erik lundegaard

Thursday May 23, 2019

Movie Review: Monos (2019)


“Monos” (“Monkeys”) is a beautifully shot movie about human ugliness. It’s about the thin veneer.

I like that there are no politics in it. You have the government fighting the Organization—the rebels living in the mountains and jungle. What does the government stand for? Who knows. How about the Organization? Got me. Both are just fighting. World without end.

Which is why, I suppose, our team of eight young rebels winds up betraying the Organization. Put your team in the jungle without an overarching ideology and their ideology becomes the law of the jungle. It becomes about survival—not against the government, who can’t reach them, but against you, who can.

The kids start out blind, playing a blindfolded game of futbol in the mountains, in order to, one assumes, attune their senses as well as their sense of teamwork. One assumes a lot in this, by the way, since writer-director Alejandro Landes doesn’t give us much or any exposition. We never find out anything about the eight kids, for example, beyond their code names and personalities. Where are they from? Why did they get involved? Were they kidnapped? Do they have family?

Or take Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). We first see her with the girls, Lady (Karen Quintero) and Swede (Laura Castrillon), by a mountain lake, with Swede insisting on braiding her hair. Doctora is older, and Anglo, and slightly off, and after a time we assume she’s a hostage, but it’s only by and by that we know this with any certainty.

Was she always there? Even during the blindfolded futbol game? It certainly adds to the world without end quality. There’s always a government, always being defied by rebels, who always have a hostage.

What we do see introduced to the group is a cow. Messenger (Wilson Salazar), an indigenous dwarf who shows up periodically as the Organization’s voice, presents it to the group with this caveat: It’s borrowed from a sympathetic farmer and must be returned to him after hostilities are over; if it isn’t, they will pay.

They pay. The morning after celebrating the wedding of the team’s tall, handsome leader, Wolf (Julian Giraldo), to Lady, the boys wake up late and shoot off their machine guns. A stray bullet from Perro (Paul Cubides), kills the cow. Distraught, Wolf kills himself, and Bigfoot (Moises Arias) takes defacto and then sanctioned control of the team, rallying it and protecting it with this lie: It was Wolf who killed the cow. Why not? Wolf is already dead, Perro gets off, the team continues. But the lie is the snake in the garden; if it was ever a garden.

We knew Bigfoot was trouble from the get-go. His eyes burned with anger, there was a slyness in his manner, a jealousy and need in his soul. Watching, I was thinking, “He looks like a scarier version of that American actor who was in ‘Kings of Summer’ and ‘Ender’s Game’ a few years ago.” Turns out it’s him. One wonders how his Colombian accent was. Or are they even in Colombia? Either way, he is by far the most veteran actor among the kids. For the rest, save Swede/Castrillon, this is their debut. 

Gummy bears
The movie never stops being tense in the way that “Lord of the Flies” never stops being tense. We wonder how low everyone will sink.

It’s a bit that but it’s more an internal collapse—the team eating itself. Suspicions and jealousies mount. The smallest, Smurf (Deiby Rueda), isn’t paying attention and lets Doctora escape. By this time they’re in the jungle and she has a tough time of it, and anyway since the camera follows her we assume she’ll be recaptured. She is. Messenger shows up again, and during a group confessional, a kind of struggle session, secrets spill out. Some are petty (“Lady only sleeps with powerful men”), but they keep getting worse until it’s revealed that Perro killed the cow and Bigfoot orchestrated the cover-up. Taken by boat back to Organization HQ, Bigfoot shoots Messenger in the back and returns for revenge against his betrayers. In the chaos, Doctora kills Swede and escapes, as does Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), who looks a bit like a girl because he is. Was he supposed to be a girl? Or trans?

One of my favorite moments: Rambo holes up with a family living on the edge of the forest but with all the amenities—house, electricity, TV—and on television they’re watching a report/documentary about Beethoven. “Ah, civilization,” I thought. Then it quickly becomes about the mass production of gummy bears. “Right. Civilization,” I thought.

We get some gorgeous shots in Monos," but do we learn much about humanity that we don’t already know? The descent isn’t particularly interesting to me; it’s the natural way. The true interest, the true struggle, is in the ascent.

