Love and Bullets (1979)

Love_and_bullets

This Charles Bronson action picture is the second film that Strother made with the international box office star. Their previous pairing in “Hard Times” is a vastly superior film, and this movie seems like a casual, not very well thought out program filler. It does have a few things going for it, including one essential moment for Strother Martin fans.

Bronson plays a Phoenix cop who heads to Switzerland at the behest of the FBI, to escort a potential witness against the crime boss responsible for bad things happening in Arizona. The witness is the ditsy girlfriend of mobster Rod Steiger, and she is played by Mrs. Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland. To be honest, the degree of action in the film is a little slight, with huge chunks of time devoted to a travelogue of the Alps and Geneva. The pair are fleeing hitmen sent by the mobster to silence her, and Charlie and Jill ride just about every kind of vehicle you can imagine would be used for public transportation. They travel in traditional street cars, inclinators, trains, car ferry trains, motorboats, river cruise ships, car and airplane. You might suspect the whole thing was an opportunity for the two stars to travel Switzerland on Sir Lew Grade’s dime.

One of the things the film has to offer is a big slice of character actors in the movie. None of them get big parts that break out but you will recognize a whole bunch of people. Michael V. Gazzo, from Godfather II breifly appears as a mob guy who sells out to the FBI (typecasting maybe?). Paul Koslo, who made a couple other films with Bronson is another mob hitman, supposedly watching Gazzo’s character. Henry Silva is the famous assassin hired by Steigers mobster to do in Ireland. Albert Salami, a TV fixture in the 60s and 70s is an FBI mid-level manager, and Bradford Dillman is his agent in Charge. Just to round things out, Billy Gray, the child actor from the “Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Father Knows Best”, plays a police officer in the opening moments of the movie.

Strother is Louis Monk, the attorney and  consigliere to the stuttering Rod Steiger. He is one of the men, who along with the other mafia bosses, talks Steiger’s character into having the woman he loves killed. Jay first shows up in a film clip of Ireland’s character testifying before a Senate Committee. He has a couple of barely audible words that he whispers in her ear.

Love And Bullets 2

Rod Steiger overacts his conflicted situation at his lavish  desert mansion, frequently in his bathing suit and surrounded by the mobster flunkies. The choice to make him a stutterer reflects a real life case, and it is actually the one subtle part of his performance. As an illustration of the overblown character, he throws a tantrum while Monk and the other mob guys are at a buffet table next to the pool. He inevitably turns the table over in frustration.

In an earlier scene, that I assume was meant to be somewhat comic, he is in the bathtub, surrounded by a bunch of hardened crooks while they advise him about his situation. Strother bears the brunt of his irritation in this scene.

lobby Card

So far Jay has a scene with two of the three leads, but what about the guy Italians refer to  as “The Ugly One” and the French call “The Holy Monster”?  Strother does end up having a scene with him and it is the main reason to watch the film. Lt. Congers is tracking down the money used to pay for the hitman, and he locates Monk at a swimming pool.

Those who know Strother Martin’s background know that he was a champion college diver and he started out in Hollywood as a swimming instructor for contract players. I have to speculate that it was this background and his three previous collaborations with director Stuart Rosenberg, that produced this setting. Jay as Monk, does an elegant dive off of a diving board and perfectly hits the water. He then gracefully swims across the pool, but as he starts back, Bronson’s Conger is there with a life hook on a long pole and he uses it to pull Monk underwater. What basically follows is the Bronson version of waterboarding with Strother as Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

chalie drowns jay

So, Charles Bronson walks through the picture, Rod Steiger hams it up, Jill Ireland is terrible I’m afraid, and Strother doesn’t quite get to steal the show, but he comes close with that one graceful dive.

Rooster Cogburn (1975)

Some sequels are simply not needed. The original “True Grit” was a success in 1969, and it won John Wayne a long overdue Academy Award. Six years later, his character from that film is revived, for one purpose only, to give two stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, an opportunity to work together. Although many other actors were considered in case John Wayne was incapable or a younger actress was available, the only reason to see this movie is the lone pairing of these two great stars.

