Sitting under the gallows: “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)

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By Scott Ross Late in John Huston’s just about perfect adaptation of The Maltese Falcon Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade tells his unreliable paramour Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) that they have to get their stories straight for the police who will arrive within minutes. In Spade’s memorable phrase, “We’re both of us sitting under the gallows!” Huston in his…

Knight-errant on a mean street: “The Big Sleep” (1946)

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  “What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on the top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that, oil and water were the same as wind and air…

What gold makes of us: “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948)

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By Scott Ross “It isn’t the gold that changes man, it is the power which gold gives to man that changes the soul of man. This power, though, is only imaginary. If not recognized by other men, it does not exist.” — B. Traven, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre “That’s the gold. That’s what it…

Monthly Report: January, 2020

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By Scott Ross As my quarterly reports seem to be getting longer and longer, and because I’m watching more movies of late, I’m trying a monthly capsule in place of my usual quarterlies. At least this month. If I see fewer movies in future I may go back to the quarterly model, or perhaps a…

The wow finish: “Casablanca” (1942)

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By Scott Ross Probably the moviest of all movies, Casablanca was created in both control and chaos; its screenplay was a mishegoss, yet the picture is considered by many the prime exemplar of Hollywood studio system product. What’s made is still product, of course — indeed, has never been more obviously so — but there…

Necrology, 2019: Writers, Artists, Musicians, Singers and Composers

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By Scott Ross Although I am still in something of a state of disbelief over the deaths, in 2018, of Harlan Ellison and William Goldman who, although neither had published much of anything new in decades, remain among the American writers highest in my personal Pantheon, this past year —  as is increasingly the case…

Quarterly Report: October – December 2019

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By Scott Ross Note: For fuller reviews of some of the movies below, click on the highlighted titles. The Sign of Four / The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983) A pair of Sherlock Holmes adaptations by Charles Edward Pogue for British television starring the irreplaceable Ian Richardson which, while not precisely faithful to Conan Doyle, are…

Old Reliable: “Big Jake” (1971)

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By Scott Ross A good Western from John Wayne’s late period, with a sharp and even occasionally witty screenplay by Harry Julian Fink and R. (Rita) M. Fink, a characteristically robust Elmer Bernstein score and a typically savory performance by Richard Boone as the story’s mercenary central miscreant. It’s the sort of movie in which…

A kingly crown to gain: “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975)

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By Scott Ross John Huston famously wanted to make an adaptation of the 1888 Kipling story in the 1950s, to star Bogart and Gable as those incorrigible adventurers “Peachy” Carnahan and Daniel Dravot. He was ultimately persuaded to cast British actors in British roles — which seems so obvious an idea its efficacy shouldn’t have had…

The stylized elegance of social rot: “Chinatown” (1974)

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By Scott Ross Chinatown is one of those movies of the last great period of American pictures that, while not wildly successful at the box office, has since accrued to itself the luster of a pop masterpiece, one that rewards repeated viewings as only the great works do. The picture’s screenwriter, Robert Towne, based the background…