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Posted at 08:24 AM on May 23, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Wednesday May 22, 2019

Movie Review: Sword of Trust (2019)

Sword of Trust review


Marc Maron is the best part of Lynn Shelton’s “Sword of Trust.” Maybe because his exasperation with people and the times mirrors mine. He’s past the point of caring but not quite. “The fuck is this?” he says at one point, unable to believe idiots believe in the things they do. He spoke for me.

The idiot things people believe in 2019 gets us back to the Philip Roth dilemma: How do you make credible American culture when the culture always outdoes the best efforts of our imaginations? When the culture itself is a satire? Roth complained that no novelist, for example could’ve dreamed up Richard Nixon, and he complained about this ... in 1962. Imagine if he could’ve seen ahead a dozen years. Imagine if he could’ve seen ahead to Reagan and Rush and W. and Alex Jones. And of course President Donald.   

So how do you do it? How do you create an American reality that seems both absurd and credible?

Shelton and co-writer Michael Patrick O’Brien (SNL”) do it by saying there’s a fringe group that believes the South actually won the Civil War.

You think about that for a second and go, “Yeah, that feels about right.” It feels so right that when you get home you go online to check that it’s not actually a thing. 

The Wiz
The story is pretty simple. Maron plays Mel, who runs a two-bit pawnshop in a lazy stretch of Birmingham, Ala., with a conspiracy-minded assistant, Nathaniel (Jon Bass of unfortunately “Baywatch”), helping, or mostly not, by his side.

Meanwhile, Cynthia (Jillian Bell) has just lost her father and assumes she’ll get his house, but, oops, the bank is taking that. The only thing for her is an old Civil War sword, which she and her partner, Mary (Michaela Watkins), try to sell at Mel’s pawnshop.

This particular sword plays heavy in the conspiracy theory that the South actually won the Civil War. The sword was there at the surrender of the North, or something, in 1881, and so suddenly there’s a bunch of loons descending on Mel’s pawnshop.

Just writing that makes me think the movie should’ve been funnier. Maybe with a bigger budget? As is, the loonish descent is just two lousy stickup men, and the guy who played “The Wiz” on that episode of “Seinfeld” (Toby Huss). Here, he’s Hog Jaws, repping an interested buyer.

The movie goes wrong in a couple of ways:

  • How much was improv? Parts felt that way, and those parts weren’t funny. Nathaniel’s whole “Flat Earth” society bit was just ... nothing
  • I didn’t buy that anyone in it lived in Alabama. Not Maron from Jersey, Not Bass from Texas, not Watkins from NY or Bell from Vegas. It was filmed in Birmingham but I didn’t feel Alabama at all. (Caveat: I’ve never been to Alabama.)
  • Hog Jaws says his buyer won’t visit their pawn shop; they have to get in the back of a van, like an unmarked police van, and meet him at his estate. And they go.

One, it’s a horrible negotiating move: You travel all that way, you kinda want to make the deal.  More important: He’s nuts. He believes the South won the Civil War. You could die. Who’s taking that risk? These people.

Toy Room
Anyway, it turns out that the buyer, Kingpin (Dan Bakkedahl of “VEEP”) doesn’t believe in alt South history anyway. Hog Jaws does, and when he overhears he pulls a gun on Kingpin. But others get the drop on him and he’s taken to the “Toy Room,” which is a supercreepy name straight out of “Pulp Fiction.” We never see it; thank god. Our heroes get out alive and with $40k.

There’s a subplot, too, about Mel being in love with an addict, played by Shelton. The movie ends on a grace note.

In the end, it feels too improv, too indie. But if you like Maron, go. He’s the show.

