Good for one ride on Sharky's Machine.
Above is something a little different for you, a ticket made for the Japanese premiere of the 1981 neo-noir thriller Sharky's Machine, which starred Burt Reynolds, Rachel Ward, and uber-cool Bernie Casey. It's a special advance ticket that cost ¥1,500 on the day of the premiere—which was today in 1982, several months after its December U.S. premiere—but ¥1,200 if bought in advance. Those were pretty high prices—about $11.00 and $9.00, if our handy historical yen converter is correct. The movie played as half of an unlikely double bill with the Dudley Moore comedy Arthur. Interestingly, most sources say Sharky's Machine premiered in Japan on April 17, but at this cinema, at least, it showed up a week later. It's a pretty cool little memento.
He's a two-fisted loner who sometimes has to work outside the law. But he still could use a good script.
Burt Reynolds: unacknowledged acting genius? Absolutely—and we'll fight anyone who says differently. He debuted in television in 1958, but wasn't a movie star until a decade later. He was brilliant in serious roles such as Deliverance and The Longest Yard, but also had an easy flair for comedy. Shamus, which premiered today in 1973 and for which you see a U.S. three-sheet above, is a typical Reynolds effort, an action-drama with humor sprinkled throughout. In terms of sheer performing, this is a lay-up for him. He handles the drama with no problem and charms his way through the upbeat sections with the help of equally affable foil Dyan Cannon. As a bonus, he also performs several impressive stunts we can't imagine a modern actor attempting.
Reynolds' detective character Shamus McCoy is a tribute to Humphrey Bogart’s Philip Marlowe in 1946's The Big Sleep, with two scenes lifted almost wholesale from that film—one in which he seduces a buxom bookstore clerk, and one in which he meets his client in a refrigerated office (instead of a hothouse). He's hired to solve a murder/jewel heist that turns out to be connected to arms dealing, but the caper is flat from beginning to end, failing to build much interest or momentum. Reynolds, who made several smarmy action-comedies like Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper, was not shy when assessing his own abilities. He said he was as good in those lightweight films as it was possible for an actor to be. We agree, but even Burt can't make Shamus good.
Sharky's Machine hums along nicely, but only up to a point.
This poster was painted by the Thai illustrator Kwow for the 1981 thriller Sharky's Machine. 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.
Ward observed years back that she had been too prudish in how she approached her roles, and we imagine this was one movie she had in mind. We agree with her. 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 by 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.
Climb up just a bit higher. The part of you I’m planning to shoot isn’t out of the water yet.
Interesting Charles Copeland cover art for Victor Canning’s 1955 adventure thriller Twist of the Knife, published outside the U.S. as His Bones Are Coral. It’s the story of a drug smuggler flying contraband from Sudan to Egypt who crash lands near the town of Suabar, gets involved in a caper to raise gold from the waters of the Red Sea, and of course beds the only white girl within sight. This was actually made into a really bad Burt Reynolds movie called Shark! in 1970.
It should have been a classic but is really just a wasted opportunity.
Paramount execs probably wet themselves when they finally made a deal to get American star Burt Reynolds and French icon Catherine Deneuve together onscreen. The promo poster tells us they’re hot—true, and it especially applies to Deneuve, who probably can't vent heat efficiently while shrouded beneath her enormous helmet of immobile, golden hair. You know those war flicks where a soldier in a ditch has a photo in his pocket of his beautiful girlfriend, and during lulls in combat he gazes at her and mutters about how he can’t wait to get back home to her? In Hustle Catherine Deneuve is a living version of that photo. Instead of being overseas she’s just across town, but she’s no less a signifier of impending doom than if she were a snapshot in someone’s pocket. We think writer Steve Shagan dropped the ball here, and not just by making her purpose in the film so obvious, but by making her role so thin. She has a key piece of evidence (she witnesses the villain making a phone call that leads to a murder) in a case that is never made, which we found bizarre. Hustle is mildly involving thanks to stylish direction and Reynolds’ innate watchability, but ultimately unsuccessful. It premiered in the U.S. yesterday in 1975.
Another ’60s movie reminds us what we’re not getting in today’s cinema.
When we saw these Japanese posters for the 1969 western 100 Rifles, we made a special point to watch the film just so we had a good reason to share the art. So there you go. Now as for the actual film, there’s a moment about halfway through where mega sex symbol Raquel Welch says to black ex-NFL football star Jim Brown, “Do you want me?” That’s about as rhetorical a question as has ever been asked on a motion picture screen. Of course he wants her—who wouldn’t? But this being an American movie, the real question is, “What will the consequences be?” Because after all, even though interracial romance works just fine for millions of real life couples, in Hollywood that simply can’t be. Especially when you’re talking about heterosexual black males.
So we know someone’s going to end up dead. We could have prefaced that last statement with a spoiler alert, but we all know it wasn’t really a spoiler. As moviegoers, we’ve been trained to know happily-ever-after isn’t a component of these black/white love affairs. When 100 Rifles was made in 1969, it may have seemed America was on the way—if perhaps a bit turbulently—to a post-racial future. But forty-two years later we bet you can’t think of three other instances where a top tier white starlet had a love scene with a black man. So even though 100 Rifles offers up a reasonably compelling tale of guerilla warfare on the Mexican frontier, and Burt Reynolds co-stars in a role perfectly crafted for his special brand of smarmy brilliance, and you even get an unforgettable nude minute of cult siren Soledad Miranda, what you come away with is yet another reminder of how creatively bankrupt modern Hollywood has become.
We don’t mean backrupt in terms of race, per se, but in terms of reality. Despite modern cinema being awash in CGI and 3D and THX sound and obscene budgets, as well as dozens of edgy stars, along with teams of clever writers and yachtfuls of execs who all claim to be mavericks, the movies are overwhelmingly soulless. 100 Rifles is not a great film, but even as a late-1800s period piece it asks relevant 1969-style questions about racial mixing, social struggle, and offers serious introspection about the worth of warfare. It's an interesting product of the time from which it sprang. That's worth a lot, in our book. By comparison, if we consider post-millennial movies a product of the time in which we now live, then the message seems to be: just don’t make us think.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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