erik lundegaard

Wednesday October 20, 2021

If Anyone Would Like to Say a Few Words About the Deceased...

So this arrived yesterday via the usual social media circles. It's a eulogy for an American hero delivered by a former American president. And yet something seems slightly off about it:

Statement by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America

Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media. Hope that happens to me someday. He was a classic RINO, if even that, always being the first to attack other Republicans. He made plenty of mistakes, by anyway, may he rest in peace!

I know we expect nothing from this fuckstick, and so the notion that he would release the above a few days after the death of Colin Powell isn't exactly news. But it is news. Because former American presidents have never acted this way before. This is how Trump got away with it in office. He'd do this kind of shit, the mainstream press wouldn't cover it, thinking it wasn't news, and then he could do it again. On social media, his detractors would gasp, his supporters would guffaw, and on he'd go. There were no consequences. World without end. 

I'm curious if any of his inner circle tried to prevent the statement's release? Or tried to edit it? “Mr. President, that first sentence doesn't quite make sense. I think you mean infamously rather than famously, and either way it gets in the way. I think it's smoother without. And I'd excise that whole second sentence. Don't make it about you—I know, but don't—and also aren't you implying that once you've died you hope the press will forgive all the big mistakes you've made? Yes. That's what you're implying. You're implying big mistakes, famous mistakes, on your part. And why repeat the mistakes thing in the last sentence? The whole statement is pretty short and you're already repeating yourself? I'd also lose the anyway, which is childish, and the exclamation point, ditto. I mean, the whole thing is childish. It's petty and pathetic and shows the smallness of your soul. Sir.”

The New York Times didn't cover it, by the way. Not news.

Posted at 12:57 PM on Wednesday October 20, 2021 in category Media   |   Permalink  

Sunday October 17, 2021

2021 MLB Postseason: I Should Be Rooting for the Braves But I'm Not

We've got four teams remaining in the 2021 Major League Baseball season and I'm trying to figure out who to root for. 

Normally I'd root for the team with the longest drought. Here's what it looks like when you figure out each team's last pennant/last World Series title:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 2020/2020
  • Houston Astros: 2019/2017
  • Boston Red Sox: 2018/2018
  • Atlanta Braves: 1999/1995

No brainer. I should be rooting for the Braves.

How about historically? Total number of pennants/titles:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 21/7
  • Boston Red Sox: 13/9
  • Atlanta Braves: 9/3
  • Houston Astros (est. 1962): 3/1

This one's trickier—but, as an aside, it is fascinating that the Red Sox have done so well in the World Series. Every time they went in the first 20 years of a century they won: 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, and then 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018. It was the other 80 years when things fell apart. Maybe that's a reason to root for them? See them finally win a Series in the last 80 years of a century?

The Dodgers are the opposite. They have more NL pennants than anyone but failed in 2/3 of those—mostly because they lost their first seven in a row. Since 1955, they're .500. 

Braves? They're their own brand of pathetic. They never amounted to much in the early days and played second fiddle to the Red Sox in Boston. They've moved three times and have one title per city: Boston in 1914 (moved after the '52 season), Milwaukee in 1957 (moved after the '65 season), Atlanta in 1995. Most of their pennants, five of the nine, are from the 1990s, when they were good, with an out-of-this-world pitching staff, but couldn't close the deal. I would argue that the one time that team did win it all was against the best team they faced—the '95 Indians.

Anyway, historically, it's Astros or Braves.

How about payroll? I like rooting for have-nots.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: $267 million/1st overall
  • Houston Astros: $194 million/4th
  • Boston Red Sox: $184 million/5th
  • Atlanta Braves: $147 million/12th

The Braves aren't exactly have-nots but their payroll is half that of the Dodgers. So: Braves.

