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Remember the Neediest

This week in the New York Times, I get back to three discs of note that slipped by me in the rush of holiday releases: the first-ever watchable release of William Wellman’s much-abused public domain comedy “Nothing Sacred,” in a high-def transfer from David O. Selznick’s personal print (Kino); “The People against O’Hara,” an MGM programmer from the socially conscious Dory Schary years, featuring Spencer Tracy as an alcoholic attorney, some workman-like direction from John Sturges, and some of John Alton’s wildest noir cinematography (Warner Archive); and Robert Mulligan’s hauntingly slow and sensitive “The Nickel Ride,” an elegiac crime film from 1974 featuring Jason Miller and the gently stylized cinematography of Jordan Cronenweth (Shout! Factory).

My old friend (and frequent contributor to this space) Tom Brueggemann has begun a weekly box office report for There’s no fixed url for his column, but as you can see from this week’s example, this is uncommonly — perhaps even uniquely — sharp, informed, insightful and independent work in a genre that is too often dominated by would-be power players and studio toadies. Congratulations, Tom, and keep up the excellent work.

68 comments to Remember the Neediest

  • jbryant

    Recently showed my girlfriend THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN on Blu-Ray and she loved it, but I think mostly for James Coburn, whom she found to be “sexy.” Since I bear not the slightest resemblance to James Coburn, maybe I should be worried. Anyway, I thought the film held up quite nicely.

    I love McGoohan in ICE STATION ZEBRA, particularly that one moment when he’s calmly explaining to Rock Hudson that the purpose of the mission is to get him to Ice Station Zebra, then he suddenly bangs his fist down on the table for emphasis on the words “…get me there!” Makes me smile every time.

    I found Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS to be one of the most effective sci-fi/horror thrill machines I’ve ever seen. The sense of danger and tension rarely let up.

  • nicolas saada

    WAR OF THE WORLDS is quite something.

  • I have had a weird ICE STATION ZEBRA fetishism since my early teens, and it was the first film I bought on VHS. Makes me nostalgic just thinking about it! An early Sturges I like is KIND LADY, and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK is really good. Well-staged and with a great performance by Spencer Tracy (as is also the case with THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA). But HOUR OF THE GUN is by far my favourite Sturges. Besides Robert Ryan, Jason Robards and James Garner, it has great music (actually one of my favourite scores of all times, by Jerry Goldsmith) and such geometric precision in its mise-en-scène it’s enough to bring tears to your eyes. There are two films of his I haven’t seen but would really like to, BACKLASH and THE LAW AND JAKE WADE, are they any good?

    For a love letter to James Garner, read here:

    WAR OF THE WORLDS is somewhat uneven, but many times brilliant. The scene in the beginning when Cruise and the kids escape in a car, the kids freaking out, asking if it’s the terrorists, is both a technical and emotional tour-de-force and feels like it captures the mood of post-9/11. Also, I used that scene when I taught digital cinema last spring, comparing it to a scene from Hitchcock’s THE 39 STEPS.

  • mike schlesinger

    All I can say about Sturges is this: the movie that made me want to get into the movies was THE SATAN BUG.

    You may now commence the WTFs?

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Nothing wrong with that Mike, though curious why.

    For me it was showing I Was Born, But… at the Northwestern (Univ) Film Society – it convinced me I wanted to be a film buyer including for specialized theaters – the reaction I got from the crowd taking a chance on the film (it was my first time seeing it as well) was very gratifying.

  • Brad Stevens

    “Also, concerning ICE STATION ZEBRA, a favorite of Howard Hughes in seclusion, McGoohan appeared in it between episodes of THE PRISONER. So if you compare his performance to “Number Six”, you will find the same type of thespain intensity in force.”

    One episode of THE PRISONER, “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling”, has Number Six placed in another man’s body, thus allowing the protagonist to be played by another actor. This was apparently done because McGoohan was busy filming ICE STATION ZEBRA at the time.

  • Alex

    Barry Lane,

    I’d fully aggree that “You can’t compare Sturges to Anthony Mann.”

    I’m less sure about Richard Brooks, even though I’d agree with you on Brooks Re intellect —and talent too if writing (e.g. “The Killers,” “Brute Force,” “Mystery Street” and “Crossfire,” just counting non-directorial efforts) can count as well as directing. But career-wise, I see Brooks as director of only two plausible candidates for “classic status,”In Cold Blood” (1967) and “Elmer Gantry” (1960) –same number as Sturges with his “The Magnificant Seven” and “The Great Escape.” I quess the former are better as they are intellectully sewrious as opposed to juvenile, but I’m not sure: comparing “In Cold Blood” with “The Magnificant Seven” is a little like comparing Dreiser’s “American Trajedy” with Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” — or apples and oranges.
    (Of course, it’s a different story if you like Brooks’ Paul Newman films, but I find them too heavily theatrical.)

