Knuckling Down

Hard-Times

In 1975, Walter Hill’s austere “Hard Times” bucked the zoom-happy excesses of that chaotic decade with a combination of rock-solid mise-en-scene and a brilliantly laconic performance by Charles Bronson — one of the few times this major star appeared in a major film. Reissued in a fine new Blu-ray edition by Twilight Time, it’s the subject of my review this week in the New York Times.

I’m back from Bologna and “Il Cinema Ritrovato,” a bit late thanks to a bad transfer on Lufthansa that gave me the bonus experience of spending the night in a barracks-like hotel in a suburb of Frankfurt.

I’d like to express my deep appreciation to Antti Alanen for keeping me posted on what was happening on the blog when it proved to be impossible to get a sustained internet connection in my hotel in Bologna (Italy is a wonderful country but you don’t go there for the WiFi), and I was gratified to find that it took at least a week for the conversation to lumber back around to John Ford, as opposed to the usual 24 hours. The audiences in Bologna — a mixture of professionals, visiting cinephiles and students from the area’s many universities — are truly amazing; the Allan Dwan series I helped to organize attracted audiences of two to three hundred for even the most esoteric films on the program, and the atmosphere was one of respect and open-mindedness.

Even the difficult “Most Dangerous Man Alive” — Dwan’s last film (released in 1961) and saddled with its share of awkward lines and amateurish performances — played without a single bad laugh, something that would never happen in the United States. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there was the pleasure of seeing “Up in Mabel’s Room” unleash its impeccably timed waves of hilarity in a full house — the sort of experience seldom available in this age of isolated video viewings. Kevin Brownlow offered a program of clips and personal reminiscences of Dwan, as well as screenings of his personal prints of “Manhandled” (a new digitalization of Kevin’s unique 16-millimeter print), “The Iron Mask” and the one-reeler “The Mormons” from 1912. My profound thanks to Peter von Bagh and Guy Borlee for making it all possible.

270 comments to Knuckling Down

  • Blake Lucas

    I just saw THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE again recently (TCM showed it), having enjoyed it once before years ago. I thought it held up really well. I’m not sure I understand why it’s felt that it needs any elaborate apologies.

    The screen captures Dave provided are a good reminder that a lot of the reason it is an absorbing movie throughout it is that it’s always visually interesting and expressive in so many ways. The first things one tends to think of in thinking of mise en scene are staging, composition, lighting, decor and those elements, but we may all define this term a little differently, and for me it’s anything the director is involved in (literally “to put into the scene”) and that includes acting and inflections brought to the script as the movie is realized.

    Plainly, this one scores well on those first elements and I don’t think it’s so bad on the others. If I consider Elaine Stewart’s presence and performance part of the mise en scene in Dwan’s direction, then she is part of the reason the mise en scene is good. Also, Dwan seemed to take the rather wild sci-fi/gangster story in good faith and with an effective narrative straightforwardness, dramatic momentum, and a real touch of humanity.

    Auteurists–meaning most people here beginning with Dave–characteristically do not hold against a film limitations of time, budget or whatever, and always value directors for resourcefulness and for working with what is there. A cast may be less than ideal but a director may do well with it for the movie they are in. All of these things often seem to apply to Dwan, at least after the silents, and Bogeaus may not look too good in these accounts of THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE, especially as Frederic has provided here, but I’d say he was a fortuitous producer for this late phase of Dwan given all the films, some of them among the director’s most outstanding of those I have seen.

    Just a word for the much-maligned Ron Randell too. How exactly is an actor supposed to play a part like this, a human being affected by radiation and turning into steel?–seems like a pretty tough assignment and I think he was good enough if not great. I’d remind that Randell does show especially well in at least one movie–as Lucius in KING OF KINGS (1961, Nicholas Ray); this was the most invented character in that movie–although there was a Roman centurion converted at the crucifixion, Ray and Yordan created this character who not only has an interesting back story but it is one that threads through the film and Randell plays it strongly throughout. More than anyone else in it, he is an alienated Ray character who always feels apart from his assigned role as a Roman soldier even while staying within it for most of the movie.

