Madigan (1968)

Bad Cops, Bad Cops

Madigan is my kind of cop movie. Everything about it feels so quintessentially classic. All the tropes are there from the officer who doesn’t play by the book, police corruption, guys in suits who show off their identification, one-liners galore and all this aided by the aura of cool which film-noir icon Richard Widmark brings to the screen – plus is there a more cop name than Madigan?

Many of the men in Madigan wear suits and fedoras with this being the late 60’s and the final days in which it was common for working men to do so; although there is a sense of New Hollywood creeping in with the film’s villain appearing in that 1970’s mould along with various snippets of once-taboo subject matter. Madigan is also one of the best uses of location in film; I haven’t seen another film in which the grit and grime of the New York streets have been captured so vividly in this neo-realistic record of NYC in the late 1960’s.

Madigan

11 Days Already! Hooray!

The opening credits of Madigan are a fantastic montage of New York in the early hours of the morning. This should come as no surprise as director Don Siegel had been a montage editor before becoming a director. I could happily have this movie playing in the background just to listen to the music as the score by Don Costa itself is one of the most underrated film scores I’ve heard; it’s so motivating and makes you want to go and kick some ass.

Much of my appreciation of Madigan is due to the film’s aesthetics. The film’s main plot and many subplots are good if not entirely exception, primarily the tension between Henry Fonda as the commissioner who “likes the book” and spends his day at superficial social events to promote the image of the force and works from behind a desk versus the unethical Madigan trying the catch crooks on the street. Siegel would go on to do better in Dirty Harry three years later but dam does Madigan have some fine aesthetics.

The Boston Strangler (1968)

Take My Breath Away

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

I’ve seen some films in which I’ve had to patiently wait for the main star to show up; The Boston Stranger may be the record holder in this category. It takes 57 minutes of a 116-minute film for Tony Curtis to appear.

The extensive use of split screen present in The Boston Strangler intrigues me, appreciating the planning and the huge sets of extra reels which must have gone into creating the effect. It’s not an afterthought and helps derive suspense with sequences in which each individual frame features a minimal number of cuts such as sequences which highlight the successful techniques that Albert DeSalvo (Tony Curtis) uses in order to get into victims homes and escape without detection (watching Curtis get into an apartment with ease by claiming to be a plumber sent by a super really gets under your skin). This voyeuristic style of filmmaking allows the viewer to see different perspectives on the same space, such as in a more creative instance in which we see the perspective of a TV camera which appears in the frame right next to it. On the other hand, many of the transitions and framing do come off as something a film student would do, although the attempt is early and more than admirable so I’ll give it a pass (for a flawless attempt use of split screen watch Twilight’s Last Gleaming).

The Boston Strangler is a dirty, grimy looking film full of explicit, sexual language set in an underworld of creeps and perverts while the police view homosexuality as a perversion, interviewing suspects on the basis that they are gay (“This kind of mutilation goes with the queer”). The film even plays out like a documentary at times as we see the effects the murders have on the public. The Boston Strangler was Henry Fonda’s second cop film of 1968 alongside with Madigan and along with the latter we see a world in which men still wear suits and fedoras on their daily jobs, something which isn’t present just a few years later in the likes of Dirty Harry or Serpico.

The Boston Strangler is a slow-moving film but one which is rewarding for the patient. The final third becomes very arty without coming off as pretentious and the ending in which Fonda calls out “Albert!” amongst the silence is chilling. I do have a soft spot for old mental illness dramas even if the science presented in them is out of date or disputed; if anything that’s part of their charm.

Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)

Every Sperm Is Sacred

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Frank Beardsley’s (Henry Fonda) opening narration tells of how his children feel he neglected his wife and their mother; an interesting parallel to real life in which Fonda told his wife Frances Ford Seymour in 1949 he wanted a divorce so he could remarry after an unhappy 13 year marriage; a confession which drove her to suicide. Not to mention Fonda was a man who was “emotionally distant” to his children starring in a movie like Yours, Mine and Ours, but being the great actor he is, never is he out of place.

Yours, Mine and Ours doesn’t have a massive amount of substance but has just enough to keep it afloat. It’s not the most advanced comic material for the likes of Lucille Ball but she makes the most of it. Apparently, Fonda became deeply in love with Ball during filming and the two became very close; always a benefit to the on-screen chemistry. Likewise, sex references still manage to slip into a family film (“He’ll bring me home in plenty of time for dessert”). The cinematography is also surprisingly advanced for a movie of this kind such as seen in the very opening shot of the film in which the camera pans back from a close up of Fonda to a battleship in its entirety. Likewise, there are plenty of effective shots of San Francisco.

