Capsule Reviews: July 11 – 16

The Furies (Anthony Mann, 1950) – 4/5

Fresh from a triple feature of film noir classics (T-Men, Raw Deal and Border Incident [1947-49]) featuring the moody monochrome cinematography of the legendary John Alton, Mann segues into the genre he would make his own throughout the 1950s—the psychological Western—with a remarkable assuredness, as this Freudian neurosis-fest contains, in both major and minor key, the gamut of his preoccupations, in particular his concern with the wellsprings of violence and retribution, which he would consistently return to over the course of his five-film collaboration with James Stewart (culminating in the Shakespearean-tragic The Man from Laramie [1955]; alongside the equally exceptional Man of the West [1958], with Gary Cooper, perhaps his finest hour). Hewing to a stark black-and-white, noir-derived photographic style (later entries would adopt Technicolor and ultimately Cinemascope), Mann and DP Victor Milner (Dark City, Unfaithfully Yours) fashion this perverse, doom-laden portrait of the Jeffords clan—cattle-baron patriarch T.C. (Walter Huston) and wayward wild child Vance (Barbara Stanwyck), whose relationship provides more than a soupcon of an Electra complex—from the eccentric, idiomatic source novel by Niven Busch (author of Duel in the Sun, filmed by King Vidor in 1946). While, at a narrative level, the film may lose steam in its final act, given over as it is to a valediction to the character of T.C. Jeffords and, by extension, the career of Walter Huston (it was to be his final screen role), Mann and Milner’s visuals are never less than exemplary—from a remarkable lynching scene to the climactic, retributive assassination of Huston’s character, director and DP organize visual space, availing themselves of ominous shadows and other visual correlatives (confining stair balusters, grotesque fisheye ensemble shots that resemble something out of Welles), with flawless mastery.

Fast Company (David Cronenberg, 1979) – 3/5

Stereo (David Cronenberg, 1969) – 2.5/5

Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg, 1970) – 2.5/5

Anyone looking for thematic, let alone filmographic, consistency from David Cronenberg in Fast Company might as well look elsewhere. What the fortitudinous filmgoer will find is an exemplary B-movie—replete with B-movie stars William Smith, John Saxon and Claudia Jennings—that indulges Cronenberg’s reputedly “very metaphysical and boring” obsession (according to his testimony in Cronenberg on Cronenberg) with cars and speed. (And by this he means, quite to the contrary of, say, Crash [1996], very non-metaphorical and decidedly not auto-erotic automobiles.) The narrative assemblage may be routine—one-time top-dog, now underdog, drag racer Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson (Smith) must overcome the subterfuge and outright betrayal of Fastco corporate lackey Saxon in an inoffensive, entirely non-subversive “triumph of the proletarian” scenario (thus not unlike most every other underdog sports film ever produced)—but Cronenberg brings some exceptional visuals to the table: stunning POV mid-race shots and, overall, a studious attention to the details and milieu of itinerant drag-racing. The only real aesthetic drawback is a truly godawful title song that crops up at every opportunity, full of jangly guitar and keyboard, like some distant and in-bred cousin to Bad Company’s famous self-titled track.

Also included in Blue Underground’s Fast Company DVD package are two early, experimental films from Cronenberg (hitherto impossible to see otherwise). Admittedly, Stereo and Crimes of the Future certainly do contain, in ovo,  a prognosis of Cronenbergian preoccupations—the pleasures and pains of aberrant sexuality; the reckless and monstrous pursuit of scientific knowledge, regardless of the consequences; an always eccentric approach to human interdependency. Essentially silent films, their abstract, borderline parodic voiceover narration was in both cases recorded after the fact.

Stereo uses a metaphorical group experiment involving telekinesis to point up its mockery of psychobabble and scientific jargon. Its black-and-white look meshes uncannily well with the material, reminiscent of, among other contemporaneous manifestations, the Milgram experiments in social control that were taking place at Yale.

Crimes uses bold primary colors—as well as, in tandem with Stereo, “brutalist” modern architectural settings—to concretize its storyline, a post-apocalyptic tale of disparate groups of menfolk coping with the aftermath of a cosmetics-borne plague, engineered by renegade scientist Antoine Rouge, that has obliterated the entire adult female population, culminating in attempted seduction/reproduction with a five-year-old.

Yet, despite all their inherent interest as harbingers of things (and obsessions) to come, one cannot escape the fact that actually sitting through these films often seems an endeavor in equal measures frustrating and fascinating.

About Budd Wilkins

Budd Wilkins is a writer, film critic and instructor. He is a Staff Critic for Slant Magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Nordic Issue of Acidemic Journal of Film and Media. He is currently writing a chapter for an anthology on international horror directors to be published by Intellect Press and distributed by University of Chicago Press. Mr. Wilkins was born and raised in Hollywood, Florida. He attended Penn State for several years before moving to North Carolina in 1994, where he earned his Bachelor's in Religious Studies and a Master's in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Film Studies from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His primary focus is film history, film literacy and criticism, with the goal of bringing obscure, foreign and films that are labeled "difficult" to the attention of film aficionados of all kinds. Other interests and focus of critique include comparative religion, black humor, 19th century European literature, horror and graphic novels. Mr Wilkins lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with his wife, Tina. Follow @buddwilkins on Twitter.
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