    Getting back to THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE, give me a movie made in challenging circumstances that has real artistic interest–and affecting ideas, too–however superficially impoverished, and it will have my respect. I would say I admire and enjoy this movie more than, say, GONE WITH THE WIND.

  • Alex

    Mike Grost

    Anything more you can tell us about “Manhandled,” one of Dwan’s personal facvorites and a film I don’t imagine many hereabouts have seen?

  • “give me a movie made in challenging circumstances that has real artistic interest–and affecting ideas, too–however superficially impoverished, and it will have my respect.”

    Absolutely Blake. I recently saw a 16mm print of “The Cavern” that exactly fits this description. Although impoverished in many ways Ulmer had a fine cast of actors to work with for “The Cavern” and brought out the latent intriguing ideas in the screenplay.

    And I might add that it’s always been a pleasure to come across a movie about which I have no expectations that turns out to be good, the very experience I had with “The Most Dangerous Man Alive” when I saw it at the Cine-Club in the 1970s.

  • Peter Henne

    I’m finalizing some preliminary notes on Dwan, but since MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE has become a cause celebre it seems like the time to drop in two more centavos on it is now. In brief, what a crazy movie. Frederic Lombardi has chronicled that the film must have been shot in 1960, and from the actors interviewed, it sounds like it was shot in about 4 weeks—not a drastically short schedule for the era, but filming it, as it were, on a borrowed shoestring, it was still something to bring it off the ground. The Bogdanovich filmography says it was independently financed, shot entirely in Mexico, and was released three years later by Columbia—even though we now know that story as a myth, somehow most of that convoluted account of studio abandonment still stands to reason for such a genre-confounding, low-budget, zany yet entirely poetic project. It is hard not to love the flatness of the acting and the feeling of locations thinly standing in for what would be decorated sets in a normal movie—the intent here might not have been Brechtian, but I’d say the effect was. A drawn out medium shot kept in motion of a woman reaching across a bed, while we see the even monotonous light from a hallway behind her penetrate a thick pane of stock-motel glass, shares all the poetry of life’s dull pulse churning forth found in the New German Cinema a little less than 10 years later. I’d say that honoring of pauses and lassitude typifies a lot of the movie, even though the story fits an action-adventure category. The plot was hurried along toward the end and became almost secondary. Perhaps MOST DANGEROUS could have been even better at what it was in some respects, but that “what” is rather unique, and I appreciate something with this much flair and panache turned out on a dime.

  • Steve elworth

    I have to enter this discussion to remind myself that I must watch THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE again as I was told by another old friend on FB thread. The second is wishes to my old friend, Barry P and his beloved feline companion, Casey.

  • Barry Putterman

    A quick bedtime note to admit that I too have surrendered to this mass hysteria and pulled down my ancient bootleg of MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE. And, if there is enough time after the Sox-Bay Rays game, will watch it tomorrow night.

    Also, Casey sends thanks now as he did then to my old NYU buddy Steve. And, he sends a special shout out to Junko, whose comments both then and now have meant so much to him.

  • Frederic Lombardi

    I have to say regrettfully that an Allan Dwan retrospective will NOT take place in Los Angeles this fall as I stated in an earlier post. There was a tentative agreement on this but this was undone by scheduling problems.
    I am still very hopeful that the retro in L.A. will take place some time in early 2014 but that is not yet confirmed.

