On the Waterfront

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: Based on a true story (with a less satisfying conclusion), this is the story of the men who had the courage to stand up to the corrupt longshoreman’s union. The union is controlled by Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). He and his men decide who will work each day, which means that they get paid off by the men and by the ship-owners who rely on the union to unload their goods. “Everything moves in and out, we take our cut,” Johnny brags. One of Johnny’s top aides is Charley Malloy (Rod Steiger), whose brother Terry (Marlon Brando), a former prize-fighter, is treated almost like a mascot by Johnny. He gives Terry errands to run and makes sure he gets the easiest and most lucrative work assignments. Terry keeps pigeons, on the roof of his apartment building, and is a hero to the local boys.

As the movie begins, Joey Doyle, who dared to speak out about the corruption, is killed by Johnny’s thugs. Terry had unwittingly helped to set Joey up, and he is distressed. “Too much Marquess of Queensberry, it softens him up,” Charley explains, telling Johnny that Terry’s exposure to the rules of fair fighting in boxing have made him idealistic. Joey’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) tells local priest Father Barry (Karl Malden) that he has to get out of the church to help them; “Saints don’t hide in churches.” Father Barry invites the longshoremen to the church, to talk about what is going on. Charley tells Terry to go to the meeting to keep tabs on who is being disloyal. At the meeting, one man explains that “everyone on the dock is D&D–deaf and dumb.” Everyone knows that if he speaks out, or even notices too much, he will not be allowed to work; he may even be killed, as Joey was. Thugs break up the meeting. Terry escapes with Edie. Dugan (Pat Henning) agrees to talk, and Father Berry agrees to support him. But Dugan is killed, too.

Terry and Edie fall in love. Johnny tells Charley to make sure that Terry does not tell the crime commission about his activities, because if he lets Terry tells the truth, everyone will do it, and he’ll be “just another fellow.” At first Charley resists, but Johnny makes it clear that if Charley can’t stop Terry, Johnny will get someone else to take care of him. So Charley finds Terry, and they talk, in the back seat of a cab. Terry tells Charley that he hates being a bum, that Charley should have looked out for him, and not made him take a dive in the boxing ring, a “one-way ticket to palookaville.” Charley lets Terry go, and then Charley is killed by Johnny’s thugs. Terry is overcome with grief, and swears he will get Johnny. Father Berry persuades him that the way to do it is to testify, and Terry does, while Johnny stares at him from across the room.

No one will talk to Terry. The boys who once worshipped him kill all of his pigeons. Down on the dock, at first Johnny wins, putting everyone to work except for Terry. When Terry calls him out, they have a furious battle, as the longshoremen watch. Terry is badly hurt. When Johnny tells them to go back to work, they refuse, saying they are waiting for Terry to lead them to work. Father Berry whispers to Terry that “Johnny’s laying odds you won’t get up.” Father Berry and Edie help him up, and he walks slowly to the dock. Johnny shouts, but everyone ignores him.

Discussion: This movie contrasts two conflicting ways of looking at the world and especially at responsibility. Edie and Father Berry see a world in which people have an obligation to protect and support each other. Johnny sees the world as a place where what matters is taking as much as you can. Terry is somewhere in the middle, with his kindness to the Golden Warriors and his pigeons on one side and his willingness to take what Johnny’s way of life has to offer on the other. Then Joey is killed, and Terry meets Edie.

In part, Terry falls in love not just with Edie, but with the vision of another life that Edie represents. At first, when she asks, “Shouldn’t everybody care about everybody else?” he calls her a “fruitcake” and says that his philosophy of life is “Do it to him before he does it to you…Everybody’s got a racket.” He tells her, “I’d like to help, but there’s nothing I can do.” Like Edie, Terry is inspired to fight back by the death of his brother. When he tells Charley “You should have looked after me,” he is acknowledging the obligation brothers have for each other. He should have looked out for Charley, too.

After Terry testifies, Edie tells him to leave town, asking, “Are they taking chances for you?” Terry tells her that he’s not a bum, and that means he must stay. Fighting Johnny, Terry finds a way out of “palookaville.”

This movie also raises some important issues about the nature of power. At the beginning, Johnny seems very powerful, and power matters more to him than money. But it is clear that the choices he makes to protect that power, more than any action taken by anyone else, are the beginning of the end. As he orders people killed, even Charley, his own close associate, he begins to appear desperate. The men who will kick back a few dollars and stay “D&D” about corruption will not stand for that level of violence and uncertainty.