As for historical postseason rivalries? What matchup sounds the best? 

vs. Boston Red Sox Houston Astros
Atlanta Braves   1997-Division 1999-Division 2001-Division 2004-Divison 2005-Divison
Los Angeles Dodgers

1916-Series 2018-Series

1981-Division

Astros were NL until the 2013 season and mostly a punching bag. They faced the Dodgers in 1981 in a true division matchup (split season: winner of the first half vs. winner of the second half), won the first two games and then lost the next three. Against the Braves, they lost in '97 (three and out), lost in '99 (four and out), lost in '01 (three and out again), before finally turning the tables in '04 and '05. Astros fans, I'm sure, remember, and wouldn't mind having another shot at the Braves. Revenge is a dish best served in the World Series. 

The Dodgers and Red Sox first faced each other in 1916, when the Dodgers were called the Brooklyn Robins (after manager Wilbert Robinson) and the Red Sox pitching rotation was anchored by a young phenom named Babe Ruth, who, in Game 2, gave up an inside-the-park homer to Hi Meyers in the 1st inning, then put up goose eggs for the next 13 innings until the Red Sox won it in the bottom of the 14th. In 1918, Ruth ran his scoreless innings streak to 29 2/3—a World Series record until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961. (“A bad year for the Babe,” someone quipped.) That fifth title for the BoSox, a record at the time, wasn't matched until the Athletics won their fifth in 1930; then the Yankees in '36, the Cardinals in '44 and the Giants in '54. The Dodgers didn't win their fifth title until 1981. Eight of the original 16 teams, and 22 teams overall, have never won five titles.

Oh, and they faced each other again 102 years later, in the David Price-Steve Pearce World Series. Boston won in five.  

But the coolest matchup to me would be the two teams who haven't faced each other, both of whom started out in Boston: the one-time Boston Americans (now Red Sox) vs. the one-time Boston Red Stockings, Red Caps, Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers and Bees (now Braves). 

So to recap who I should root for:

  • Recent: Braves
  • Historical: Braves, Astros
  • Payroll: Braves
  • Matchups: Braves, Red Sox

So it's pretty obvious: I should be rooting for the Braves.

And yet I find myself rooting against the Braves, and with a passion. And here's the reason: The tomahawk chop. I hate the thing.

And it isn't even original to them? It started at Florida State for the Seminoles? Then migrated to KC for the Chiefs before Braves fans, with hints from the organist, adapted it for the '91 team? 

It is effective, I admit: this repetitive warlike chant resounding throughout a stadium of 50,000 people. It's just embarrassing. In an age when the Washington football team has dropped “Redskins” and the Cleveland baseball team has opted for “Guardians,” this Atlanta team is still known as the “Braves” and its mostly white fanbase still chants the “tomahawk chop.” The less we hear of this thing, the better. 

Anyway, against all logic, I find myself rooting for the Boston Red Sox. Maybe because that's the one champion that'll annoy Yankees fans the most? The Red Sox would be the third team to 10 titles, following the Yankees (who won their 10th in 1943) and Cardinals (2006). They'd truly be the team of the 21st century, with five pennants and five titles. (Second-best Giants have four pennants and three titles). And they'd finally break the back-80 jinx. 

Posted at 12:56 PM on Sunday October 17, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday October 14, 2021

Is the Best Story a Gangster Story? In the Early Days of Oscar, Yes

I came across this recently on IMDb and did a double-take. Oscar certainly seemed to like early Cagney:

Three of his first six movies got nom'ed for Best Original Story? Wow. But it turns out, original story was loaded with gangster movies in the early days—“Underworld” (1927) and “Manhattan Melodrama” (1934) even won. And among Cagney movies, it's the most commonly honored, and in six of the eight he plays a gangster:

  • 8: Original Story: “The Doorway to Hell,” “The Public Enemy,” “Smart Money,” “G-Men,” “Angels with Dirty Faces,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “White Heat,” “Love Me or Leave Me”
  • 7: Music/Score: “Something to Sing About,” “The Strawberry Blonde,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Johnny Come Lately,” “West Point Story,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Ragtime”
  • 4: Picture: “Here Comes the Navy,” “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Mister Roberts”
  • 4: Cinematography: “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Captains of the Clouds,” “One, Two, Three,” “Ragtime”
  • 4: Supporting Actor: “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Come Fill the Cup,” “Mister Roberts,” “Ragtime”
  • 3: Actor: “Angels with Dirty Faces,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Love Me or Leave Me”
  • 3: Art Direction: “Captains of the Clouds,” “Blood on the Sun,” “Ragtime”
  • 3: Sound: “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Mister Roberts”
  • 3: Screenplay: “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Seven Little Foys,” “Man of a Thousand Faces” 
  • 2: Editing: “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy”
  • 2: Director: “Angels with Dirty Faces,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” 
  • 2: Song: “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Ragtime”
  • 1: Assistant Director: “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” 
  • 1: Supporting Actress: “Ragtime”
  • 1: Costume Design: “Ragtime”

Worst among the nominations? Picture for “A Midsummer Night's Dream” or screenplay for “Man of a Thousand Faces.” Most overlooked? What should've been nominated? Cagney for “Public Enemy” and Henry Fonda for “Mister Roberts.” 

Posted at 12:30 PM on Thursday October 14, 2021 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Monday October 11, 2021

Movie Review: A Slight Case of Murder (1938)

WARNING: SPOILERS

This again?

I don’t mean Edward G. Robinson playing a gangster, since he was supposed to do that. He played eight of them between “Little Caesar” and this. I'm talking something more specific: Robinson, in a comedy, playing a gangster boss who tries to go legit after Prohibition is repealed in 1933 and runs into trouble.

In “The Little Giant,” from ’33, Robinson played “Bugs” Ahearn, who decides to take his Prohibition-era dough and scram to LA/Hollywood, and mingle with the jet-set there. The joke is he thinks he’s entering refined society but they’re actually bigger crooks than he is.

In this one, he plays Remy Marco, a Prohibition-era gangster who decides, after repeal, to keep selling his beer legally. The joke is he doesn’t know his beer sucks, and, with tons of legal options, no one will buy it. Thus: trouble. 

Runyonesque
“A Slight Case of Murder” is based on the play by Howard Lindsay and Damon Runyon—Runyon’s only theatrical production—which ran for 60 or so shows in the fall of 1935. It was basically contemporaneous with repeal so the “sucky beer” gag makes sense. Warner Bros. also makes “Slight Case” contemporaneous—but to the year it was released: 1938. Meaning Marco has been trying to sell his awful beer for five years? And no one’s told him? I had trouble getting past that.

  • “Say, you mugs, why aren’t we selling anything?”
  • “Well, the beer sucks, boss.”
  • “What are saying about Marco’s beer?”
  • “I’m saying it’s no good, boss.”
  • Sips. Spits. “Say, you’re right! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

We get a scene like that but way, way too late. As a gag, I’ll buy his ignorance for a month or two. But five years? The gag loses its fizz and loses my interest.

That’s one aspect of the plot: Marco wheeling and dealing to keep the bank from seizing his brewery because he’s selling sucky beer and doesn’t know it. (Robinson is good, by the way, at drawing out the comedy of a man super confident in what everyone else knows is wrong.)

Marco’s financial troubles necessitate calling back his daughter, Mary (Jane Bryan), from her studies in France, and they all decide to meet at their Saratoga home in Upstate New York. And she’s got news: She’s engaged to the well-heeled Dick Whitewood (Willard Parker), who, feeling he should have some kind of job, gets one with the police. But his attempts to introduce himself at the Saratoga home are constantly rebuffed by Marco and his gang (Allen Jenkins, Edward Brophy, Harold Huber, an All-Star assemblage of Warner Bros. character actors), who assume he’s just another cop hassling them.

Remy brings with him an orphan from his former orphanage—a kid named Douglas Fairbanks Rosenbloom, played with “so’s your old man” charm by Bobby Jordan, one of the original Dead End Kids. Oh, and before they arrive, the nearby racetrack is robbed and the five crooks are hanging out with the dough at Marco’s home, upstairs, until one of them, the oddly named Innocence, panics and shoots the other four. 

