What’s surprising to modern audiences is how adult “The Hustler” feels more than a half-century after it first hit theaters.
I’m not talking in terms of violence, sex or language. Released in 1961, “The Hustler” was released under the watchful eye of the Motion Picture Production Code, so any mature material had to be careful hidden. But the movie feels adult in a way that few movies from that era can match. The characters seem like grown-ups, their lives seem lived-in and their problems aren’t something that will be solved when the end credits roll.
Last week, on Out of Theaters, we focused on “Fight Club.” The week before, “Seven.” And this week, it’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” And you could argue that, of the three movies, “Glengarry Glen Ross” is the most violent of them all. It’s not physical violence, like in “Fight Club” or “Seven.” There are no punches thrown, and no one’s body is left bloody and shattered on the floor of the sales office. But on an emotional level? It’s one of the most brutal movies ever made.
Here’s the one thing you need to know about “Fight Club”: It’s a comedy. Forget the violence, and the anti-consumerist message, and all the scenes involving testicular cancer support groups, defiling of food and brutal, underground boxing. When you get right down to it, it’s just a buddy comedy about two mismatched friends trying to make their way in this crazy world.
There are hundreds of serial killer movies, but none of them is quite like “Seven.” It’s not the first, (Fritz Lang’s 1931 thriller “M” predates “Seven” by more than six decades, but even it wasn’t the first). It’s not the most acclaimed. (“The Silence of the Lambs,” which arrived four years earlier, took home five Oscars, including Best Picture, Actor and Actress). It’s not even the most realistic. (“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” made almost a decade earlier, is so true-to-life that it’s almost unwatchable at times.) But “Seven” is arguably the best of the bunch.
During a notorious moment in “Rosemary’s Baby,” Rosemary cries out in alarm, “This is no dream! This is really happening!” And that’s the brilliance of Roman Polanski’s 1968 thriller. He takes what is, admittedly, a pretty ridiculous story about a coven of elderly Satan worshippers on New York’s Upper West Side and makes you think that it’s really happening. His method? He plants the film firmly in the real world, full of struggling actors and annoying neighbors and respected obstetricians.
If you know the movie “Network” at all, it’s probably from this single line of dialogue: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” That’s fine. It’s a great line, definitely the line of the movie, as well as being the mission statement of not just Howard Beale, the anchorman slipping into madness, but the man who created him, playwright and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. Plus, it’s not really a “single line.” It’s repeated again and again throughout the movie, first by Beale himself, then by viewers all over American who shout it out their windows, and finally by Beale’s studio audience, reciting it as a cheap catchphrase, one that’s lost all the bite and bile it once had.
Hollywood loves a self-portrait, as long as it’s a flattering one. And that’s the problem — and the genius of “Sunset Blvd.” The 1950 classic isn’t a glowing valentine to the movie industry; it’s a bitter, nasty picture of how Hollywood chews up and spits out the people who make its existence possible: struggling screenwriters, good-hearted studio employees and, most of all, forgotten stars of the silent era.
It’s hard to remember, given that we’re in the middle of the most insane election season the country has ever seen, but this isn’t the first time a presidential campaign has had its share of crazy. Eight years ago, when President Barrack Obama was first making his run at the White House, things were pretty newsworthy as well. Obama, the first African-American to lead a major party ticket, was battling Hillary Clinton, the first woman to lead a major party ticket, for the Democrat nomination. What’s more, Sen. John Edwards was fighting for that same prize — until he was politically ruined by a sex scandal.
Hollywood had been making gangster movies since the days of the silents, but it wasn’t until “The Godfather” arrived in 1972 that a gangster movie finally felt real. Part of the reason was the cast. In the classic era, Hollywood gangsters were played by actors who tended to be Irish (James Cagney), Jewish (Edward G. Robinson, aka Emmanuel Goldenberg) or upper class WASP (Humprey Bogart, believe it or not).
Back in 1994, two movies dominated the cultural conversation. “Forrest Gump” won the Oscars, and “Pulp Fiction” changed the industry, but somehow, when no one was looking, another film released in that year became the favorite movie in the whole wide world.