    I would also like to say that I agree with Blake Lucas that the Dwan’s collaboration with Bogeaus was quite fortuitous. They made ten films together and they include some of Dwan’s best work in the sound era. Dwan’s good friend James Grainger was president of RKO Pictures and knew that Bogeaus was something of a loose cannon and originally assigned Dwan to work with him to keep a close eye on his budget for SILVER LODE. (This may be one of the rare cases where a studio head expected the director to keep the producer under control.) Bogeaus and Dwan clashed and it appeared that they would never work again. But when Bogeaus started another film he realized he was dissatisfed with the director and called Dwan back. The two men wound up becoming close friends and even shared some sensibilities in the choice of stories.
    The arrangement that resulted was very good even if not quite ideal for Dwan. Because of Howard Hughes’ gross mismanagement of RKO, the company was almost totally dependent on independent producers to provide the company with product. So Dwan could work with Bogeaus largely outside of studio interference. And Bogeaus’ contract with RKO for distribution would keep the funds coming.
    When production at RKO began to deteriorate, Bogeaus announced elaborate plans for production at Twentieth Century-Fox but the only feature he and Dwan made there was THE RIVER’S EDGE.
    Bogeaus was largely left to his own devices by the time of MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE and that’s when all his idiosyncracies began to surface with a vengeance.

    I also think that Blake has a point regarding Ron Randell who I think is at least adequate in a rather difficult role. Randell plays the character as a man bent on vindication (eventually sliding towards pure vengeance)while also becoming increasingly dazed and disoriented by what’s happening to him. What’s missing? Perhaps more of a sense of anguish without going over the top.

    Perhaps the ideal actor for such a role was an actor Dwan had worked with decades earlier and before he became a major star. This could have been the perfect role for Lon Chaney in his prime. The desire to avenge past wrongs and the sense of revulsion at how he had become physically different and isolated from other human beings were both facets of Chaney’s screen persona. Chaney probably would have also been skillful in designing facial make-up dramatizing the transformations the character was undergoing.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    RIP Bernadette Lafont

  • Robert Garrick

    Sorry to hear about that one, Tom. Just three weeks ago I saw a brand new 35mm copy of “Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me,” from Columbia, at the St. Louis French Film Festival, and she carried the movie with her feral craziness. I can’t believe she was 74.

    Goodbye to the girl with the banjo.

  • Remembering Bernadette Lafont, a muse of the Nouvelle Vague: Les bonnes femmes, La Fiancée du pirate… a long and rich career until the end, quite recently in movies such as Julie Delpy’s Le Skylab. Many films for Chabrol and Rivette, debut with Truffaut and Les Mistons, but above all the original “après Mai” movie, La Maman et la putain for Jean Eustache. Formidable.

  • Rob Leith

    Alex, I saw Manhandled years ago and like it best of the 20 or so Dwans I have seen. It features my favorite performance by Gloria Swanson and a memorable sequence, one source of the film’s title, in which she rides on the New York subway. That sequence is filmed with surprising realism, showing Swanson reacting to her lack of space in her characteristically humorous and energetic way. Bogdanovich’s Allan Dwan: The Last Pioneer contains a still from this sequence on page 72, which captures some of the spirit of the scene.

  • You can watch the opening of MANHANDLED: IMHO far and away its best part. (Too much soap opera in the rest.):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cgPrGgujb4

    Exegesis:

    We see “tired feet” at a department store. The staircase has a turn in it: fairly common in Dwan.

    A time clock: One of Dwan’s “engineered objects”. He loves technology. Plus, more circles than you can count! It’s a “vertical circle”: something that makes several Dwan circles especially vivid and forceful.
    To learn more about Taylorization, read A Computer Perspective (1973) by Charles and Ray Eames, designers, who directed films, wrote books. This is a great multi-media book about the early history of computers. It examines not just computing machines, but the rise of mathematical techniques, and the role they played in industry and society.

    Gloria Swanson leaves work, wearing one of the “elaborate hats” that run through Dwan.
    The heroine gets her feet splattered by a car driving through a puddle, at the start. This is one of the “Water Works” that run through Dwan: scenes centered around moving water, often controlled by machinery.
    It also anticipates the heroine sweeping dust on a bad guy’s shoes in Montana Belle.

    When the heroine is splashed with water on the street, she is in front of large windows. One can vaguely see shapes inside. They play no role in the plot. Dwan films are full of people seen through windows and doors. It is a key staging technique. (Antonioni likes this too).

    The Subway!