Questions for Kids:

· Joey’s jacket is worn by three different characters in this movie. What do you think that means?

· Why do you think the director does not let you hear the conversation when Terry tells Edie about his role in Joey’s death?

· Edie admits that she is in love with Terry, but still wants him to leave. Why? What do you think of Edie’s ideas about what makes people “mean and difficult?” Do you think that applies to Johnny?

· How does Johnny get power? How does he lose it?

· If Johnny had not killed Charley, would Terry have testified against him?

Connections: The music is by Leonard Bernstein, composer of “West Side Story” and many others. This movie won eight Oscars, including best picture, best director, best actress, and best screenplay. Steiger, Malden, and Cobb were all nominated as well.

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Based on a true story Classic Crime Drama

The Maltese Falcon

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is a private detective. A woman who says her name is Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor) comes to see him, asking for help in finding her sister. Sam sends his partner, Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to follow her when she meets Floyd Thursby, the man she thinks her sister is with, and both Archer and Thursby are killed. It turns out that the woman has given him a false name. She is really Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and it turns out it is not her sister she is seeking, but a small, jeweled statue of a falcon, and she is mixed up with some people who will do anything to get it.

One of those people is Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), who comes to see Sam to insist — with a gun — that he be allowed to search Sam’s office to see if it is there. Sam is not at all intimidated by Joel, but allows him to search. Also after the statue is Mr. Gutman, “the fat man” (Sidney Greenstreet), with his “gunsel,” Wilmer. They alternately threaten and attempt to bribe Sam, while Brigid appeals to his protective nature and his heart. But Sam turns them all over to the police, including Brigid, whom he loves.

Discussion: One of the most interesting aspects of this classic movie is the way that Sam Spade thinks though the moral dilemmas. When he is deciding whether to tell the police about Brigid, he is very explicit about weighing every aspect of his choices. It is not an easy decision for him; he has no moral absolutes. On one hand, he loves her, and he did not think much of his partner. On the other, he does not trust her, he does not think she trusts him, and he knows that they could not go on together, each waiting to betray or be betrayed. And he has some pride; he says that when your partner is killed, you are supposed to “do something.” While it may be good for business not to appear too ethical, it is bad for business to allow a partner in a detective firm to get killed without responding. If he turns her over to the police, he loses her. But if he does not, he loses a part of himself, his own kind of integrity.

When this movie was made, moviegoers were used to cool, debonair detectives (like Philo Vance and Nick Charles, both played by William Powell), a sort of cross between Sherlock Holmes and Fred Astaire. But Sam Spade, created by Dashiell Hammett based on his experiences as a detective, was a modern day version of the cowboy, a loner with his own sense of honor.

This was the first movie directed by John Huston, who also wrote the screenplay, but he was already a master. Watch the two scenes where Sam goes to talk to Gutman, and see how the camera angles in the first scene lead the viewer to suspect that Sam’s drink is spiked (it isn’t), and then how different angles are used in the second one to make the viewer confident that it won’t be (it is).

Questions for Kids:

· What does Sam mean when he says the statue is “the stuff dreams are made of”?

· Where is Sam faced with moral conflicts? How does he resolve them? What are his reasons?

Connections: Bogart appeared as a similarly tough detective, Philip Marlowe, in “The Big Sleep,” based on the novel by Raymond Chandler. The books by Hammett and Raymond Chandler are well worth reading. Note the director’s father, Walter Huston, in an uncredited brief appearance as Captain Jacobi. Jerome Cowan, who appears briefly as Miles Archer, plays the prosecuting attorney who tries to prove that Kris Kringle is not Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street.”

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Based on a book Classic Crime Thriller

The Music Man

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

“Professor” Harold Hill (Robert Preston) is a con man posing as a salesman of band instruments and uniforms. He happens upon River City, a small town in Iowa. As the citizens explain in song, Iowa is a place of stubborn people who keep to themselves unless someone needs help. But Hill happens upon an old friend, Marcellus Washburn (Buddy Hackett), and is ready to run his favorite scam. He plans to sell the town on the idea of a boys band, with himself as leader, get them to order instruments and uniforms, and skip town with the money. Marcellus tells him a bit about the town and its people, and especially about the town librarian and music teacher, Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones).