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Posted at 07:09 AM on May 22, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Tuesday May 21, 2019

Movie Review: Sink or Swim (2018)


In France they call it “Le Grand Bain,” or “The Big Bath,” and it’s basically “The Full Monty” meets that great 1985 SNL skit about men's synchronized swimming starring Martin Short, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer. A a group of out-of-shape, middle-aged underdogs get involved in synch swimming because nothing else is going right with their lives. It’s got some French nuance, yes, but also nasty/snooty relatives out of central casting who get told off twice by our heroes—the second time to cheers from the Seattle Internatonal Film Fest crowd. Then it gets even more Hollywood. In an international competition in Norway, our heroes not only go the distance (see: “Rocky”), not only win (“Rocky II”), but win over the foreign crowd (“Rocky IV”).

Kind of disappointing.

Afterwards, my wife called it a pretty good feel-good movie, and she’s right, but even she was shocked when I told her it got nominated for 10 Cesars last year (including best director and best film), and won one (best supporting actor). 

You get a story...and you get a story
It begins well, with a voiceover from our lead, Bertrand (Mathieu Amalric), a depressive, unemployed father of two, talking about the circles at the beginning of life (earth, sun, womb, etc.), and the squares at the end of it (casket, tombstone, etc.), before getting into the whole “can’t fit a square peg into a round hole” bit. Then our story begins. With him.

Today’s the day Bertrand is supposed to begin work again, or apply for a job, or something, after a year or two fighting depression. His kids don’t respect him, his wife, Claire (Marina Fois), is losing patience, and he’s got that hopeless faraway look in his eyes that Amalric can do standing on his head. Then he sees a flyer about a men’s synchronized swim team and tears off one of the phone-number stubs.

Why is this the answer to his ennui? He tries to explain it to the chain-smoking, alcoholic, but still quite lovely female instructor, Delphine (Virginie Efira), who was once a competitive synch swimmer herself, but he doesn’t have the words. Maybe the screenwriters don’t, either. They just need the thing to happen for the movie to move forward. 

Delphine’s team is already full of men for whom life didn’t turn out as planned:

  • Laurent (Guillaume Canet, the French Patrick Dempsey), who has a hair-trigger temper, a son who stutters (because of dad’s hair-trigger temper), and a mother suffering dementia
  • Marcus (Benoit Poelvoorde) is an unethical scamp whose pool/hot tub business is about to go bankrupt
  • Thierry (Philippe Katerine, our Cesar winner) is a quiet, good-natured sort whom everyone, particularly Marcus, takes advantage of
  • Simon (Jean-Hugues Anglade), who has self-published 17 rock CDs without success, works in a lunchroom in the high school his superpretty daughter, Lola (Noée Abita), attends, and lives in an RV...but not down by the river
  • Basil (comedian Alban Ivanov) has been denied a mortgage because he’s too old at 38. That’s pretty much all we know about him. He's kind of one-note
  • Avanish (Balasingham Thamilchelvan) is also one-note: He doesn't speak French, but Basil responds to his comments as if everyone understands

I thought the movie's focus would be Bertrand but it is a true ensemble. We see Laurent’s wife and child leave him. We see him visiting his addled, abusive mother in a home, then bring her home to live with him—where she, in her dementia, continues to verbally abuse him. At least there’s that; at least she doesn’t get better because he puts in the effort. We don't get that lie. 

We see Marcus struggle to keep his business afloat, going so far as to burn a company van to collect the insurance, but not realizing he’d stopped paying the insurance months earlier. Not a bad bit.

Simon plays a rock concert for geriatrics while Thierry is abused by jocks at the pool where he works. Oh, and Delphine isn’t just a chain-smoker who wound up in AA through the love a good man. No, she's actually stalking that man, a married man, who pleads angrily to leave him alone. An interesting turn. For a time, she’s replaced by Amanda (Leila Bekhti), a martinet in a wheelchair, who whips them in shape. Well, “shape.” They’re still fairly doughy at the end. 

Is this too many storylines? Each gets a bit but none goes deep. Some are played for laughs, some for pathos. Bertrand goes to work for his asshole brother-in-law in a sad furniture shop, takes his abuse with an increasingly astonished look in his eyes, until we get a worm-turns moment when he tells him exactly what he thinks of him, his furniture and the shop. Then they take it outside. Cut to: A shot of the two of them, through the window, silently and ineptly grappling with one another. That was good; that made me laugh. It’s when Bertrand’s wife, who hasn’t exactly been supportive of her husband, tells off her snooty sister in a grocery store—to actual cheers from the SIFF crowd—that I began to shake my head. Make it funny or go home. 