    Gloria needs change for the subway. This is a simple example of the “Financial Processes” that run through Dwan (think Brewster’s Millions and The Inside Story, for examples.)

    In the subway, we frequently see through the subway doors to the platform. Sometimes this is an open doorway. Sometimes we see through the closed glass doors of the car.
    The subway scene shows the heroine’s difficulties in both entering the subway car’s door, and leaving it. Such ideas are likely linked to Dwan’s long-term stylistic interest in shooting through doors. They are linked to the stylistic mise-en-scene of Dwan.

    Gloria’s hat is in big trouble. Hats everywhere in Dwan!

    The climax of the comic subway scene has petite Swanson inadvertently lifted off the floor by two men standing beside her, who do not realize what they are doing. Dwan characters are often suspended in swings or in the air. In A Modern Musketeer, the shots showing the character being raised and lowered by a rope into the Canyon are fascinating. The title cards explicitly compare this to an “elevator”.

    Dwan uses overhead camera angles, to show the heroine trapped in ferocious New York City crowds: first when she tries to leave the subway car, later in the bargain basement store where she works. Overhead shots are often a change-of-pace viewpoint in Dwan films.

    The subway opening anticipates the New York tunnel builders in High Air.

    Wish this clip were longer, showing the hero’s garage and invention, plus apartment building where heroine lives…

  • PS How DO you pronounce Bogeaus?

    The mystery writer John Lescroart once quipped his sales would double, if the public knew how to pronounce his name.
    Next I want to learn how to pronounce Andrzej Wajda…

  • alex

    Rob Leigh,

    Can’t wait to watch MANHANDLED . (First off on Mike G ‘s link.)

    But can Swanson ever be any better than inQueen Kelly?

  • Foster Grimm

    Both MANHANDLED and STAGE STRUCK were two of the delights at the MOMA Dwan series.
    Dwan’s flair for comedy is at its best. Swanson is very funny playing, in both, a lower middle class girl with higher aspirations.

    Finally caught up with MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE. Very affecting film, with an ending that is quite moving.

    The Upper West Side roots for Casey.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, the Sox and the Bay Rays were rained out, so I not only took another look at MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE, but was also able to sneak in CLUB HAVANA as a second feature.

    The compositions which our host provides for us look a bit different in the very 1:33 print I have on disc, but I’ve never really been certain about the aspect ration is supposed to be on a number of these Bogeaus films, And, by the way, my understanding was that it is pronounced Bo-jus. But possibly the aspect ratio varies on that too.

    In any event, there are some very real limitations here, but the film is so evidently made by the same folks who brought us SLIGHTLY SCARLET that the enormous gap between the reputation of those two films is hard to fathom. Maybe if they re-issue the film under the title MAN OF STEEL…no, who could take a film seriously with a title like THAT!?

    And again, Casey appreciates all of the support he is getting, but he does want everybody to be clear about his situation. It has been a year and a half since his lymphoma was discovered and many in his position don’t make it this far. He will still be here tomorrow and he will still be here next month. But his days are numbered. We are simply trying to make that the highest number possible. Meanwhile, he thanks you all for your good wishes and will take them with him wherever he goes.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, the Sox and the Bay Rays were rained out, so I not only took another look at MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE, but was also able to sneak in CLUB HAVANA as a second feature.

    The compositions which our host provides for us look a bit different in the very 1:33 print I have on disc, but I’ve never really been certain about the aspect ration is supposed to be on a number of these Bogeaus films, And, by the way, my understanding was that it is pronounced Bo-jus. But possibly the aspect ratio varies on that too.

    In any event, there are some very real limitations here, but the film is so evidently made by the same folks who brought us SLIGHTLY SCARLET that the enormous gap between the reputation of those two films is hard to fathom. Maybe if they re-issue the film under the title MAN OF STEEL…no, who could take a film seriously with a title like THAT!?