All of this, plus Whitewood’s uptight dad at Marco’s boisterous party, set the stage for madcap antics and misperceptions. You can definitely see the play in it. Once we arrive in Saratoga, I don’t think we move from the home.

Slight
I like the idea that finding four dead bodies upstairs isn’t a big deal for these gangsters, as it would be for most of us. In fact, they put the bodies to good use by depositing them on the doorsteps of Marco’s enemies. But once the gang finds out there’s a reward, dead or alive, the bodies are retrieved and stuffed in a closet upstairs.

Amid the chaos, order of a kind is restored. Marco uses the stolen racetrack money to convince the bankers he’s flush, so they extend his mortgage and his brewery is saved. He convinces his future son-in-law that the dead gangsters in the closet are alive and has him shoot them—and the kid becomes a hero in the process. A stray bullet from his jittery hand kills Innocence. The movie ends abruptly with Marco fainting at the news.

A standout is Ruth Donnelly as Marco’s wife, Nora, who is forever forgetting to put on airs and keeps returning to her plain-talking patois. But “A Slight Case of Murder” is just that: slight.

Posted at 07:36 AM on Monday October 11, 2021 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Saturday October 09, 2021

MLB to Fans: Drop Dead

This is the way it used to work when I was a kid in the 1970s.

You’d see your favorite team (in my case, the Minnesota Twins) on your local TV station (Metromedia Television 11), but not much of the rest of the league. Most home games were blacked out, if I recall, but you’d get a lot of the away games. There was also a “Game of the Week” every Saturday afternoon, hosted by Curt Gowdy, so you could see other teams, even National League teams. Then there was the postseason. I still remember running home from elementary school to catch World Series games in the afternoon but that changed rapidly. The first night-time World Series game was in 1971, Game 4, and TV ratings doubled (shocker), so the next season every weekday World Series game was played in the evening. Back then, the World Series was set up  2-3-2 and began on Saturday, so, assuming no postponements and seven games, plus two travel days, four of the seven were still day games. That changed in ’77 when they began to start the Series on a Tuesday. Now you’re down to two day games. And in ’85, when the LCSes went to best-of-seven and the Series start returned to Saturdays, MLB said screw it, night games all the time. The last day World Series game happened in 1987, Game 6, and that was apparently the result of fan pressure. Joke was on them: The game was played at the Metrodome.

Anyway, the point is, when I was a kid, you’d see other teams occasionally, and your team a lot.

This season I saw other teams a lot and my team barely. I saw other teams because I paid $29.99 a month for MLB.TV. I barely saw my team, the scrappy Seattle Mariners, who won 90 games despite a negative run differential and the worst team batting average in the Majors, because those games are blacked out on MLB.TV. I assume they’re blacked out because ROOT Sports Northwest has exclusivity within its market (five states, believe it or not: WA, OR, ID, MT and AK), and somehow MLB hasn’t brokered a deal with them so fans can have easy access to the team.

To watch the Mariners, I had three options:

  • Get cable again (fuck that)
  • Get a VPN and change my IP address so it’s outside those five states (I’m not much of a cheater, nor tech savvy, but I should’ve explored this better)
  • Stream the games via a DirecTV sports package for $84.99 a month (fuck that)

But at least I had the MLB.TV account and other teams.

Until the postseason. Then those games went away, too. Wednesday night, I contacted MLB’s customer service to ask why. Here’s the response I got, via text, after about a 15-minute wait:

Your subscription included only regular season games. To access postseason games, you must purchase a postseason subscription for MLB.TV and authenticate with a Pay TV provider.

When I asked for the names of Pay TV providers, they sent me this link with a throng of alphabet-soup companies: Among them, Arvig, Cox, DirecTV, RCN, ATT U-Verse, and Wow! (BTW: Isn’t Wow! in the first column the same as WOW! in the second? Can’t MLB at least hire a copy editor?) 

Of course, I didn’t have any of them. I was SOL.

But so is MLB, it seems. It has a dwindling fan base that skews old, fewer and fewer people have cable (down from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center), and MLB has made no good, easy way for that dwindling fan base to watch either their own team or the playoffs. Baseball is keeping its own fans from enjoying its own product. Remarkable.

