Tag Archives: John Huston

Octopi Flicks

It’s an understudied genre.

Why?

And why should we…

Make that…why should I…care now?

Well, I’m always arrested by synchronicity. I noticed and leapt on the opportunity to see the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed on successive nights by movie monsters from the sea. Both films featured a giant octopus. It got me thinking (eight to the bar, no less) about my favorite cinematic cephalopods.

Here’s a useless little list;

Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009) is a classic zero on a scale of one to ten, BUT it does posit and show in a flash the perfectly implausible result from an aerial giant shark attack on an airplane, and an equally implausible performance by Debbie Gibson. On the positive side, the Golden Gate goes down, and the truly big octopus achieves a deadly draw in his death match with the titular fish…though to honor true disclosure, I should point out there are sequels. I suspect the sea creatures and the sequels should be avoided.

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1953) also destroys the Golden Gate, but this time the octopus gets the assignment and does a much better job. This flick had serious world-ending talent involved. Faith Domergue was in the midst of a great few years of weird movies. She was imperiled twice in 1955 in This Island Earth and Cult of the Cobra. Kenneth Tobey was capping off a trilogy of sci-fi adventures; The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). And of course the star of the show was the creation of Ray Harryhausen, genius of stop-action wonders. All of this talent and effort just to produce instant calamari – a San Francisco treat?

Isle of Fury (1936) is a tedious little film that allows Humphrey Bogart to shuck his impeccable South Sea Island white suit and wrestle with an octopus. I’m believin’ every minute.

Sometimes the octopus is human. Maud Adams plays the title role in Octopussy (1983). The actual octopi in the film are fairly inconsequential. Ms. Adams is most certainly not.

Two films depict the same octopus. Bride of the Monster (1955) is a truly dreadful Ed Wood-directed exercise that features a ludicrous performance by Tor Johnson and an even more ludicrous watery struggle between Bela Lugosi and a rubber octopus. Ed Wood (1994) recreates that cinematic moment in a funny and pitiful way. I loved them both.

Without hesitation, my favorite octopus film is Cannery Row (1982). There are special performances by Nick Nolte, Debra Winger, Frank McRae, and M. Emmet Walsh. John Huston’s narration, the frog hunt, Doc and Suzy thinking they could dance, and the beer milk shake are all remarkable elements, but it all revolves around those eight baby octopi and their ill-fated dangling of a misplaced hope at the edge of the end of the Western World.

What’s my takeaway from this foolish survey?

Perhaps a word of advice to San Francisco;

Yer gonna need a bigger bay.

I Got Yer Frogs

Frogs.

I got yer frogs.

I’m sittin’ in our library. The windows in front of me overlook a decorative pool with a quiet, reassuring fountain and four frogs, one of which is not quiet. He/she/it serenades with a repeated un-sweet burp that lies somewhere between a croak and a rasp. It is scarily reminiscent of the prophetic sounds my 1963 Mercury Comet used to make in 1969 on I-64 just before it lapsed into a defeated silence that prompted some serious pavement pounding on my part.

Tonight, my feet flinch in memory of that sad excuse for a car with each chirp of the frog.

Still, I like the sound.

It reminds me of other favorite frog moments…

  • The great frog hunt scene, deliciously narrated by John Huston in the film Cannery Row.
  • Walt Kelly’s political candidate frog whose answer to every question was; “Jes fine!” It was a novel and funny concept in the 50’s…mebbe not so novel and not so funny today.
  • Mr. Toad in Kenneth Graham’s THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.
  • Kermit crooning “Rainbow Connection.”
  • In the ridiculous film Frogs, Sam Elliott (long before he reassured us at the bowling alley bar that “The Dude abides”) rescuing Joan Van Ark from the thousands of frogs angrily erupting from the muck to run amok (one hop at a time) and deal out some vague, ill-explained environmental vengeance against Ray Milland.
  • That jaw-dropping Gray Larson cartoon about frog legs.
  • And of course, those Budweiser frogs. Ah, Louie…I miss ye.