    And again, Casey appreciates all of the support he is getting, but he does want everybody to be clear about his situation. It has been a year and a half since his lymphoma was discovered and many in his position don’t make it this far. He will still be here tomorrow and he will still be here next month. But his days are numbered. We are simply trying to make that the highest number possible. Meanwhile, he thanks you all for your good wishes and will take them with him wherever he goes.

  • Barry Putterman

    No, you are not imagining it, my comment got posted twice. I requested that one be deleted and was told that my request was granted. But, there you are. So, you have your choice of which one you want to ignore.

    And now it say that my comment is awaiting moderation. Well, hell, ALL my comments are awaiting moderation!

  • Johan Andreasson

    Mike, this clip should give you a fair idea how to pronounce Andrzej Wajda. Polanski started his career as an actor for Wajda and sits right next to him here, so he should make an effort to get it right:

    http://youtu.be/D0IYW2OE-20

  • jbryant

    I know how to pronounce Andrzej Wajda, but thanks to Johan’s clip, I don’t have to prove it.

    Barry, as always, I feel for you and Casey. Just yesterday, my girlfriend started fretting when she figured out that one of our 10-year-old cats may be at least part Russian blue, a breed whose lifespan is 10-15 years, according to some sources. I’ve since seen longer estimates, but of course we’re freaking out a little, even though Piper looks and acts just as healthy as she ever has. Not that we took her for granted, but a reminder of mortality can make each day a little sweeter.

  • Gloria Swanson: Cecil B. DeMille made her a star, Allan Dwan reinvented her (ZAZA, MANHANDLED, STAGE STRUCK, all great), she is unique for Erich von Stroheim in QUEEN KELLY, terrific with the whip in THE LOVES OF SUNYA, and in Finland she won a Jussi Award for SUNSET BOULEVARD, but her career best performance of what I have seen is SADIE THOMPSON with Raoul Walsh as director and co-star.

    Bogeaus: fortunately the name is not pronounced like “bogus”…

  • Sorry, no whip in THE LOVES OF SUNYA. That was Pola Negri in A WOMAN OF THE WORLD.

  • Rob Leith

    I’ve never heard of THE LOVES OF SUNYA but see that a DVD is available on Amazon. There’s very little information about the print. Does anyone know if it is at all good? I also have never seen the Walsh MISS SADIE THOMPSON but would like to; however, no DVD seems to exist. As for QUEEN KELLY versus MANHANDLED, the roles are too different to compare, though Swanson’s innocence in some of her earlier roles certainly informs the viewer’s response to her transformation in the Stroheim film.

  • Barry Putterman

    Rob, I’m pretty such that the Walsh film is available from Kino. It’s just called SADIE THOMPSON. She didn’t become a Miss until the 50s, 3D and Rita Hayworth. The end of the Walsh film is missing, but you can refer to SCARFACE, where Vince Barnett explains to Paul Muni how it ends.

  • Alex Hicks

    Very nice subway aequence in MANHANDLED. But, hey, there must be a number of other outstanding ones. The subway openning to Iain Sotley’s excellent WINGS OF THE DOVE is one I’d stress.

    Alain Charnier evading Popeye Doyle in the NYC subway in FRENCH CONNECTION is anothern –though there are a bunch of evasion via subway –and those fast closing subway doors. One better than Friedkin’s?

    Any favorites set in the Paris metro?

    Any other enthususiasts for Tony Scotts extravagant orchestration of … hot air and toy trains in his remake of the TAKING OF PELHAM 1, 2,3 (which just might hacve more cuits that WILD BUNCH)?

    Rob Leith,

    As for QUEEN KELLY versus MANHANDLED… I guess comparison here might be odious, though is anything but to my eye in each.

  • Alex Hicks

    Very nice subway aequence in MANHANDLED. But, hey, there must be a number of other outstanding ones. The subway openning to Iain Sotley’s excellent WINGS OF THE DOVE is one I’d stress.

    Alain Charnier evading Popeye Doyle in the NYC subway in FRENCH CONNECTION is anothern –though there are a bunch of evasion via subway –and those fast closing subway doors. One better than Friedkin’s?