But then, I don’t think the people running Major League Baseball think of fans like me as their customer base. Their customer base is Arvig, Cox, RCN, Wow!, etc. Keep them happy, they seem to think, and everything will be just fine.

Posted at 02:14 PM on Saturday October 09, 2021 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday October 07, 2021

Yanks Bounced Early, Suck

Sad Yankee fan, 2021

In the wake of their 6-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the one-game AL Wild Card playoff, Yankee fans are wringing their hands and calling for heads—chiefly manager Aaron Boone, but also GM Brian Cashman, pitcher Gerrit Cole, who didn't get out of the third inning (and whom the New York Post called Gerrit Bleepin' Cole and the staid New York Times refered to as the team's “nominal” ace), and assorted cast and crew—but one thing you can say for Boone: this team did better than it should have. By Pythagorean standards, they should've gone 86-76 instead of 92-70. They actually had the lowest run differential of any AL postseason team (+42) and the second-lowest, to the Cardinals' +34, of any of the playoff teams. Not sure if beating the Pythagorean speaks to smart managerial moves or just luck, but this definitely ain't your great-grandfather's Murderers' Row. 

You've got Aaron Judge, you've got Giancarlo Stanton sometimes. Both are .200/.300/.500 guys. The rest of the team? Most of the regulars were .200/.300/.300 this year. They're a dull three-outcome team: HR, BB, K. The Yanks were sixth in the Majors in HRs with 222; first in walks with 621; and sixth in strikeouts with 1,482. That's their game. Elsewhere, they ranked 23rd in team batting average, and a lot of that was just because of the dingers. If you break down the other hits, they ranked 20th in singles, 29th (to the Mariners) in triples, and, shockingly, dead last in doubles. The team they just lost to? The Red Sox? They finished first in doubles—clobbering 117 more than the Bronx Bombers. 

I know: Fenway. But generally the BoSox were a way better hitting team, ranking third in BA, sixth in singles, twelfth in triples and tenth in homers. They had a balanced offense. They had more than three outcomes. 

Me, I'm a huge fan of this outcome. Yes, I would've liked it more if the Yankees had missed the playoffs, or had a losing record, or, you know, gone 0-162; but I'll take it. The team's pennant drought now stands at 12 seasons, which ain't much for most teams, but is the second-longest pennant drought for the Yankees since the day they bought Babe Ruth in 1920. Only the shitty Steinbrenner years, 1982-1995, 14 seasons, eclipses it. Fun times. Take us out, Carey

Posted at 02:48 PM on Thursday October 07, 2021 in category Yankees Suck   |   Permalink  

Wednesday October 06, 2021

Personalized Algorithmic Amplification and Its Discontents

“Our social media feeds are full of unbidden and fringe content, thanks to social media's embrace of two key technological developments: personalization, spurred by mass collection of user data through web cookies and Big Data systems, and algorithmic amplification, the use of powerful artificial intelligence to select the content shown to users. ...

”When data scientists and software engineers blend content personalization and algorithmic amplification — as they do to produce Facebook's News Feed, TikTok's For You tab and YouTube's recommendation engine — they create uncontrollable, attention-sucking beasts. ... They perpetuate biases and affect society in ways that are barely understood by their creators, much less users or regulators. ... Social media platforms [also] have a fundamental economic incentive to keep users engaged. This ensures that these feeds will continue promoting the most titillating, inflammatory content.

“The solution is straightforward: Companies that deploy personalized algorithmic amplification should be liable for the content these algorithms promote. This can be done through a narrow change to Section 230, the 1996 law that lets social media companies host user-generated content without fear of lawsuits for libelous speech and illegal content posted by those users.

”As [Facebook whistleblower Frances] Haugen testified, 'If we reformed 230 to make Facebook responsible for the consequences of their intentional ranking decisions, I think they would get rid of engagement-based ranking.'“

-- Roddy Lindsay, ”I Designed Algorithms at Facebook. Here's How to Regulate Them," a guest editorial in The New York Times 

Posted at 07:46 AM on Wednesday October 06, 2021 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Tuesday October 05, 2021

Movie Review: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

WARNING: SPOILERS

You can’t get much more ’70s than this.

