Saturday, October 27, 2007

From our friend Fred Blosser

Ed, I tend to despise these lists of "100 Best Such-and-Such Movies" that the American Film Institute and the glossy magazines gin up every month or so. Invariably, they appear to have been compiled by some smart-ass 25 year old whose idea of a classic old movie is PRETTY WOMAN. Still, it's a tempting game to play, and I sometimes tend to wander over to the Dark Side myself .

Like now. I wonder what fans would nominate as the worst or most disappointing movies based on well-loved detective and mystery novels and series.

My top two choices, coincidentally, are from the same year -- 1986, that golden era of Reagan, Thatcher, and Iran-Contra:

BLUE CITY, directed by Michelle Manning (who?), from the novel by Ross Macdonald. Judd Nelson starred as Macdonald's seething protagonist, Johnny Weather. Seething ... Judd Nelson ... need I say more? I don't remember much by way of details, except that RM's dour Post-World War II setting was updated to the '80s, and Nelson ambled through the opening scene listlessly bouncing a basketball. I kept waiting in anticipation for someone to grind his smirk into the sidewalk. The IMDB says that Walter Hill produced and (with Lukas Heller, another usually reliable guy) wrote the script. And buried somewhere in the cast was the great Scott Wilson. Sad.

EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE. "Miami Vice" was big that year, so they transplanted Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder from New York to LA, the better to swipe Michael Mann's pastel color schemes and Latino vibe. Jeff Bridges did about the best he could as Scudder, I suppose, but if you're going to pluck Scudder out of Gotham, why not just give the character another name? Somewhere I read (I think in EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS) that Hal Ashby was allegedly stoned throughout the whole shoot, letting the actors "improvise" their dialogue. This meant that in most of the scenes, the dialogue mostly consisted of Bridges and the other actors yelling "F*ck you!" at each other over and over again. (I've read that the BURGLAR movie with Whoopie Goldberg was even worse, but I never had the heart to see it.)

Number three in the list, NO GOOD DEED from 2002, probably qualifies more as a disappointment than as an out and out bad movie. At least, it doesn't plumb the stygian depths of putridity that BLUE CITY and EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE did. Still, if you have a story based on Hammett ("The House on Turk Street"), Bob Rafelson as the director, and Sam Jackson, Stellen Skarsgard, Mila Jovovich, Joss Ackland, and Grace Zabriskie in the cast, you might expect something better than what Rafelson delivered. For some reason, maybe to meet his quota of cliches, the screenwriter felt compelled to give Jackson's character a "gimmick" (in the Hammett story, he was the comfortably anonymous Continental Op). And so he's a failed jazz musician who toots on a saxophone.

It would be interesting if others can make a case for merits in these three films that I failed to see ..........

Fred B.


mybillcrider said...

I haven't seen NO GOOD DEED, but I remember looking forward to BLUE CITY with eager anticipation. And being really disappointed.

I've tried to watch 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE a couple of times and never made it to the end. Just a mess.

Vince said...

Three excellent -- by which I mean lousy -- nominees. 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE is particularly painful. And yes, BURGLAR is even worse.

Anonymous said...

Biggest "wha' the fook have they done?" moment I've had when watching a film made from a beloved crime novel is viewing MRS. WINTERBOURNE, the romantic-comedy starring Ricki Lake, based on Woolrich's I MARRIED A DEAD MAN.

Now, seriously, take at least a full eight count and try to wrap your head around that--Ricki Lake, romantic-comedy, CORNELL WOOLRICH--just can't be done.

I think I may have had an aneurysm while attempting to watch this one. I recall the first fifteen minutes, then there was a blinding pain in my temporal lobe, and then I woke up two weeks later in a Reno motel with a chick named Bambi and a bagful of fresh thousand dollar bills with wrappers marked FIRST NATION BANK OF TRENTON.

It's been a long struggle back, boys.

Tom Piccirilli

Anonymous said...

DANGEROUS FEMALE and SATAN MET A LADY, aka THE MALTESE FALCON attempts #1 & 2 (the obvious elementary-school joke would actually be fitting).

My pair of least-favorite remakes, PSYCHO and THE HAUNTING, are only slightly off-query would be another Woolrich adaptation, I'M DANGEROUS TONIGHT, which managed to blow despite both an excellent source story and Maedchen Amick in the lead. Also only slightly off the query, every one of the Amicus misproductions of Robert Bloch's scripts from his own short stories, TORTURE GARDEN being the least-ineptly-traduced, ASYLUM being probably the most.

But the biggest piece of excrement in this pile not yet mentioned by others was the Sam Peckinpah version of THE GETAWAY. The remake might not've been a work of genius, but who knew that Jim Thompson's fiction could be seen as too cuddly in its bleak humanity and need to be pushed into utter leering nihilism? Makes the Billy Zane vanity production of THIS WORLD, AND THEN THE FIREWORKS seem not only spiritually faithful and competent but wholesome by comparison.

Cap'n Bob said...

Eight Million Ways was rancid, but there's a scene in which Alexandra Paul takes a shower that is worth watching. Repeatedly. Otherwise, it's a grotesquerie. I was once at a B'con where Lawrence Block was a guest. When he was asked about that movie he said it was well done, or words to that effect. I would call that generous on his part.