    Any favorites set in the Paris metro?

    Any other enthususiasts for Tony Scotts extravagant orchestration of … hot air and toy trains in his remake of the TAKING OF PELHAM 1, 2,3 (which just might hacve more cuits that WILD BUNCH)?

    Rob Leith,

    As for QUEEN KELLY versus MANHANDLED… I guess comparison here might be odious, though it’s anything but to my eye in each.

  • jbryant

    Alex: If you like subway scenes in movies, maybe you should check out Larry Peerce’s 1967 THE INCIDENT, which if memory serves takes place entirely in one car of a NY subway train. It’s rather overwrought, but the strong cast includes Martin Sheen, Tony Musante, Beau Bridges, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Jan Sterling, Thelma Ritter, Gary Merrill and Ed McMahon.

  • Robert Garrick

    There’s a memorable subway scene in “The 7th Victim” (1943), and another one in “Phantom Lady” (1944), though technically that one is on an elevated platform. The elevated subway is also an important part of “Sorry Wrong Number” (1948). But the ultimate subway movie might be one I wrote about several years ago, near the start of this thread, and that’s Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” (1979).

    I have seen both versions of “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” in the past year. (The first one, directed by Joseph Sargent in 1974, writes out “One Two Three,” while Tony Scott–he’s more “modern” you know–uses numbers.) The Joseph Sargent film is a wonderfully nasty thing, quite politically incorrect (which didn’t bother me), and full of nicely drawn unsavory characters in all categories: among the subway cops, among the passengers held hostage, and among the hijackers. Sargent obviously had talent but he spent his career almost exclusively in television, so he’s not well known.

    The early 1970s produced a flood of gritty and vaguely unpleasant urban crime dramas, and Walter Matthau was in more than a few of them. These films gave us ugly, corrupt, crumbling cities, and closely matched, close-to-equally-decadent cops and crooks. I’m surprised nobody has discovered this category and given it a name. (“Film noir” is taken, but that name wouldn’t do anyway, because these films were shot in color and they were meant to look unclean, though these days I find their look appealing and even, dare I say, beautiful.) I’m talking about titles like “Hickey & Boggs” (1972), “The Laughing Policeman” (1973), “Mean Streets” (1973), “Charley Varrick” (1973), “Dirty Harry” (1971), “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973), “Across 110th Street” (1972), “Report to the Commissioner” (1975), and many more, plus of course “The French Connection” (1971), at least three films directed by Michael Winner, and probably two dozen decent blaxploitation films. These films are every bit as evocative of a dark era as the late 1940s noirs, and they’re every bit as distinctive in their “look” and in the affectations of their players. They’ve been influential on people like Quentin Tarantino, but they’re still waiting for someone to categorize them, name them, and build a film festival around them.

  • Robert Garrick

    I should also note the euphoria-producing subway scene that ends Whit Stillman’s “The Last Days of Disco” (1998), a film that more than a few of us here love. Just don’t confuse Whit Stillman with Whit Sterling.

  • Robert, I was also going to say LAST DAYS OF DISCO (which, like all of Stillman’s films is great).

    Other subway films to mention are COLLATERAL (Los Angeles) and CHARADE (Paris). And this (London): http://youtu.be/uTTjnQc9Ajw

    Robert, the films you mentioned, how about “urban paranoia”? At least that’s what I tend to call the three big Alan J. Pakula’s films KLUTE, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and THE PARALLAX VIEW.

    While I’m here I might as well say that I’ve finally seen DUST BE MY DESTINY. I liked it. Good performances, especially Priscilla Lane, and it looked good. The issues I had were the many scenes where the message of the film was spelled out in speeches and capital letters.

  • alex

    Robert Garrick,

    Nice rift on subway scenes and gritty 70s crook and badcop films.

    If you like watching Whit Stillman films, you might like reading David Gilbert ‘s AND SONS. (Ditto if you enjoy Glass-family Salinger.)

  • alex

    I guess when it comes to urban-rail-transit and sublime film one must turn to streetcars: SUNRISE, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, and ROCCO.