I think I’ll open the window.

R-r-r-ibbittt.

Annoying “Reflections”

I watched an annoying movie; Reflections in a Golden Eye.

I had such high hopes.

It’s based on a novel by Carson McCullers. Ms. McCullers is one of my favorite writers. Her characters are quite “of the South”, even when she writes of New York City. Her characters are literate in their self-selected, tightly-bordered turfs. They are flawed, usually fatally, if not to themselves, then to the other people in their lives. The lands and times outside their intellectual stomping-ground plumb evade them…and they don’t care. This pococurante about foreign places and people and doin’s has evaporated in today’s wi-fi oversoul. Someone’s grandmother on a plagued ocean liner in Japan is our grandmother and we care deeply about her and forget to check in on our own. This is not a wicked thing, but I wonder how Ms. McCullers, if she were writing today, could keep her characters (and her readers) focused on the problems of a blind, small-town jeweler while Princess Meg is shopping for a wedding ring in Vancouver.

Ms. McCullers’ southern tales range from warm to hot in any way you’d like to take that. If you have not read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Member of the Wedding, The Ballad of Sad Café, or Reflections in a Golden Eye, I would urge you mosey with dispatch (no need to run, we’re in the South here) and do so.

This film is directed by John Huston. That should be guarantee enough for real good time. Depending on what day you ask me, his The Maltese Falcon might be my favorite movie. As far as establishing Mr. Huston’s greatness as a director, he could have stopped right there…but I’m glad he didn’t. The Man Who Would Be King, Key Largo, Night of the Iguana, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and The African Queen all bring my channel-surfing to a complete and completely happy halt.

The cast of Reflections features Julie Harris, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brian Keith.

Holy moly!

So, with all this going for it, what’s so annoying?

Well…

Each scene in the film is shot in a golden haze except for one element of color in each scene. Essentially, that makes it a black and white film. I don’t mind black and white, but dark gold and light gold? Annoying.

Every shot seemed stretched beyond its value. At first, I thought the director was going for “languid”. S’okay, we’re in the South and it’s a McCullers tale. But soon the pacing became rhythmic and lugubrious to no redeeming benefit I could discern.

I had steeled myself for the horse-beating scene, but not adequately. It was more and longer than I was comfortable with (my problem perhaps, not the director’s).

Marlon Brando mumbled and whined incoherently. To be incoherent with words of Carson McCullers is a mighty waste in my world. I found this rivaling Brando’s worst performances and though I am a Brando fan, Lord knows he has a well-stocked swamp of stinkers.

The story is set in the 1940’s. Ms. Taylor caught the intent of her character with buxom gusto, but she looked as though she had just stepped over from a TV taping of “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” (now there’s a cogent geezer reference).

So…what did I like about the film?

Brian Keith is really interesting and complex. He loudly and drunkenly man-splains to his fellow officers that polo produces better military men than the fields of Eton. He sits his horse well and rides with the wife (Taylor) of his fellow officer and friend (Brando)  each afternoon through the woods to the blackberry bushes where he then is ridden by said wife. He is exasperated by the nervous frailty of his own wife (Harris) and is brought to blue lethargy by her death. It’s a load for an actor to bear and Mr. Keith handles it with aplomb.

Ditto for Julie Harris. Ms. Harris has an advantage here. She was born to speak Carson McCullers’ words. We want to root for her character, but when she’s given more visual evidence of the shenanigans of this military community than anyone else, Ms. Harris’ character draws one egregiously wrong conclusion after another and is as much to blame for the final debacle as anyone.

Elizabeth Taylor has a scene in which she describes the food she’s providing for her garden party. She does so with a childish relish (see what I did there?) Martha Stewart only wishes she could generate. It was delicious.

But I expected so much of the flick and it was overall…not so much.

Annoying.