Here’s the latest installment of Hidden Treasures.
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Pretty Poison (1968)
Movies often use fantasy to create a world for their audience. Pretty Poison does the opposite; displaying, in no uncertain terms, how little time the real world has for make-believe. In fact, there are some fantasies that can lead straight to disaster.
Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) has just been released from a mental institution. Looking to start anew, he attracts the attention of Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld), a High School cheerleader with an outgoing personality. By lying to Sue Ann and telling her that he’s a CIA operative, Dennis is able to win over the young girl. Unfortunately, Sue Ann isn’t quite as naive as she first appeared, and Dennis may just be heading for more trouble than he’s ever known before.
Anthony Perkins is quite good as Dennis, the inmate who believed he was ready to face the world again, but it’s Tuesday Weld who steals the show, giving us a seemingly average girl who harbors some very abnormal thoughts. At first, Dennis seems to have won her over, claiming to live a life of excitement in the CIA, and even asking Sue Ann to assist him on his most recent ‘case’. It isn’t long before events spiral out of Dennis’ control, only to be scooped up by the deceptively innocent Sue Ann. The relationship may have started on Dennis’ terms, but it will be Sue Ann who ultimately pulls all the strings.
Dennis’ case worker, Morton Azenauer (played by John Randolph), had advised Dennis, before his release, that he was going out into a world that had little time for fantasy. In the end, it was advice that Dennis wished he’d followed.
In the pre-title sequence of director Lewis Allen’s Film-Noir thriller, Suddenly, a traveler (Roy Engel) pulls his car up next to a police officer (Paul Wexler) to ask for directions. Before long, the man asks the officer the name of the town they’re in, to which the officer replies “Suddenly”. It’s a strange name, to be sure, one that dates back to the era of the gold rush, when things apparently happened pretty quickly around those parts. Nowadays, it’s a lot quieter, and the officer jokes that they’re thinking of changing the town’s name to ‘Gradually’. This light moment of comedy is immediately followed by the film’s opening credits, where the dramatic score of David Raskin gives us the sneaky suspicion that old times are about to return to Suddenly, and in a big, big way.
Suddenly’s Sheriff, Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden), has just received word that U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, traveling by train to the west coast, plans to make a brief stopover in his town at 5 o’clock that very afternoon. All at once, the Secret Service descends on Suddenly, where they team up with Shaw and his deputies to check on reports of a possible attempt on the President’s life. Unbeknownst to them all, the danger is already in town: a team of three hit men, the leader of which is an army veteran named John Baron (Frank Sinatra), have invaded a small house overlooking the train depot, holding the family that resides there hostage until they’ve had a chance to carry out their murderous plan.
The film’s title, Suddenly, proves to be much more than the name of the town where the action takes place; it’s a foretelling of how events will unfold in this fast-paced thriller. With a brisk running time of just 75 minutes, Suddenly is quick and to the point, with thrilling twists and turns anchored by the strong performances of Sterling Hayden and Frank Sinatra. Sinatra is especially effective, playing a former army assassin with deep-seated resentments that have driven him to despair. In a gripping scene, Sheriff Shaw, accompanied by Dan Carney (Willis Bouchey), the head of the Secret Service team, pays a visit to the house where Baron and his men have set up to carry out the assassination. Soon after the Sheriff’s arrival, gunfire erupts. Once the smoke clears, Carney is dead and a wounded Shaw is Baron’s prisoner. From there out, the hostility mounts as Shaw begins to work on Baron, quickly uncovering the would-be assassin’s primary weakness: his talkative nature. Shaw listens as Baron brags of having killed 27 Germans in World War II, a feat that earned him the Silver Star, and of how his return to civilian life has left him confused and unsatisfied. Shaw plays on these feelings, pushing the killer closer and closer to the edge, all the while realizing that Baron’s fragile psyche could crack without a moment’s notice. The give and take between the two, which grows more intense as five o’clock approaches, is almost as nerve-racking as the story itself.
Suddenly opens amidst the lackadaisical events of Middle America, and ends with a violence that swoops down quickly, like a hawk striking at its prey. An account of small-town life thrown into chaos by politics and murder, Suddenly is exhilarating to the point of exhaustion.
Local Hero (1983)
And now, we come to a movie that I absolutely adore; Bill Forsyth’s criminally underrated 1983 comedy, Local Hero. More than just a wonderful film, Local Hero is a life-affirming experience. No matter what mood I’m when this movie begins, I’m always left smiling at the end.
Mac (Peter Riegert) is a junior executive with Knox Oil and Gas, a large petroleum company headquartered in Houston, Texas. Knox is planning to build a new refinery off the coast of Scotland, and Mac, an expert at closing deals, is assigned to the project. So, it’s off to Ferness, a remote Scottish fishing village, where he hopes to reach an agreement with the locals to buy up their entire town. Upon his arrival in Scotland, he meets Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), an employee of Knox in Abberdine, and together, Mac and Danny descend on the small coastal community, bracing themselves for what they believe will be some pretty tough negotiations. However, while dealing with local representative Gordon Urquhart (Denis Lawson), Mac and Danny come to realize that these simple folks are in fact all too eager to sell, delighted by the thought that they may soon be stinking rich.
What I love most about Local Hero is that it is essentially the story of a man who has lost his way. Before his trip to Ferness, Mac was completely caught up in his modern existence. His job as a negotiator for Knox rarely gave him cause to travel outside of Houston, so Mac would simply close a deal in one afternoon with a few telephone calls. He never wandered far from his desk, and would even communicate with co-workers by way of the telephone (even those who sat only a few feet away). His world was quick, convenient, and completely impersonal.
But as Mac soon discovers, life moves pretty slowly in Ferness, which provides him with a lot more free time than he’s used to. As he waits for Urquhart to finalize the deal, Mac whittles away the hours by strolling on the beach. At first, these strolls resemble power walks, with Mac never really taking the time to look out at the water. After several days, however, he finally notices the sea, and realizes that it is beautiful. He then looks to the sky, amazed at the brilliant light show of the Aurora Borealis. For the first time in a long time, Mac is noticing things; he is mingling face-to-face with real people, and discovering that doing so can be a genuinely enjoyable experience. At one point, he even takes an afternoon off to collect seashells on the beach, an event that leads to one of the film’s most memorable images; as Mac is crawling along the rocks hunting for shells, he removes his expensive watch, the one that sounds an alarm whenever it’s conference time in Houston, and places it on the ground next to him. Before long, Mac has become so preoccupied with his shells that he completely forgets about this watch. The last we see of it, it’s submerged in water, and the alarm is sounding in a faded, muffled tone. Conference time in Houston, and Mac couldn’t care less.
Local Hero is a first-hand account of Mac’s spiritual transformation, and I, for one, fully believed this tale of one man’s conversion from active player to passive observer, mostly because, in the end, I, too, fell in love with the town of Ferness. It’s a love I renew each and every time I watch this marvelous film.
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