All of it leads to a male synch competition in Norway, which somehow they‘re able to enter as the French national team. The other teams are young, fit and well-financed, while our guys are not, not and not. They’re in a sweaty panic; but then they perform perfectly. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, to be honest. That they wouldn’t embarrass themselves mostly. But the movie has them win the whole thing. They come back to their small northern town with gold medals. 


The sure thing
Apparently this French version, and a British version starring Rob Brydon that came out the same year, were both inspired by a 2010 documentary, “Men Who Swim,” which IMDb describes thus:

A humorous and poignant film about a group of middle-aged men who find unlikely success as members of Sweden's all-male synchronized swim team 

A Hollywood version seems inevitable, but who to cast? In the French version, because the men are over-the-hill, their best days back in the 1980s, they cast actors who were stars in the ’80s. That would make sense for the Hollywood version, too, and there’s a host of options: John Cusack, Matthew Broderick, Ralph Macchio, Emilio Estevez, on and on. If you allowed Delphine to be older, Holly Hunter would be perfect.

I just hope Hollywood's version is less Hollywood than the French one. 

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Posted at 07:14 AM on May 21, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
Sunday May 19, 2019

And Then There Was One

“Staunch libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on Saturday said — or rather, tweeted — what no other Republican member of Congress has yet had the nerve to utter: President Trump committed impeachable acts that Attorney General William P. Barr tried to downplay by misrepresenting the Mueller report, and Republicans are too partisan to do anything about it and too lazy to even read the report.”

— Jennifer Rubin, in the lede to her Washington Post Op-Ed, “Why Justin Amash Stands Alone.” She breaks the GOP, who continue to support Trump despite impeachable offenses, into three groups: the cynics who want their judges and/or tax cuts; the scaredy cats who fear GOP ostracisism, not to mention being primaried; and the nuts who actually buy the extremism that Trump is selling. Rubin says this third group is unfortunately bigger than many Americans could ever have guessed. 

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Posted at 12:55 PM on May 19, 2019 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Whoa! ‘Wick 3’ Debuts at $57 Million, Toppling ‘Avengers’

I haven't seen any of the John Wicks but they sure are getting popular. The first one opened to $14 mil in Oct. 2014, the second doubled that debut ($30), and the third has now doubled it again ($57, est.) and in the process unseated “Avengers: Endgame” for No. 1 domestic box office champ of the weekend. “Chapter Two” also doubled the total gross of the first ($43 —> $92), and if that pattern holds, well, now you‘re starting to talk real Hollywood money.

Whoa, as someone might say. 

But the real real Hollywood money is still in the superhero genre—particularly the MCU. “Endgame” fell 53%, adding another $29.4, for a domestic total of $770, which is enough to push past “Avatar” ($760) for the second-biggest domestic movie (unadjusted) of all time. If you adjust, “Endgame” is 23rd all-time, ahead of the biggest movie of the 1940s, “Fantasia” ($748), and knocking on the door of Ben and Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” at No. 22 ($771). 

Since it looks like Earth’s Mightiest Heroes won't catch “Force Awakens” at $936 on the unadjusted chart, the adjusted chart is more fun to contemplate. Where might it stop? It‘ll need another $35 mil to pass “The Sting” to get into the top 20; that seems likely. But another $100 mil to pass “Avatar”’s adjusted gross of $876 to get into the top 15? Probably not. For the curious, to get to No. 1, “Avengers: Endgame” will need another $1 billion domestic to pass “Gone with the Wind”'s adjusted take of $1.8 billion. 

Worldwide, I'm not seeing much movement. Have the international numbers not come in yet? “Endgame” is at $2.564 billion, “Avatar” at $2.788. 

