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Richard Fleischer

Posted: February 19th, 2008, 8:18 pm
by moira finnie
In today's New York Times, David Kehr had an appreciation of Richard Fleischer, seen here. Fleischer was an intriguing, overlooked director whose work is being seen as part of the "Film Comment Selects" program at Lincoln Center. Among the Fleischer films that will be touched on in the retrospective are the glossily disturbing view of small town life in Violent Saturday(1956) to the equally unsettling The Boston Strangler(1968) to the pulpy but potent view of how racism degrades everyone in Mandingo (1975).

My favorite Fleischer work in his vast oeuvre is also a great guilty pleasure: The Vikings (1958)
This highly entertaining adventure, told almost entirely from the viewpoint of the cheerfully barbaric Vikings, features some gruesome (for its time) scenes such as when Kirk Douglas has an unexpected non-elective eye surgery courtesy of the raptor trained by Tony Curtis (who's a slave boy prince who's secretly...nah, why spoil it?). Best of all is when Kirk's Dad, played by Ernest Borgnine, chooses to leap to his death in a wolf pit while crying out "Odinnnnn!", therefore earning him a place in Valhalla. (You don't want to see what happens to pretty boy Tony after this event, btw). My sister and I, who used to reenact this leap of faith by Ernie whenever possible as kids, can still crack each other up by murmuring "Odinnnn!" under our breath whenever we are both in attendance at some event that we'd both love to escape from....if necessary, by leaping into a swarm of wolves. Ah, the sweet memories of childhood still warm the cockles of my heart. Thanks, Mr. Borgnine, (seen below in all his glory as he appeared in this landmark film).

I must admit though, that I'm also fond of the films from the early part of Fleischer's career, when, turning away from his family heritage as pioneering animators, he produced with "extensive location work (perhaps mandated by minuscule budgets), Fleischer’s RKO B-movies — “Bodyguard” (1948), “The Clay Pigeon” (1949), “Trapped” (1949, made on loan to Eagle-Lion), “Armored Car Robbery” (1950) and “The Narrow Margin” (1952) [which] function as documentaries on a lost Los Angeles, [and are] given tension and style by Fleischer’s constant reframing of the action and elaborate camera movements."

Any thoughts on Fleischer's films?

Posted: February 19th, 2008, 10:08 pm
by ChiO
I am a huge fan of THE NARROW MARGIN. Although I haven't seen THE BOSTON STRANGLER since its initial release, my recollection of it is very positive -- a tense and taut film. I also enjoyed SOYLENT GREEN when released, but I have this sense that it might not have held up. I saw VIOLENT SATURDAY about a year ago on the big screen and it is -- how should I say it? -- a special movie. Ernest Borgnine as an Amish farmer...what more needs to, or can, be said other than Lee Marvin plays a really bad guy. THE NEW CENTURIONS is a tough look at cop life. Each of the movies is tough, gritty and no-frills. And I have fond memories of 20,000 THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and FANTASTIC VOYAGE (which I have to defend to some snooty friends, but it was my first Raquel Welch movie). BARABBAS seemed to be a network TV staple for years and almost beyond comment. Any defenders of DR. DOOLITTLE or TORA! TORA! TORA! or THE JAZZ SINGER? It seems that Fleischer had little middle ground...which may be a high compliment.

Then there is THE VIKINGS. My father took me to see it on its release. As some may recall, in the olden days it was not necessary to arrive at the start of a movie; you just sat until the reappearance of the scene on the screen on your arrival. Well...we arrived just in time to catch Borgnine's leap and the price Curtis pays -- which TOTALLY FREAKED ME OUT! We watched the rest of that day's program and then the scene reappears. My Dad doesn't want to leave quite yet. What can I do? I ducked under a seat.

Dad: "What are you doing, Son?"
Son: "Oh, I just dropped some popcorn and I'm picking it up."

To this day, whenever we're together and I put in a DVD or tape, he'll ask me "Is this a 'drop the popcorn' kind of movie?"

Is it too late to report this as child abuse?

Posted: February 19th, 2008, 10:43 pm
by moira finnie
Oh, ChiO, you poor baby! What was your Dad thinking?

Fortunately, I was about 11 or 12 when sis & I first caught The Vikings on tv, so the impact wasn't what it might have been if I'd been younger, when I was really easily spooked by a movie (don't even ask about the night we watched The Haunting(1963) on the tube.). In retrospect, I think that the imaginative use of the Bayeux Tapestries as end credits, the glorious cinematography by Jack Cardiff, (who's rumored to have been the de facto director in some circles), the chanting score and the Viking funeral for Kirk at sunset helped to make this movie a highly charged positive memory for me as much as the over the top moments.

Yeah, I thought that the baroque casting in Violent Saturday was, well, the work of an over-ripe imagination, shall we say. As much as I defend ol' Victor Mature sometimes, he was at his oiliest in this movie, and Lee Marvin as the bad guy who even steps on a little kid's hand is just too freakin' much. Given all the lurid aspects of this flick, Borgnine as the Amish farmer who boils over was just one more element in a roiling stew! Guess Richard Fleischer (and most of Hollywood) felt uncomfortable in small towns, since it seems the underlying tensions and corruptions beneath the pastoral surface were often a favorite theme of noir movies.

Posted: February 20th, 2008, 2:41 am
by Dewey1960
After taking a fresh gander at Fleischer's output on imdb, I was amazed to realize how few of his films I actually enjoy. Of his early RKO noir films, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY is the only one that generates any real excitement for me; NARROW MARGIN, generally considered to be a classic of sorts falls flat despite the interesting performances of the leads, BODYGUARD is just barely fair and FOLLOW ME QUIETLY is downright dull.