  • jbryant

    Robert: I always think of those titles as simply “70s crime films,” but that’s not very sexy. But it’s one of my favorite “genres” for sure.

  • Maybe the 70s films could be called “film décrépitude” instead of “film noir”, or something along those lines.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Here’s my favorite subway (or should I say Underground, since it’s in London?) scene from a movie: The ending of David Lean’s THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (his best black and white film to me). Everything builds up to a suicide by Ann Todd’s character as the unfaithful wife, but what happens:

    http://youtu.be/VxpxYsuJdpQ

    Terence Davies has a scene so much like this one in THE DEEP BLUE SEA that I think it must be a quote.

  • John Heath

    While we’re on subway scenes, let’s not forget Samuel Fuller’s wordless, pulsating opening sequence to PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET. It’s tense and sweatily claustrophobic, with Jean Peters supplying sex appeal by the metric ton. Fuller could say more with matched close-ups than most directors manage with their whole bag of tricks.

    Robert, I think you’re onto something with this 70’s crime-genre-without-a-name, and it’s important to note that these weren’t strictly urban – the rural everymen of WALKING TALL and FRAMED, along with many other lesser films, fit nicely into the genres’ overall themes of social disenfranchisement. These films are as much a reaction to (and often against) the revolutionary late-60’s as the Film Noir was to wartime disillusionment. Perhaps these should be referred to as Film Brut.

  • Since “The French Connection” was sited as a subway movie I should point out that a lot of the action took place on the elevated part of the Bensonhurst line. And if the Bensonhurst El gets a pass then Brakhage’s “The Wonder Ring” should be included too. As far as I know this is the only movie entirely about the Third Ave. El although it’s seen in many movies, “I’ll Cry Tomorrow”, “The Lost Weekend,” “The Naked City,” etc.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Robert, I like “the dirty urban” as a monniker for your genre, paralleling the dirty western of the same era. There’re important precursors in the 1960s (including a few Don Siegel films) and I guess the genre (or more properly cycle) trails off in the 1980s with FORT APACHE NEW YORK and a number of Lumets.

  • There is Wallace Shawn’s brief subway ride at the start of My Dinner with Andre, one of the film’s few non-restaurant scenes. His graffiti-festooned carriage looks pleasingly gritty, as does the Boston of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, on the Criterion DVDs. Count me among the fans of The Last Days of Disco as well.

  • Brakhage’s “The Wonder Ring” is one of my all-time favorite movies.

    Big Monday (Michael T. Rehfield, 1998) is a feature shot in one long take. Three years before Russian Ark. It’s one of the key films of its era. It follows a man as he walks through New York City. He takes a subway ride mid-film. Wonderful moving camera.

    Kontroll (Nimród Antal), 2003) is a thriller set entirely in the Budapest subway. The oldest subway in the world.

    Sugarbaby (Percy Adlon, 1985) has a hero who works in the Munich subway.

    Let’s not forget Pickpocket (Robert Bresson).
    Or Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear, While the City Sleeps.

    Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street (G.W. Bitzer, 1905) Dazzlingly photographed short film, showing a ride on the newly completed subway. A highly unusual optical experience, often more like a film abstraction than a representational movie.

    The CASTLE mystery TV series had a good episode, investigating the murder of a subway worker:
    11-8-10 MURDER MOST FOWL W: Matt Pyken D: Bryan Spicer

    A good but largely forgotten New York police series was TRUE BLUE. A good episode with subway tunnel setting:
    1-26-90 TUNNEL VISION W: Michael Eric Stein D: J. Lawrence Scanlan

    Streetcars:

    Dunkerque en 1913: A travers la ville / Tramway (no director credited) A classic short documentary. Learned about it here when recommended by Dave Kehr.

    The Fantômas films of Louis Feuillade show streetcars.
    Le Faux magistrat / The False Magistrate (1914) has a nice panning shot showing trailing in the streets of Louvain, Belgium.