The movie turns into a loose remake of “The African Queen” with Wayne in the Bogart role. While most of the film takes place on dry land in the old west, there is a sequence on a boat and that is where our featured actor appears. Strother plays “Shanghai McCoy” a sailor who has migrated into the interior and runs a ferry across a mighty river. The ferry is nothing more than a raft big enough to carry some horses, riders and maybe a wagon.

Rooster and Eula, the characters played by Wayne and Hepburn, actually Shanghai his ferry to take themselves downstream rather than merely across the river. Strother appears in only this one scene in the movie and his credit at the end of the film was not as a co-star but:

And

Strother Martin

Apparently Wayne complained about some of the dialogue in the film being awful, especially when they had to be repeated take after take. However, much of it has the antiquated cadence and inflection that was found in the original “True Grit” and was heavily praised in Charles Portis novel and the Coen Brothers version of the film.

McCoy: Do you know anything about rafts? There’s rough water down river.

Rooster Cogburn: I can ride. Can’t be much different.

McCoy: You ain’t no sailor. I can see that. Water is like a woman: sly and fickle. You gotta watch it every minute.

Rooster Cogburn: You a sailor?

McCoy: I was once. Shanghai McCoy’s my name. Been around the Horn, sailed the seven seas, seen everything, done everything, that’s how I know people are rotten. I’ve seen ’em all.

Eula: You’re wrong, old man. We’re made in God’s image, and goodness is in us. Even in you.

McCoy: Amazing! I never took you for a Bible-thumper.

Rooster Cogburn: Hold it. She is what she is ’cause she wants to be. That’s the way you take her. Like me.

McCoy: You’re wastin’ your time preachin’. You too, Sister. I’m a ship that can’t be salvaged.

When you put those words into the mouths of some of the great actors of the previous century, you get some sparkling moments. While some actors in the film appear to be barely making an effort because after all, who will be paying attention to their performance? Strother dives in with his usual gusto and nasally quality of voice and once again matches up well with the actors he is playing opposite of.

Jay made a half dozen pictures with the Duke and Wayne highly respected him. As far as I can tell, this was his lone role opposite Ms. Hepburn, and it does not seem as if he was planning on taking it lightly.

McCoy: You’re shippin’ out with a strange crew, captain.

Rooster Cogburn: I’ll match their mettle against most.

McCoy: I’m glad it’s your ship, not mine. Women can no more keep their mouths shut than a yellow-tailed catfish.

Rooster Cogburn: [pats McCoy’s stomach] Got to agree with you there.

In the original “True Grit” Strother appears as Col Stonehill, a more erudite conversational partner. He ends up on the losing end of matching wits with Kim Darby. His role in this film is much earthier and directly coarse, but still full of sideways insult and his peculiar vernacular.

The film is handsomely mounted with glorious locations that look beautiful on screen. Every time there is a wide vista, you will wish that they made movies like they did in the old days. That said, the story is repetitive and it meanders quite a bit as it gets to the key set piece near the end. John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn, shooting the rapids and firing a Gattling gun at their enemies. Bogie would be proud.

The movie is full of well known character actors including Anthony Zerbe, Richard Jordon, Paul Koslo, Jack Colvin and others. It is however, as usual, Strother Martin who stands out and makes the movie worth watching at least once.

Jay also has a line that many of us might identify with, especially these days:

Rooster Cogburn: You ain’t very hospitable.

McCoy: I ain’t got an ounce of goodwill in me, and that’s a fact. I hate everybody. I’m a cantankerous old man, and I know it. I like myself better’n anyone I ever met, that’s how come I took this job – to be alone with me!

There is a character who knows himself.

 

Harper

Strothers Back
Strother Martin’s Back.

There is a bad joke here, but that’s just the way I roll sometimes. This project focuses on the work of Strother Martin, but sometimes his part in the film is a little flimsy so we may need to enhance the material a bit.  Harper is another Paul Newman vehicle, it was made right before “Cool Hand Luke” and it was the first of six collaborations with actor  Newman.