It’s a road movie about two mismatched grifters, filmed on location in the small towns of Montana, with dusty car chases, a drive-in movie, nudity and misogyny, and a plaintive Paul Williams song on the soundtrack. The heist goes wrong and no one wins. The ending is downbeat as the era required. 

This was Michael Cimino’s directing debut. His second film, “The Deer Hunter,” would win five Oscars, including best picture and director. His third was “Heaven’s Gate,” and there went his career—along with movie studios’ love/tolerance of auteur directors. That probably would’ve gone away anyway, when movies like “Jaws” and “Star Wars” showed the path, but “Heaven’s Gate” didn’t help. Cimino got to do this one because Clint Eastwood liked his screenwriting for “Magnum Force,” the second Dirty Harry movie, released a year earlier, and basically said “Have a go at it, kid.” Apparently Eastwood wanted to do a road movie.

The inspiration for the film is about as far afield from a ’70s road movie as you can get: a 1955 Douglas Sirk romance/comedy, “Captain Lightfoot,” starring Rock Hudson as the titular Lightfoot and Jeff Morrow as Captain Thunderbolt, a pair of Irish scallywags who have various adventures in 1815. But if you dig a little, there’s a connection of sorts. “Captain Lightfoot” was written by, and based upon a novel by, W.R. Burnett, who basically created the modern gangster tale (“Little Caesar”), and the modern heist tale (“The Asphalt Jungle”), and whose screenwriting credits include 1932’s “The Beast of the City,” starring Walter Huston as a police chief who takes the law into his own hands. That movie is often cited as a forerunner to, yes, “Dirty Harry.”

Bigger than ever
I’m glad I finally got around to watching “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.” It’s one of those movies  my cooler friends saw as kids and talked up all the way through high school. I avoided it for some reason.

It’s good. There’s artistry here. Some of the shots are just beautiful, and the main relationship is fun and off kilter. I love George Kennedy’s line by the river, “Boy, do I feel old,” as he sits there, crumpled. Clint plays a Clint character, but looser than normal. Apparently that was one of Cimino’s directives to Jeff Bridges: Keep Clint laughing.

Bridges would be the film’s only Oscar nomination, for supporting, and I assume he got this because of the scenes near the end, when Lightfoot is kicked in the head and begins suffering the effects of a traumatic brain injury. He starts slurring his words, his arm goes numb, and half his face goes slack. It’s impressive. Even so, for most of the film, I found Lightfoot annoying. He thinks he’s funnier than he is, wilder than he is. He’s just too much. When he spots that female motorcyclist and asks about her hot pants, and, mid-ride, she takes out a hammer and starts pounding dents into his truck, then rides off giving him the finger, he shouts, “You freak!” A second later he adds: “I love you, come back!” I just didn’t buy it. Or care for it. I don’t think there’s many guys like that, and the guys that are kind of like that I find boring.

Most of the movie is itinerant, going from place to place seemingly without reason. It opens on a small one-room church, where, from outside, we hear the singing of a hymn, even as a big American car drives by then doubles back. The driver is Red Leary (Kennedy), who enters the church and starts shooting at the preacher (Eastwood, a grifter in glasses and greased hair), who flees through nearby cornfields. At the same time, elsewhere, Lightfoot steals a white Trans-Am off a used-car lot, and this is our meet-cute for the title characters: Thunderbolt flags down Lightfoot’s car, then hangs on for dear life.

Why do they stick together? I guess the kid comes to admire Eastwood’s Korean war heroism, revealed by and by, while the kid amuses Eastwood. He likes his joie de vivre. They steal a car from a bickering middle-class couple at a gas station, shack up with two girls at a motel (one is Catherine Bach), eat at a diner. Red and his affable partner Eddie (Geoffrey Lewis) keep showing up: at a bus station, shooting at them outside the diner, and then in the backseat of their car outside a schoolhouse. How does Red keep finding them? No explanation. He's just there. Of all the places to be, he guesses right, again and again. This is one of the many reasons I’d make a bad Hollywood screenwriter: I want explanations for what 95% of the audience doesn’t even think about. Just keep it moving, kid.