  • jbryant

    I think Brooks’ THE PROFESSIONALS was the first “grown-up” movie I ever saw in the theater (it had dirty words). I was 8 or 9 years old, and I can remember my cousin and I acting out scenes from it afterward.

    Alex, I’d add BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK to Sturges’ list of classics.

  • Barry Lane


    I see most of these things the way you do. And, I don’t include the work with Newman, but Brooks is frequently compelling on missed moments, The Last Hunt comes to mind. Actually, The Last Hunt has plenty on its side. Unusual characterizations by the leads. Possibly just a little long. The Professionals I see as a companion piece to Elmer Gantry and a pre-cursor to The Wild Bunch.

  • Barry Lane

    Further thought re Brooks-Newman. There was no escape from the hysteria brought on by the self-pitying source material. The Tennessee Williams phenomenon has passed.

  • mark gross

    Tom Brueggemann:

    Interesting way to get involved with writing about grosses & possible Oscar nominations, by seeing I WAS BORN BUT…

    For me it was seeing PIERROT LE FOU at the old Apollo on 42nd Street (which showed original foreign language films with subtitles specifically for people with hearing disabilities) with a working class audience which simply loved the film and responded very vocally, even giving it a standing ovation at the end.

    I mentioned this to Godard the one time I met him and he responded that PIERROT was a spectacle and was therefore — unlike most of his films — popular with general audiences.

    In any case, Tom, this is all a preamble to saying that I read your column for which Dave K. graciously provided the link, and I must say it’s the best writing I’ve seen about the film business since the glory days of the late, lamented Stuart Byron.

    I look forward to reading equally insightful and entertaining writing from you in the near future!

  • Larry Kart

    Many thanks for the link to Tom Brueggeman’s report. Fascinating.

  • Patrick Henry

    Off topic: Several people commented here a few weeks ago about the sexiness of the young Lillian Roth. Having just watched her on TCM in ANIMAL CRACKERS I have to report that, while Lillian was cute and appealing, I got a much stronger sexual vibe from Margaret Irving, playing a society lady in the same film. IIRC, the only other film I’ve seen Ms. Irving in is CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA; there she was a prima donna accompanied by a laughably adulatory European “friend”/gigolo (Gregory Gay).

    By a process of association, this leads me to think of THE PALM BEACH STORY and to speculate that Ms. Irving’s mindlessly fast-talking brittle hauteur was just what Sturges had wanted in the role of The Princess. Mary Astor said that Sturges found her interpretation unsatisfactory. (He undoubtedly had first-hand experience of its real-life models.) I suspect the difference might lie in that Ms. Irving was “born to the purple” and Ms. Astor, talented as she was, was not.

  • Alex

    Never could get very enthused about BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, though I liked it fine.

    ICE STATION ZEBRA on TCM 1:30 AM, 01-01-2012.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Mike and Larry – thank you so much for your comments.
    In particular, the comparison to Stuart Byron is high praise indeed. I knew him slighty, mainly because I was runner up in the Village Voice Film Trivia contest a couple years, only winning a sweat shirt.
    To tell a story about that – this was pre-google, much more difficult. Two years in a row, a couple of researchers at AFI or Library of Congress won. The next year is was ridiculously hard – I didn’t bother to try.
    Several weeks later I checked with Stuart or whomever was running the contest when the answers hadn’t appeared.
    I heard back that they hadn’t gotten a single entry submitted!

  • Joe Dante on (John) Sturges: “I think he stands well for the rest of us who move from project to project and try to impart an individual stamp to them.”

    Happy New Year 2012 to everybody – and especially Mr. Dante whose THE HOLE I watched last night as my end/start of the year movie as the numbers changed from 2011 to 2012 in Finland. And what fun it was, so simple and nicely built. It perhaps had too many ideas, but The Hole did amount to a whole in the end! And what with the peculiar winter climate here, I’ll remember to call ithe weather “bi-polar” the next chance I get.

    What riches in the acting department for all concerned. It was nice to spot Bruce Dern, whom I had missed since seeing again THE DRIVER on YouTube (to compare it with DRIVE), and the mother and the kids were well played too – especially to smaller kid showed much promise.

    Thanks for a fun evening and keep up the good work!

  • mike schlesinger

    Tom, re: SATAN BUG–I have absolutely no idea; in fact, I missed the first 20 minutes (the paper had the wrong showtimes and I had to stick around to get caught up). Maybe it was the cinematography, or the locations, or the story, or the music…I dunno. But it struck a chord somewhere deep down inside that made me realize this is what I wanted to be a part of. As the saying goes, no explanation is possible. It just happened.

    And FWIW, I love Sturges. He made too many great films to be dismissed as a mere studio journeyman.

  • Fox doesn’t have a MOD program.