The film is a detective story from a Ross Macdonald novel. The film was written by the great William Goldman, and it tells a convoluted story of the kidnapping of a wealthy but somewhat crazy businessman. Newman is Lew Harper, (a change from the novel’s surname Archer), an L.A. private eye, hired by the man’s wife to find him. At first we don’t even know why he has gone missing. The film’s title sequence tells us all about the character of Harper. He is living in his office, and not living particularly well. He is sleeping on a fold out couch and the alarm goes off but he takes his sweet time to do anything about it. Once he gets up, he improvises a filter for the coffee maker, but he has no coffee to make, so he has to dig the grounds from the day before out of the garbage to be able to get his morning cup.

He takes the two hour drive north to “Santa Theresa” , where his appointment with the wife is. We are going to drop several; names in this post so get ready for a lot of character credits. Lauren Bacall is the crippled wife of the missing man. She does not particularly care about him, but she does want to outlive him and know what is going on. Like a lot of movies from the era, this film is all about character and plot often takes a back seat to the people we meet along the way. There is a nosy butler listening at doorways and an officious maid who looks down on Harper as the hired help, not really deserving of guest treatment.

Rich Ralph Sampson, the missing man, not the NBA great, has a personal pilot, an attorney and a daughter that all play suspects or red herrings in the story. The pilot is played by the very handsome Robert Wagner, and for the first half of the movie he seems to become a side kick to Harper, following him from location to location as he tracks down clues and interviews witnesses and suspects. The attorney who hired Harper for the Sampsons is Arthur Hill, a reliable presence in the 60s and 70s, but unfortunately he is frequently cast as the duplicitous type, so his appearance raises red flags everywhere.

Priest to Sun God

Strother is another side character that Harper interviews. “Claude” is a charlatan cult leader to whom the missing man has given a mountain top location for his ministry. As usual, the dialogue he utters is complicated and just slightly odd. It sometimes sounds strange to hear the hillbilly accent accompany the elegant phrases that he so grandiosely delivers. There are three scenes that he appears in, the first and longest is basically a running conversation as they do a walk and talk around the property. The hippy new age trappings mNewman At the Temple of the Cloudsake his mysticism sound even more bizarre. The property is indeed at the top of a mountain and it makes for some spectacular vistas as he and Newman joust in their conversation.

Claude: [as Harper is checking out the “Temple in the Clouds”]” I know you think me a charlatan. I can only say that if you were correct, then death could not claim me too quickly. You obviously have some strong connection with the Sampsons. Don’t deride me to them, I beg you. The gift of this temple was the beginning of my life. I know to you I look ridiculous, but I only want to increase the amount of love in this world. Where is the harm?

Earlier in the story, Harper meets an acquaintance of the missing man, a woman who for a time was a starlet but is now an alcoholic gone to seed. Shelly Winters must have been one of the most self aware actresses of her day. She started her career as another blonde looker but readily took parts that acknowledged her having ballooned up in looks from the early days.

Lew Harper: [asking about Fay Estabrook] She used to be a pretty hot young starlet. What happened to her?

Allan Taggert, Sampson’s Pilot: She got FAT!

She gets called fat at least two more times during the film and she has some unflattering but still realistic eating and passed out scenes where we learn exactly what happened to her.

Robert Webber is her husband, and it turns out he is partners with “Claude” in a side business. While he is a villain in the piece he is not the kidnapper. He does however get to torture heron addict and chanteuse Julie Harris. Strother returns here for a henchman’s comeuppance. Torturing Julie Harris

At one moment he is a grinning sadist but when his boss gets shot and the tables are turned, he silently switches quickly into a comforting bystander, as if he had no part in the horror that was just taking place.

Fast Turn

The weaselly nature of the character was suspected earlier but here it is in plan sight and Newman pistol whips him across the face for it.

janet Leigh and Harold Gould are also in this film. Leigh is Harper’s soon to be ex-wife, her role has absolutely nothing to do with the story but is does give us more character bits for Newman to play. Fellow character actor Gould plays the feckless sheriff that Harper avoids and insults on a regular basis. Roy Jensen, an actor that I recognized immediately from “Chinatown”, is another henchman and he gets a series of politically incorrect taunts about his sexual identity thrown at him by Harper.  Interestingly he plays a character  named Claude in that masterpiece.

No one will assume that this movie is a masterpiece but it is a diverting mystery with an eclectic bunch of characters, including the weird high priest of the Temple of the Sun.

Coastal temple