Short Ends and Leader

'Zig Zag' (1970)

He zagged when he shoulda zigged.

Zig Zag

Director: Richard A. Colla
Cast: George Kennedy, Eli Wallach
Distributor: Warner Archives
Rated: PG
Year: 1970
US Release Date: 2012-09-17

The title Zig Zag refers not only to the twisty plot but to the manner of its telling. The first act is handled elliptically, jumping around in time and allowing the audience to figure out what insurance agent Paul Cameron (George Kennedy) is up to. The film begins with his arrest surrounded by reporters and circles back to it, but before the credits we get a lengthy virtual documentary on the process of being booked; those who have been waiting all their lives for a George Kennedy nude scene have it here.

Through this highly edited approach of close-ups and wide shots, it gradually becomes clear that our protagonist has framed himself for the murder of an industrialist who was kidnapped a year ago. Once he's convicted, his wife (Anne Jackson, thankless role) will claim a hefty reward. He's doing this because he has a fatal brain tumor, so it's the most elaborate insurance scam in history. His attorney (Eli Wallach, Jackson's husband) is driven frantic trying to defend a man who seems unwilling to defend himself.

Naturally, there's a twist that causes Cameron to spend the rest of the movie as an amateur sleuth, trying to figure out who's really guilty of the millionaire's murder, and at that point the movie turns into a combination of noir-ish detective film and man-on-the-run thriller. This would seem to be the most stylistically ambitious film of TV director Richard A. Colla, who next helmed the Burt Reynolds police procedural Fuzz, based on Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels. Among his many TV movies, the most unusual is surely The UFO Incident and the last was Growing Up Brady, based on Barry Williams' memoir of The Brady Bunch. But now we're really zigzagging.

Reinforcing this movie's noir vibe is the jazzy, funky music from Oliver Nelson and unlikely support from jazz club owner William Marshall (Blacula) and singer Anita O'Day (largely wasted). Although this is only a throwaway entertainment, its ambitions and attitudes are very early '70s (which we can't explain further without spoiling it), and its sense of disorientation and fatalism has worn well. It's now available on demand from Warner Archive in a faded print.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.