Among the other supers in release, “Captain Marvel,” in 14th place, added another $727k for $425 domestic, which is sixth-best in the MCU—after four “Avengers” movies and “Black Panther.” In 15th place for the weekend, the DCEU's “Shazam!” added $680k for a domestic total of ... wait for it ... $137, which would be great for a “John Wick” movie but abyssmal for a modern superhero movie. Among the seven DCEU movies, it ranks last (previous low: “Justice League” at $229), and among the 22(!) MCU movies, it would rank 21st, ahead of only the Ed Norton “Incredible Hulk” from 2008, which grossed $134 domestic. That's why not another “Hulk” movie; and sadly, probably why not another “Shazam!,” which had the advantage of being funny.

Elsewhere, “Pikichu” picked up another $24 for a 10-day total of $94 and a worldwide total of $206; and a “A Dog's Journey,” sequel to “A Dog's Purpose,” opened at $8 mil, less than half of what its predecessor opened to in Jan. 2017. Maybe they should‘ve kept this franchise in January. 

Dying in “Endgame”’s wake? Rom-coms and buddy/chick flicks, seemingly. After two weekends, “The Hustle” (Hathaway/Rebel Wilson) has grossed $23, and after three weekends “Long Shot” (Theron/Rogen) has grossed $25. Meanwhile, “The Sun Is Also a Star” (impossibly good-looking newbie actors/models on a 24-hour rendezvous with not being deported), eked out just $2.6 million in 2,000+ theaters in its debut. Are any worth seeing? Of the three, only “Long Shot” (81%) wasn't rotten; and its premise seemed so absurd to me (Theron running for president and potentially interested in Seth Rogen) that I never considered it. “Hustle” seemed more fun but it landed at 15% on RT. Ouch. 

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Posted at 11:32 AM on May 19, 2019 in category Movies - Box Office   |   Permalink  
Saturday May 18, 2019

SIFF Opening Night 2019: Worth It?

Yesterday at a SIFF screening of the French film “Sink or Swim” (think: “Full Monty” meets the 1985 SNL skit about synchronized swimming), I asked a friend whether she'd gone to SIFF's opening night the night before. She said she hadn't and kind of made a face. I said, “Yeah, sometimes I wonder why we do it. Basically we‘re paying exorbitant prices to dress up in uncomfortable clothes and fight rush-hour traffic in order to watch a movie in a venue not made for movies. And the movies often suck.”

“But, it’s good, it's good,” to quote Shrevie.

Before this year's show, talking with another patron in the McCaw Hall lobby, I initmated Patricia and I had been doing Opening Night for about 10 years now. I just did the math and ... nope. We did 2011 (“The First Grader”), missed 2012 (Lynn Shelton's “Your Sister's Sister”), but have been ever since. So seven years running. What have we seen in those seven years?

Odd mix. I like it when they get all Seattle on us (Jimi Hendrix; Lynn Shelton), but of those six titles I'd probably only wholeheartedly recommend “The Big Sick.”

BTW: You know how long ago three years ago was? That was when SIFF opened with a Woody Allen movie. No way that's happening now. Not from an org that begins every festival with the morally self-congratulatory and ultimately meaningless declaration, “SIFF acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people.” BTW: You capitalize “Indingenous”? Is that right?

This year's opener was “Sword of Trust,” also by Lynn Shelton, and starring Marc Maron, which I hope to write about soon—if for no other reason than so I don't forget about it. Maron was good. Parts were funny. I would like to hear it in a smaller, less echo-y venue.

The opening night after-party was odd and a bit skimpy. Same venue but with much less food (one food truck outside rather than six), and a red carpet/VIP area that seems at odds with SIFF's supposedly moral stances. “SIFF acknowledges that we are partying on Indigenous land, away from the rest of you, and isn't it a blast.”

For the month-long fest, Patricia and I have a list of about 10 movies to see together (including: “X: The Exploited,” “Blinded by the Light,” “Putin's Witnesses,” “Cities of Last Things” and “Meeting Gorbachev”), and I have about five more solo projects (mostly Chinese films like “One Child Nation” and “A Family Tour”), but let me know if you hear anything good. Always interested in seeing something good. 