    The same scene contains a second nice pan, showing a street car. Earlier, Juve contre Fantômas (1913) showed streetcars in Paris; Le Faux magistrat shows us them in Louvain. These scenes have a documentary fascination, showing a key part of public transportation 100 years ago. The curving lines the street car tracks make in the street are also interesting, as visual style and composition.

  • Besieged (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1998) shows the Rome subway. Bertolucci likes public train transportation. The most striking shots in the Seattle sections of Little Buddha show the elevated train.

    A subway escalator is in the English episode of I vinti (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1953).

    New York subways appear in such Vincente Minnelli films as The Clock, Bells Are Ringing, and the Paris Metro in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Not to mention “The Girl Hunt” ballet in The Band Wagon.

    My grandfather drove a train in Chicago. Trains are in my blood.

  • Alex

    “Samuel Fuller’s wordless, pulsating opening sequence to PICKUP ON “SOUTH STREET”

    John Heath,

    Now there’s a subway scene to compete with the streetcar and trolley classics!

    Also, Film Brut is good – just as long as it doesn’t much tend to evoke champaign.

    Mike Grost,
    Is the great extended pickpocketing sequence in PICKPOCKET indeed in a Paris Metro train and not a surface rail one, as I seem to recall?

  • Barry Putterman

    I hadn’t really thought of it before, but Walter Hill’s films can be seen in many ways as a counterpoint to the kind of 70s urban action films being discussed now. It gives his films more of a historical context than I had previously considered.

  • Alex: “Is the great extended pickpocketing sequence in PICKPOCKET indeed in a Paris Metro train and not a surface rail one, as I seem to recall?”

    I’m having trouble recalling this myself. My apologies!

  • Alex

    Mike Grost,

    No,problem!

    (Just so we don’t go off into a potentially endless explorations of great scenes on inter-urban “surface” trains.)

  • Johan Andreasson

    If I remember it correctly the extended scene with several pickpockets working together is set in a train station above ground, but you also see the protagonist picking pockets alone on a subway train.

  • Alex

    Johan Andreasson

    Your recollection is my best recollection.

    Aren’t there some shots scattered about Godard films of alienation as captured in the Paris Metro?

  • Rob Leith

    One of my favorite subway scenes (if we can stretch the definition to include the El) occurs near the beginning of King Vidor’s The Crowd, as the two couples return home from a night at the amusement park. Vidor uses overhead advertising signs to cue main character John’s proposal to Mary (“You supply the girl, we’ll supply the home” or something like that), one of several ways in which Vidor shows John’s essential narcissism.

    Barry, thanks for the tip on SADIE THOMPSON.

  • As many of my favorites have already been mentioned, may I add Tony Scott’s PELHAM 1 2 3 remake, which I liked not simply from the very first frames, but the very first sounds, the high-pitched whirrrr-wheeee of a contemporary (2009-present) New York subway. While most films, in constituting MTA NYC transit for their fictions invariably rely on past-due memories more appropriate to THE FRENCH CONNECTION, BLOW OUT, or Cassavetes’ GLORIA, Scott’s action film not only pays respect to periodic reconfigurations of MTA’s complex service, but uses said changes as an instrument of the story’s moral content, in that Garber’s (Washington) sins relate ethical transgressions in the service of civic enhancement – a contract for new train cars – and are ultimately forgiven, while Ryder (Travolta) bears the rot of the 2007-present financial meltdown, whose perpetrators tirelessly blame others for profits only they can enjoy.

  • Has anyone mentioned Besson’s SUBWAY, or the British DEATH LINE, also known as RAW MEAT? Besson’s inclination to create environments and ecologies finds a good template in the Parisian underground, and Sherman’s film contrasts above-world social fracturing with underground family valuing. Doesn’t POSSESSION, also with Adjani, have a subway scene? Was DEATH WISH mentioned? There must be a Wikipedia article listing every subway movie ever. What would be the first one ever? Would that British film about digging a tunnel to America qualify? Do “Chunnel” films?