Copyright Warner Brothers 1962
Copyright Warner Brothers 1962

Marian lives with her mother (Pert Kelton) and her little brother Winthrop (Ronny Howard), a shy boy with a lisp, who deeply mourns his late father. In her own way, Marian, like Winthrop, is still grieving, and finds it hard to allow herself to become close to anyone. This is especially difficult because she is the subject of some gossip in the town. She has the job as librarian because an elderly man, a friend of her fathers, bequeathed the library building to the town, but left the books to her, to ensure that she would have permanent employment. This has caused some speculation about their relationship. And the ladies in the town also think the books she recommends (including the Rubiyat and Balzac) are improper. Despite her mother’s attempts to encourage her to be friendlier, Marian is very skeptical about Harold’s motives and his credentials. He is able to dazzle the town (with the famous patter song “Trouble,” offering the band as an alternative to the decadence of the town’s new pool parlor), but she vows to check his credentials.

The town gets caught up in the notion of the band. Harold’s charm and smooth promises enrapture everyone from the town council (he transforms them from four squabbling politicians into a harmonizing barbershop quartet) to the teen-age boy all the others look up to (Harold challenges him to invent an apparatus for holding the music so that the piccolo player can read it and encourages his romance with the mayor’s daughter). Harold even charms Winthrop, who is at last excited and happy about something. Harold tells all the parents that their children are wonderfully gifted and that the band will make them stars. Meanwhile, Harold’s attention to Marian is becoming more than just a way to help him get the money. And, despite evidence that he does not have the credentials he claims, and her certainty that he is not what he pretends to be, she finds herself softening toward him and protecting him.

Because of her, he stays too long, and he is arrested. As he says, “For the first time, I got my foot caught in the door.” But somehow, the boys force a few sounds out of the instruments, enough for their proud parents. And Harold stays on — it turns out that all along, deep inside, what he really wanted was to lead a band.

Discussion: Robert Preston brought his award-winning performance as Harold Hill on Broadway to the screen in this impeccable production, perfect in every detail. In addition to the glorious production, with some of the most gorgeous music and dancing ever filmed, there is a fine story with appealing characters. Marian learns about the importance of dreams from Harold, and he learns about the importance of responsibility from her.

Harold has made a life out of other people’s dreams, creating them and then spoiling them. He gives people an image of themselves as important and creative, and it is clear that this is what he loves about what he does, not stealing the money from them. Marian has faith in Harold. It is not the blind faith of the rest of the town, the people who see the seventy-six trombones he sings about. She sees what is good inside him, the real way that he affects people like Winthrop, the way he affects her. As she sings, “There were bells on the hills, but I never heard them ringing, oh, I never heard them at all, ’til there was you.” When Marian sees Harold and is willing to love him in spite of his past, he is for the first time able to move on from the notion of himself as a thief and a liar. Each finds the core of the other, allowing both of them to heal and take the risk necessary to make their dreams come true. For him, the risk is prison and disgrace. For her, the risk is the kind of hurt she felt when her father died, the risk we all take in loving someone. And because this is a musical, they live happily ever after.

Questions for Kids:

· Why is Winthrop so shy? What makes him change?

· How does Harold change people’s minds? Is that good or bad?

· How does the music help to tell the story? Listen to the songs “76 Trombones” and “Goodnight My Someone” again. They are very much alike, as you can tell when they are sung together. What did the composer want that to tell you about the people who sing them?

· Why were the parents worried about their children playing pool? What do parents worry about today?

· How is Marian’s library like yours? Do you know your librarian? Do people in your town ever argue about what books should be in the library?

Connections: This movie shows some of the most talented people of their time at the top of their form. Shirley Jones appeared in many musicals, including “Oklahoma” and “Carousel,” always exquisitely lovely in voice and appearance. She also won an Oscar for her dramatic role as a prostitute in “Elmer Gantry.” And of course she was the mother in television’s musical comedy series, “The Partridge Family.”

Robert Preston had more luck in theater than in movies finding roles that gave him a chance to show all he could do. But every one of his film appearances is worth watching, including “The Last Starfighter” and “All the Way Home.” Choreographer Oona White also did the sensational dance numbers in “Bye Bye Birdie.” Composer Meredith Willson never came close to the glorious score for “The Music Man,” but he produced some nice songs for “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

 

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Classic Crime For the Whole Family Musical Romance

All the President’s Men

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: PG
Profanity: Some very strong language for a PG including the f-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some tense moments
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 1976
Date Released to DVD: June 11, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B000CEXEWA

This week is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in and a good time to look at the Oscar-winning movie about the two reporters who would not give up on the story of the Watergate break-in, this is as gripping as any detective novel. Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), a junior reporter for the Washington Post, is sent to cover a small-time break-in to the office of the Democratic National Committee (located in the Watergate office building). He works with Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), another reporter, to find, after tediously painstaking research, that it is just part of a complex pattern of corruption in President Nixon’s re-election campaign.