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Posted at 08:31 AM on May 18, 2019 in category Seattle   |   Permalink  
Thursday May 16, 2019

Movie Review: The Whole Town's Talking (1935)


It’s got a great premise—particularly for early 1930s Warner Bros.

A mild-mannered clerk, Arthur Ferguson Jones (Edward G. Robinson), turns out to be a doppelganger for Public Enemy No. 1, Killer Mannion (also Edward G. Robinson), and antics ensue.

If Hollywood made it today, it would become a “worm turns” movie. That’s what I assumed this would be. Maybe Jones is mistaken for Mannion, or maybe Mannion threatens him and menaces his family and friends; and that’s when Jones finally develops courage and initiative and shows the world what he’s made of.


  • Jones is mistaken for Mannion
  • Mannion menaces his family and friends
  • The worm never turns, he just lucks out

This is particularly odd given that the female lead, Miss Clark (Jean Arthur), the gum-crackin’, wise-talkin’ gal in the office, thinks he’s more than a mild-mannered clerk. Later in the movie, she’ll tell the others in her office, “I always told you that rabbit had something.” Except he doesn’t. 

The police don’t come off well, either. A patron at a restaurant fingers Jones as Mannion, and cops show up and haul both him and Miss Clark away. They interrogate both. He’s nervous, she’s cracking wise. When they realize they’ve got the wrong man, and that they might keep getting the wrong man—i.e., others might finger Jones as Mannion—the D.A. (Arthur Byron) gives him a signed letter to show to any police officer, saying, in effect, “Don’t worry; this man isn’t Mannion. 

(Fingerprinting? No mention of it. Even though it had been around for decades. See: “Pudd’nhead Wilson” by Mark Twain.)

Of course, Mannion gets wind of the exculpatory letter and shows up at Jones’ apartment and takes it. Now he can move around town at his leisure—and in broad daylight, too.

Jones has also been writing columns for the local newspaper about his experiences; but now Mannion is dictating them. He’s telling his story, see? He also uses the letter/resemblance to get into local prison and murder a rival, “Slugs” Martin (Edward Brophy), who was ready to squeal on him. Then when Miss Clark visits Jones and figures out it’s Mannion, they nab her. To where? Both she and Jones’ aunt are locked up in the gang’s basement hideout, but we don’t find that out until the final reel. She just disappears from the film. Our best character.

How does Jones win? Luck. He shows up at the gang’s hideout, they think he’s Mannion, and when the real Mannion comes through the door he orders the gang to plug him. They do. They kill Mannion thinking it’s Jones. Then cops, etc.

Arthur is good, of course, but it’s Robinson’s movie. He plays ineffectual fine but it’s when he shows up as Mannion, with those dead, killer eyes staring at his doppelganger, that you realize just how good he is.

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Posted at 05:28 PM on May 16, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  
Monday May 13, 2019

Movie Review: Winner Take All (1932)


It’s 66 minutes long, seems longer, and Cagney isn’t really Cagney in it. He’s dopier, his voice register lower. And his face? Ain’t pretty no more. That’s a key plot point, actually.

He plays Jimmy Kane, a middleweight boxer who begins the film on the outs. He’s been boozing and broading too much, so his manager, Pop Slavin (character actor Guy Kibbee, who made 18(!) movies that year, including five in which he played someone named “Pop”) sends him to recuperate at a ranch/hot springs in San Rosario, New Mexico. Kane doesn’t want to go. He’s a New York guy. But on the first night, he meets Peggy (Marian Nixon), a chirpy single mom, and her saccharine son, Dickie (Dickie Moore, a ’30s child star), and the three become inseparable. 

Mother and son are there for Dickie’s health, or something, and they’re about to get the boot unless someone coughs up $600. So Kane, though ordered to rest, fights a contender in Tijuana (then called “Tia Juana”) in a winner-take-all match. He wins, gets the dough, gives it to Peggy, tries to deflect credit. At this point, the boozing-and broading guy is nowhere in sight; he’s a hero. So much so I was wondering if he was being played—if Peggy and Dickie were grifters who bilked good-hearted souls. That might’ve made a better movie.

Instead, the Tia Juana fight demonstrates he’s back in the game, Pop sets up more fights, and he’s a contender and back in New York again.

