Friday, August 31, 2012

Film Pairings — Suddenly An Albino Alligator or the Hostage Days of Summer

One of the reasons I like baseball is that it reminds me of summers in my childhood — hot, sunny days, lemonade, the sound of propeller airplanes in the sky and the sound of the wood-framed screen door slamming shut.  Fewer clothes and the world moving more slowly.  I also associate summer with baseball, a kind of slow, almost lazy sport.

Today, I watch the Giants whenever the game is on TV.  I look forward to it.  Maybe some fried chicken, baked beans and potato salad.  I also look forward to not having that intense commitment to the game as one might to basketball or football as it unfolds.  Baseball on radio was actually pretty good. Most of the time, I can look at a magazine, talk on the phone, or jot some notes down on a book I’m working on — all while the game goes on.  You can’t do that with other sports.

Sometimes I’m in the mood for movies like that.  Most of the time I’m looking for a film to take me completely away or draw me completely in.  I’ve written about them before here. A good, not quite spine-tingling, not obsessively engrossing story with competent writing and performances can, in the right mood, be desirable.  And here are two of them.

Both are hostage dramas.  Both have good casts.  Both should have been in black and white.  Only one of them was.

Frank Sinatra plays a tough, little hood in Suddenly (1954). Three thugs descend on a home inhabited by “decent folks,” in order to use the house’s strategic location to assassinate the President of the United States.  The film got and is still given pretty good reviews, though I suspect many younger viewers will see it not only as dated (and not stylishly so like The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca), but also stilted. It is considered by many to be in the “noir” tradition. I don’t think so. It is, in the end, hopeful and upholds the values promoted in the 1950s.  Sterling Hayden is the good-guy, male role-model sheriff.  One suspects J. Edgar Hoover approved.
Matt Dillon in Albino Alligator

Oddly enough, Suddenly was one of the first films to be colorized (I saw and recommend the b&w version).  Albino Alligator (1997), the other film on the double bill with hostages, should have been in black and white.  It is far more “noir” than Suddenly.  And the title, if not the story, should have motivated director Kevin Spacey to go retro in black and white.  As in most decent hostage films, the drama is about the interaction of those held in close quarters under stressful circumstances.  Reviewers have not been kind to this film with Faye Dunaway singled out for particularly bad acting. Certainly, there was nothing subtle about her performance. Others also saw it wasteful of the talents of Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise, Viggo Mortenson, Joe Mantegna and Skeet Ulrich.  I liked it.  I tend to like anything set in New Orleans, but it really didn’t matter in this case.  We spend all our time in a dark cellar bar, where we witness the appropriate disintegration of humanity and a genuine noir-style ending.

It’s definitely a beer night.  Any beer.  And if you get bored, switch over to a baseball game.

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