After Red beats up Lightfoot, and Thunderbolt beats up Red, we get the full story to this seeming itinerancy. Years earlier, Red and Thunderbolt were part of a gang that pulled a successful bank robbery, but then: 1) their gang leader died; 2) the press reported the money had been found; 3) Red went to prison on an earlier charge and assumed Thunderbolt betrayed him. He’s finally set straight on this by the ass-whooping, I guess, and intrigued to learn the money was never found, then bummed that they stashed it in a one-room schoolhouse that no longer exists. A new, modern schoolhouse had been built in its place. 

It’s the kid who figures out the next step and the rest of the movie. Why not just rob the bank all over again? They know it worked once. Just do it again. Both Thunderbolt and Eddie are initially amused at the thought—particularly since Red thinks it’s screwy—but then realize, “Yeah … Why not?”

To get the money for supplies, they take working class/service sector jobs: Eastwood as garage mechanic, the kid as landscaper, Red as janitor, Eddie as ice cream vendor. Among the things they buy? A 20 millimeter Oerlikon cannon to bust through a wall. It’s both used by Thunderbolt and how he got his nickname. And though it’s a small part of the film, it’s also all over the movie posters. You thought a Magnum .44 was big? Check this shit out. It’s the movie’s unspoken tagline: Eastwood’s dick is back, and it’s bigger than ever!

Buying the serendiptiy
What really stands out, 50 years later, is the misogyny. This is the era after the sexual revolution but before women’s lib went mainstream—or before most men took a long dark look at themselves—so women are just there to ogle and fuck and forget. Their bodies are there to be monetized by Hollywood. On the landscaping job, a housewife teases/taunts Lightfoot by standing in front of him (and us) stark naked. There’s Catherine Bach and her friend, who, post-coital, cries rape when Eastwood won’t give her a ride home. There’s rape jokes. Our two heroes ogle a waitress’ ass and Red ogles two teens in the act. That female motorcycle rider had the right idea. 

The second heist works but the attempt to avoid detection in a drive-in goes awry when the ticket lady hears Red and Eddie in the trunk and call the cops. I assume she thinks they’re trying to sneak into the drive-in—as we did as teenagers? For some reason, the cops put two and two together rather quickly. Cue car chase and car crashes. The affable Eddie is shot and pushed out of the trunk by the increasingly nasty Red, who knocks out our title characters and takes the money. He kicks Lightfoot several times in the head for good measure, which is what leads to the brain damage. But Red gets his. Trying to escape, he crashes into a dept. store and runs into the vicious dogs he’d heard about as a janitor. They tear him apart.

As for our heroes? Back to itinerancy. They hitch rides and wander around, Lightfoot increasingly addled. Then we get a kind of glorious moment: In the middle of nowhere, they come across the one-room schoolhouse, which had been relocated as a national landmark, and find the original bank money behind the blackboard. Sure, you have to buy the serendipity of it all, not to mention that in moving the schoolhouse the blackboard was never moved or fell off. But it’s a fun idea: It’s not gone, it’s a landmark. Thunderbolt then buys the Cadillac he always wanted and in the manner he wanted (with cash), but at this point it’s too late for Lightfoot. He dies in the cradle of Thunderbolt’s arm. I couldn’t help but think of “Midnight Cowboy.” Cue Paul Williams.

The movie did well at the box office—17th-best for the year—but Eastwood felt it should’ve done better and blamed United Artists’ promotional campaign and never worked with them again. I’ve also read he felt upstaged by Bridges and felt he too deserved an Oscar nomination. To which I'd said: no. You're good, Clint, but not Oscar good. A man’s got to know his limitations.

Posted at 08:43 AM on Tuesday October 05, 2021 in category Movie Reviews - 1970s   |   Permalink  
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