Got that? For the first 15 minutes, the drama is “Can he get back to boxing?” And he does. So what’s the drama for the rest of the movie?

Well, he falls for a society dame, Joan Gibson (Virginia Bruce).


And that’s it.

At first she’s flirty and then isn’t. One moment she’s interested and then not at all. Half the time she looks at him with disgust. She tells him he might be handsome if not for his busted nose and cauliflower ear, so he gets plastic surgery and winds up looking like how Jimmy Cagney usually looks. But she’s disappointed in this, too. It takes the edge off him, she says—all the more because he becomes a “powder puff” boxer who turns down title fights to dance around with lesser talents to protect his pretty face. Even though it gets him nowhere with the society dame:

Now he lost all the things that made him colorful and different. He’s just ordinary now, like any other man. And one thing I can’t stand is bad grammar spoken through a perfect, Grecian nose.

You know how early Cagney was always slapping around women or pushing a grapefruit in their face? This one deserves it. And she gets away. Well, nearly.

What happens? He finally takes the title fight, hears mid-fight she’s about to board a cruise ship, so he finishes the champ off quickly to get to the ship on time, finds her with another man, decks that guy, kicks her in the can, then runs off the boat laughing like a schoolboy. He runs all the way back into the arms of Peggy—with his new busted nose. “Look out for the schnozzle,” he says, repeating a line he said after the Tia Juana fight; “it’s full a firecrackers.” 

The end.

Not good. Jimmy is stuck between two women, chirpy and bitchy, and too stupid to realize those are his only choices. There’s nobody to root for here. I don’t even know if I wanted him to win that final fight.

Virginia Bruce (born: Minneapolis, 1909) makes a great villain, though. You really do hate her.

Who do we root for? Pop maybe. Also the trainer, Rosebud, who is played by African-American actor Clarence Muse, and seems a real person rather than stereotype. My father interviewed him once in 1976, when Muse was 87 and visiting the Twin Cities. It’s a good read.

Hey, Kane and Rosebud. In the same movie. Coincidence?

For all that, we still get our racist moments. There’s a recurring bit where society folks are talking lofty world politics and Kane keeps bringing it back to the plebian. They express admiration for Russia’s five-year plan, for example, but Kane thinks they’re talking installment plans, which he thinks is a sucker’s game: “I pay cash for everything.” They also talk the rumblings of the second Sino-Japanese war, and when they mention how the Japanese are real fighters Kane takes umbrage. He calls them “brown babies” and says they have trouble with punches to the gut. “Can’t take it downstairs,” he says. 

We get some good bits. Kane takes Joan dancing, she’s wearing a fancy, backless dress and he puts his hand on her upper, naked back—then looks confused. He moves it down. Still skin. Then further. Finally he looks around to see where the clothing starts again: “You had me worried for a minute.”

I also like Pop telling post-surgery Jimmy he’s getting the “high hat.” The Coens knew what they were doing in “Miller’s Crossing.”

But the movie that’s truly prefigured is “Rocky II.” In that Tia Juana fight, both boxers are going at it pretty good. Then they both land a blow and both go down, but it’s Jimmy who claws his way back up before the 10 count to win. Is this where Sylvester Stallone got the idea for the climactic ending of “Rocky II”?


  • The opening. Cagney's the lead but not by much. He's the main player among the players; he doesn't even get his own title card.

  • The “Tia Juana” fight, and the double blow that fells both boxers. 

  • Our man wins. “Rocky II” anyone? See video here

  • Kane/Cagney leaves for other fights, promising to write the girl and the boy; but he's got a short memory. Nice shot here by Roy Del Ruth. 

  • High society. Despite all looks, it's the woman on the right that's the problem. 

  • Or you could say Cagney is. He gets plastic surgey to please her, then worries about losing his looks. 

  • As a result, pilloried in the press. 

  • And ringside. 

  • Another boo bird. 

  • This series of shots is my favorite part of the movie. 

  • “The high hat.” *FIN*
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Posted at 07:28 AM on May 13, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  
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