I just caught up with Wes Craven’s Red Eye, a compact little thriller released in 2005, and a nice change of pace from the director’s hit-and-miss horror films. It stars the lovely and undemanding Rachel McAdams as a hotel concierge in the process of being blackmailed by a slippery terrorist (Cillian Murphy) onboard a flight from Dallas to Miami. As we eventually discover, someone high on the political food chain will be snuffed out unless Rachel complies to certain demands. It’s not a particularly deep film — the terrorists are undefined and the political angle goes unexplored — but it’s a momentarily satisfying one, the kind of popcorn muncher that once rounded out the bottom half of a double feature back when such things played daily at local Bijous. Props to Mr. Craven for shaping it so tightly.
As it did not grab me intellectually, the film did have me bemoaning the death of the everyday double feature, so long out of our lives with no chance of resurrection. I’m not talking about the carefully arranged double features that play in rep houses, but the ones that once tied current mainstream ‘a’ movies with current ‘b’ ones like Red Eye at neighborhood screens. I don’t believe television is directly responsible for the death of the double feature, because they were still going strong in the 1970s, twenty years after TVs became common household appliances. But they were fewer and farther between when VCRs arrived in the ‘80s, and now, with instant online viewing, virtually extinct. But another factor that intrigues me is time: why does it seem that we simply had more time to go to the movies back then, as opposed to now when the thought of sitting in a theatre for four hours to see two pictures seems excessive and exotic? I don’t believe this is my age talking, because the young folks I know would be highly unlikely to engage in such things outside of the home, especially routinely as I once did, two or three times a week. Any thoughts?
With apologies to Peter Nellhaus’s “Coffee Break” pictorial series, this new Flickhead feature kicks off with sweet Paris Hilton firing up the root. Check back for future updates, dude, and don’t Bogart that joint!
Above: Samarra’s deity, now an ornate lawn jockey; click to enlarge
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Prodigal (1955) is based ever so slightly on a parable from the New Testament (Luke 15:11-32), about a young man, Micah, on the road to ruin after leaving his family and responsibilities to sow some wild oats — in this case, Lana Turner as the hootchie mama pagan priestess Samarra. People still ooh-and-aah over Lana’s justifiably celebrated shorts-and-turban entrance in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), but for my money there’s no topping her torrid arrival in The Prodigal, dressed for sex and sauntering to the erotic strains of Bronisław Kaper’s lovely background score. (You’d be well advised to watch this with a set of quality headphones.) A product of the Hollywood bullshit apparatus, the narrative, though set in ancient Syria (Damascus to be exact, a name whose pronunciation is forever poxed by Curly of the Three Stooges), is rife with actors who pontificate lines like Peter Ustinov reciting Richard III and antagonists who sound as if they just came off a Jimmy Cagney picture. You’re almost waiting for Louis Calhern’s cosmopolitan High Priest and Neville Brand’s neanderthal guard to hiss “you dirty rat” at Edmund Purdom’s beefcake Micah.
Part of the opulent production was a full-service sacrificial temple, complete with an 11’ statue mounted over a platform where The Chosen could dive into a flaming pit two storeys below. Like the Ruby Slippers and Charlie Kane’s sled, the hefty (purportedly 2,000 lbs) pagan figure found its way into the hands of a madcap collector who must’ve had grand plans for its exhibition. Instead, it ended up weather beaten and abandoned, later to be found in the woods by yet another idealistic soul who envisioned it as the ultimate lawn ornament. Now perched in a neighborhood yard in Lumberton, New Jersey (see the photo above), you can read about the fate of Lana’s former deity @ Lost in Jersey. You can purchase The Prodigal from Amazon: click here.
Above: the statue as used in the film, top center; click to enlarge lobbycard