then-girlfriend’s father. You may have heard of him… Howard Hawks. Friedkin’s direction here is like Hawks-on-steroids, and nabbed him an Oscar as well. His next movie was an even bigger blockbuster, 1973’s THE EXORCIST. Friedkin’s other films have been uneven; some of his better ones are SORCERER, THE BRINK’S JOB, and TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (a personal favorite of mine).

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Bill Hickman has a part as Mulderig, a Federal agent at odds with Doyle. Hickman was primarily a stunt driver, noted for the chase through San Francisco in Steve McQueen’s BULLITT. He staged the chase here as well, filmed on the streets of Brooklyn. It’s a crazy, tense thrill ride that ranks with the screen’s best chases, and part of the reason DP Owen Roisman and editor Gerald Greenburg took home Oscars, too. Let’s not forget the gritty screenplay by Ernest Tidyman, which gave THE FRENCH CONNECTION five Academy Awards all totaled.

THE FRENCH CONNECTION is a hard, in-your-face movie that helped Oscar grow up, with a remarkable performance by Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle, a character who was a product of his time. It’s one of the best crime films of the 70’s, and still holds up well, unlike some other cop movies of the era. Just writing this review makes me want to watch it again!

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