The old-fashioned family ideals in Yours, Mine and Ours were not in tune with a changing America of the time. The film was originally to be made in the early 60’s but was delayed due to various setbacks but the fashions present here are clearly of the late 60’s. With the film’s inclusion of battleships and planes, the movie clearly has US Navy endorsement and I can see this pro-military aspect of the film not going down well during the days of the Vietnam War. Likewise, at the end of the film the eldest son Michael Beardsley joining the armed forces; so I guess that’s off to Nam! This is the aspect of Yours, Mine and Ours which I find the most interesting; it’s a film which the product of before it’s time, clinging onto bygone values. For example, the movie has Van Johnson in a supporting role whom I’ve always pictured as being an archetypal 50’s actor. But more importantly Frank Beardsley can’t be a stay at home father, he’s clearly a man’s man as evident from his high ranking position in the navy.

The Swimmer (1968)

The Death Of The American Dream

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

On a lazy sunny afternoon, Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) embarks on an adventure in which he swims through every pool in the county as he makes his way back to his own house. Frank Perry’s The Swimmer is a film which will leave the viewer initially confused with various characters’ actions and the unexpected dramatic shifts in emotion however by the conclusion, Merrill’s swimming pool equivalent of a pub crawl starts to make sense and comes together like a jigsaw puzzle. The opening scene would have you believe Ned Merrill is a pillar of his community, but as the film progresses it turns out this premise is the opposite of reality. Building on one metaphor after another that hints all is not what it seems, The Swimmer is a deep character study on a man whose American Dream became a nightmare, (values which had become disenfranchised by the end of the decade). Much of the acting present from the cast of The Swimmer is reminiscent of a TV soap opera, a possible metaphor for Merrill’s phoney personality? There is a certain degree of enjoyment derived from the film’s idyllic and often naturalistic surroundings (and that corny late-1960s aesthetic) yet when combined with the character’s bizarrely cheery demeanour, the picture creates a very unsettling feeling. The music score by Marvin Hamlisch could be interpreted as a metaphor reflecting Merrill’s personality – grand, dreamy, romantic and pretentious. I do enjoy the 60’s lounge pieces present in the soundtrack, in particular, that titled Lovely Hair, which offers a very relaxing vibe.

The role Ned Merrill is one of Burt Lancaster’s finest acting performances. The film’s acting highlight has to be the scene in which he becomes emotional upon discovering his wife has sold his sentimental hot dog wagon which he played with his kids in. There is something comical about this scene with lines such as “This is my wagon man!” and “I’ll have my lawyers get in touch with you tomorrow”, however with an actor of lesser talent, the scene still wouldn’t retain an undertone of seriousness. Lancaster pulls it off effortlessly and does so wearing only trunks throughout the entire movie, yet still retains his dignity as an actor (likewise, there is also his memorable Charlton Heston-style outburst of “You loved it!”). Ned Merrill is a character filled with so much regret from past experiences that he blindly acts as if nothing has happened and the movie’s portrayal of this is about as extreme and disturbing as it gets while his attempts to defend himself against the scourge of others are just pathetic.

I can recall feeling shaken when I first watched The Swimmer as the film’s conclusion is so tragic beyond words as Merrill returns to a house which has been abandoned for some time and left in a dilapidated state among the melodramatic ambush of wind, rain and thunder. I’ve seen few other movies with an ending as pessimistic, unforgiving and unbearable as that of The Swimmer. No character redemption, just bang in your face, life sucks, deal with it – view before your eyes in horror at a human being who degrades to such a disturbingly pathetic level (it is also worth noting the blurb on the back of the 2003 UK DVD release of The Swimmer actually spoils this incredible ending). The scene earlier in the picture in which Merrill gives a young boy a very poor piece of life advice in which he states “If you make believe hard enough that something is true, then it is true for you”, not only foreshadows the movie’s conclusion but speaks to our modern culture with the dubious concept of having “your truth”. In the age of social media in which many project a life they want others to think they lead as opposed to the life they actually lead, then the ballad of Ned Merrill should act as a cautionary tale (I can only imagine what Merrill’s Facebook or Twitter profiles would be like). To quote that cheesy tagline used in the film’s marketing, “When you talk about The Swimmer, will you talk about yourself?”.