The year was 1973, and it was Sam Peckinpah’s last chance in Hollywood. Peckinpah had followed up his massively successful western epic The Wild Bunch with a series of films that, while all of quality, were marred by turmoil as a result of both Peckinpah’s increasingly severe alcoholism and his adversarial relationship with studio executives. His never-before-seen depiction of gritty violence was often the source of controversy, with many critics feeling that Peckinpah’s fiery brand of mayhem bordered on the nihilistic. While Bloody Sam loved to let the bullets fly on screen, his time behind the cameras also proved to be similarly combative, as he became notorious for his clashes with studios over budget constraints and shooting schedules.
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Consider this: a world without Animal House. Or Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.
I can’t fathom how much less happy my childhood would have been without any one of them. A life without all of them? Unimaginable.
And I know I’m not alone. This is Harold Ramis’s legacy: he brought humor and happiness—the real, enduring kind—to millions of people. In a world (then, now) that is full of quick hits, tweets, 15 seconds of fame, weekend blockbusters, and increasingly formulaic, artistically DOA drivel, and their inevitable, unending sequels, it’s worth noting, and celebrating, funny films that endure.
It started out life as Slaughter (or The Slaughter, depending on who you believe), a low budget exploitation attempt to bring some contemporary content to the fading motion picture genre. Two of the legitimate legends of the cinematic category - Roberta and Michael Findlay of The Touch of Her Flesh, The Curse of Her Flesh, and The Kiss of her Flesh fame - took $30,000 and a flight down to Argentina to craft a crappy knock-off of the still making headlines Manson Family. Featuring an enigmatic leader named Satan (with an accent over the second “a” to avoid the obvious name reference) and a drugged out glamor girls, the infamous filmmakers came up with 80 minutes of mind-numbing boredom. Even their simulated softcore sex scenes failed to ‘arouse’ much interest.
No movie was ever made worse by the late Dennis Farina, and many were drastically improved. One of the more memorable character-actor foot soldiers who stolidly slog through the trenches of TV and Hollywood, he brought chiseled grit, a dandyish gleam (that high grey hair, the wiseguy suits), and a puckish sense of trickery to each of his performances. Dialogue that would sound like second-hand mobster mush out of somebody else’s mouth was given a vinegary snap in his. For a certain kind of appreciator, his appearance was always a cheer-worthy event, much like what happens when a particular breed of fanboy spots Ron Perlman on screen. When Farina showed up, it was pretty much always as a cop, ex-cop, hustler, or heavy; there were not many romantic interludes in his resume.
The archetype of cool in French director Jean-Pierre Melville’s cinema, for most, is the fedora-and-trenchcoat wearing killer Jef Costello in the 1967 policier Le Samourai. While Alain Delon’s performance was a trend-setter for the gangster film, I would argue Melville’s finest achievement came five years earlier, in 1962. Le Doulos (meaning “the hat” or “the one who wears the hat”, signifying a police informant) is perhaps Melville’s strongest noir, despite the fact he would make many more later into his career; Le Deuxieme Souffle and Le Cercle Rouge in particular stand out.