Producer/star Redford was so intent on authenticity he even flew actual garbage from the Washington Post wastepaper baskets out to the set. The movie does a good job of showing how much of the work of the reporters was dull persistence, and it also does a good job of showing us what went in to the decisions of editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards in an Oscar – winning performance) and (off-screen) publisher Katharine Graham about what they needed in terms of proof in order to be able to publish the story.

There is an interesting range of moral choices and calibrations. The famous “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook), unidentified until 2006, is someone from the inside who will not allow himself to be identified or even quoted, but is willing to confirm what the reporters are able to find elsewhere.

Others involved in the scandal, both in the corruption itself and in its cover-up, must decide what to do and how much to disclose. “Deep Throat” will not tell them anything new, but will confirm what they find out and give them some overall direction, most memorably, “follow the money.” One key development is the decision made by someone identified only as “the bookkeeper” (Jane Alexander) to talk to Bernstein. The participants must also deal with the consequences of their choices. Donald Segretti (Robert Walden) manages to evoke sympathy when what began as juvenile pranks leave him in disgrace. Woodward and Bernstein also make mistakes and must deal with the consequences.

As the movie ends, in 1972, Nixon is re-elected, and it seems to the reporters that their work has had no impact at all. Kids who view this film may need some context in order to understand it, and will want to know what else happened before Nixon resigned in August of 1974.

Families who see this movie should discuss these questions: Why were Woodward and Bernstein the only reporters interested in the story? Why did they insist on two sources before they would publish anything? What were Donald Segretti’s “dirty tricks?” How was he different from Sloan? From the bookkeeper? From Deep Throat? One of the people portrayed in the movie later testified before the Watergate Committee that he had “lost his moral compass.” What does that mean? How does something like that happen? How has technology changed the way that reporters do research and prepare their stories?

Families who enjoy this movie might like to see “The Final Days,” a made- for-television sequel, based on Woodward and Bernstein’s follow-up book. For more on this era, see Nixon with Anthony Hopkins, and Nixon’s famous “Checkers” speech and resignation statement. An odd little movie called Nasty Habits is an allegory of Watergate, set in a convent, with Glenda Jackson as a Nixonian nun. And a very funny satire, Dick (for older audiences) sees these events through the premise that it was all uncovered by a couple of high school girls.

If audiences want to know more, they should know that the book this movie was based on is not much fun to read and has more reporting than analysis. Older kids who want to know more can read Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon by Theodore White, To Set the Record Straight: The Break-In, the Tapes, the Conspirators, the Pardon, by Judge Sirica, or the books by John Dean and H. R. Haldeman. In 2006, the identity of “Deep Throat” was revealed and Woodward told the story in The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat.  President Nixon’s series of television interviews with David Frost inspired the Oscar-nominated film Frost/Nixon,  and the interviews are also available on DVD.

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Based on a book Based on a true story Classic Crime Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week

Blue Streak

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Martin Lawrence stars in a made-to-order story of a jewel thief who returns to the scene of the crime to retrieve his loot, only to find that the construction site where he stashed the stolen diamond is now a police station. When he is told that the only way to get inside is by being under arrest or by wearing a badge, he decides to impersonate a detective.

So, what we have here is a cross betweeen “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Sister Act,” your basic street-smart- guy-who-keeps-it-real-showing-the-desk- jockeys-a-thing or-two type plot. There are two version of this plot, with or without hugging. Anyone who expects that Lawrence’s character will come out of the experience a better person is more gullible than the cops who decide that he’s so good he must be from Internal Affairs or the FBI.

But believability is not the real point of this film. The real point of this film is watching Lawrence mug his way out of various situations, which he does very, very well. It is a pleasant diversion with a lot of silly fun.

Parents should know that there is some strong language and some raw humor. Furthermore, the movie departs from Hollywood tradition in leaving the hero unrepentant and in possession of the stolen jewel. Families will want to discuss the real consequences of such a robbery, and the situation Lawrence faces in working with at least one colleague who has no compunctions about betrayal and murder.

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Comedy Crime
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