My only recollection of TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA is that from childhood and how impossibly long and boring it was; to this day I would prefer reading the Classics Illustrated comic book version to sitting through that behemoth of a movie again. I enjoy VIOLENT SATURDAY (somewhat) and COMPULSION (quite a bit) but for reasons that have little to do with any inherent cinematic value they may possess. I've never seen THE VIKINGS; costume pictures (except westerns), regardless of who directs them, don't interest me very much. THE BOSTON STRANGLER, despite the poignant central performance by Tony Curtis, is a movie that simply refuses to move.

Much of his later work seems larded over with heavy amounts of unwatchable dross. THE JAZZ SINGER (1980) would likely be the nadir of any director's career, but was probably no better or worse than any of the other films he made during that final phase of his career.

Posted: February 20th, 2008, 7:58 am
by Mr. Arkadin
I found Mandingo (1975) to be an embarrassment to all involved.

20,000 Leagues is still a great film. Soylent Green has a cheesy look, but the performances are first rate. Eddie G. "goes home" in one of his most tender roles. I also like the Narrow Margin (although I consider it Suspense, not Noir) and Armored Car Robbery as well. I thought Follow me Quietly was so awful it was downright hilarious! 8)

Posted: February 20th, 2008, 11:32 am
by MikeBSG
There was an article in the most recent "Film Comment" about Richard Fleischer.

I actually haven't seen too many of his films. Everybody talked about how great "20,000 Leagues" was when I was a kid. The first time I saw it on TV, I was underwhelmed, but when I saw it on the big screen several years later, I liked it much better.

"The Narrow Margin" is well-made, and "Armored Car Robbery" seems like a precursor of Michael Mann's "Heat." But I don't feel any special passion to seek out and watch every Fleischer film I can.

Posted: February 20th, 2008, 12:14 pm
by moira finnie
While my whole-hearted silly, heedless enthusiasm for The Vikings may have clouded my critical faculty in remarking on the light being shown on Fleischer's work, I can't say "like" is really involved in seeing his films. There is, despite anything that may be read into his work, a crude, and yes, almost cartoonish vitality to much of it, and I think it overwhelmed much of his later work, such as Tora, Tora, Tora and certainly Mandingo. Other than the previously mentioned The Vikings, I'd probably choose the early, low budget film noirs such as The Narrow Margin and Armored Car Robbery over most of his work beyond the fifties.

Posted: February 20th, 2008, 12:42 pm
by jdb1
Coincidentally, NYC's Film Forum is showing Violent Saturday later this month (2/28-3/6). Here's the FF description of the film. (I didn't know there were any Amish farmers in Arizona.) As The Simpson's Mr. Burns would say, "Sounds like a larf."

(1955) Mid-50s Small Town America: Stephen McNally and his gang, soft-spoken J. Carrol Naish and Lee Marvin (obviously having a ball as he stomps on a small boy’s hand and alternates between cigarettes and a nasal inhaler), wear hats, coats and ties as they stalk off to that weekend bank job. But then the townspeople already have problems: mine boss’s son Richard Egan is hitting the booze because his wife is dallying with the country club Casanova; proper librarian Sylvia Sidney resorts to purse snatching to pay off the bank; bank boss Tommy Noonan proves to be a Peeping Tom in private life ("You know what you are, Roy? You're a drooler."); and engineer Victor Mature has to explain to his son why he didn’t see action in Iwo Jima. Sun-splashed Noir from masters of the genre Sidney Boehm (scripter of The Big Heat, Rogue Cop, Black Tuesday, etc., etc.) and Richard Fleischer (fresh from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but also director of essential Noirs The Clay Pigeon, Armored Car Robbery, The Narrow Margin, and others), shot in the blazing colors of early CinemaScope at the open pit mines and on the surprisingly narrow streets of Bisbee, Arizona, all leading up to a showdown of hard-hitting violence. With the usually menacing Ernest Borgnine as a gentle Amish farmer.

Dick Fleischer

Posted: February 20th, 2008, 10:07 pm
by Alan K.
I am heartened to join this string started by Moira about one of my favorite film directors and a truly fine gentleman who is sorely missed after passing away in 2006.

I was able to spend some time with Dick and several of his insights about THE NARROW MARGIN, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY, Charlie McGraw, Kirk Douglas, etc. were chronicled in my book. I think that Fleischer's early RKO pictures are seminal contributions to the noir style and his later films, (post 20,000 LEAGUES) particularly, BANDIDO, COMPULSION (his favorite) BARRABAS and TEN RILLINGTON PLACE were terrific motion pictures.

Fleischer's memoir, JUST TELL ME WHEN TO CRY, is like many of his movies; well-written, fast paced and superbly crafted.

When the American Cinematheque prepared to screen some of his pictures about nine years ago, Fleischer was nervous about ARMORED CAR ROBBERY. "I don't know if it's going to hold up", he remarked and recommended that the programmer show TEN RILLINGTON PLACE instead. Fortunately, classic film noir carried the day and Dick had nothing to worry about. ARMORED CAR ROBBERY receiving a rousing ovation from a packed house. His gratification was palpable.

Dick Fleischer was a sweetheart of guy.

Re: The Vikings

Posted: February 20th, 2008, 10:13 pm
by Alan K.
FYI- Fleischer told me that THE VIKINGS took several years off of his life. Difficult location, dealing with the Norwegian weather and government and most of all, executive producer, Kirk Douglas. Great movie, though. I love it.

Posted: March 2nd, 2008, 4:26 pm
by brandonlinden
Only of the reasons I think Fleischer is interesting is in the details he lets play out. I am thinking in New Centurionsright before George C. Scott exits the picture, so to speak, we see a POV shot form his room at the contemporary sprawl of LA and it tells you everything you need to know about what he is about to do. Just a wonderful use of location to express a mental state.