|Modern Pulp||Jul 16 2016|
Sharky's Machine hums along nicely, but only up to a point.
This poster for the 1981 thriller Sharky's Machine was made for the movie's premiere in Bangkok. Every blue moon or so Hollywood decides to update a ’40s film noir. Sometimes these are excellent movies—Body Heat as a rework of Double Indemnity comes to mind. Sharky's Machine is based on William Diehl's novel of the same name, which is a restyling of 1944's Laura. If you haven't seen Laura, a detective falls in love with a murdered woman, focusing these feelings upon her portrait, which is hanging over the mantle in her apartment. In Sharky's Machine the hero, Atlanta vice detective Burt Reynolds, falls in love with Rachel Ward via his surveillance of her during a prostitution investigation, and is left to deal with his lingering feelings when she's killed.
When Ward observed years back that she had been too prudish in her artistic choices, we imagine this was one movie she had in mind. We agree. Reynolds' 24/7 surveillance of a high priced hooker is not near frank enough. This is where vice, voyeurism, and sleaze as subtext should have come together overtly, as it does in Diehl's unflinchingly detailed novel, rather than as stylized montages, which is what Reynolds opts for.
Sex and nudity aren't always gratuitous. The plot driver in old film noirs is often sex, but it couldn't be shown. Remaking a noir affords the opportunity to explore the sexual aspect further, as in Body Heat, where it's literally the lure of sex with no boundaries—exemplified in that famous (but implied) anal scene—that snares the hero in an insane murder plot. In Sharky's Machine it's sexual objectification that is the initial driver. Reynolds' loves Ward's body first and her personality later, but the surveillance that is the key to this is barely explored.
It's a missed opportunity to not only make a better thriller, but to examine this lust-to-love transition as an aspect of all romantic relationships. Reynolds doubled as both star and director of the film, and while his relative newbie status in the latter realm may be a reason he didn't push the envelope, he still manages in his third outing helming a motion picture to put together a final product that is stylish, dark, and neon-streaked—everything a neo-noir should be. Upon release many critics had problems with tone—violence and humor seemed to clash. Reynolds' was a semi-comedic cinematic figure and his previous two directorial efforts had been comedies, which may have led to jokes leaking into unusual moments of the film. But these days the mix of violence and comedy is common, so we doubt you'll be terribly annoyed by these few incongruities.
The main flaw with the movie, besides its chasteness, is not its tone, but that it feels compressed in the latter third, especially as relates to the love subplot. True, the film is already a shade over two hours long, but it's time that flies by, populated as it is by so many interesting roles and great actors (Bernie Casey, Brian Keith, Vittorio Gassman, Charles Durning). Another seven minutes would not have hurt. Still, we recommend this one. It should have been as bold a noir rework as Body Heat, but there's plenty to entertain in other areas, and Hollywood may make this film perfect yet—a new version of Sharky's Machine is in development with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. Hah hah—who are we kidding? They'll screw it up completely. You already know that.
ThailandBangkokAtlantaSharky's MachineLauraBurt ReynoldsRachel WardBernie CaseyBrian KeithVittorio GassmanCharles DurningMark Wahlbergposter artcinemafilm noirmovie review
|Vintage Pulp||Dec 11 2015|
Nobody can keep up with this Jones.
We talked about Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold a few weeks ago. The above poster was made for the Japanese run of its progenitor Cleopatra Jones, which is superior to the fairly decent sequel in every aspect except budget. Tamara Dobson was a globetrotting James Bond type in Casino of Gold, but here she stars in a somewhat grittier story centered around an attack on a Los Angeles halfway house she owns, which occurred in retaliation for her burning a drug lord's poppy field in far away Turkey. Shelley Winters grandiosely overacts as the villain, but she's fun in a role that requires her to dominate lots of tough henchmen, only to be inevitably slapped around and killed by Dobson in the climax. Other players include Bernie Casey, Esther Rolle, and the lovely Brenda Sykes. Dobson had appeared in two previous films, but Cleopatra Jones made the ex-model a star. There were not many lead roles at the time for heroic women, and few roles of any sort for Dobson once the blaxploitation wave passed. As a result she graced the silver screen too few times. But Cleopatra Jones is a nice showcase of her ability as an action icon. Its Japanese premiere was today in 1973.
JapanTurkeyLos AngelesCleopatra JonesCleopatra Jones and the Casino of GoldTamara DobsonShelley WintersBrenda SykesBernie CaseyEsther Rolleposter artcinemablaxploitationmovie review