Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Pre-Code Parade: HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE (1930)

My first encounter with Wheeler and Woolsey came when I was still a kid, when I discovered the PBS series Matinee at the Bijou. The idea was to recreate the old-time Saturday matinee with a program of short subjects, a serial chapter and a feature film from the 1930s or 1940s. The show used public-domain films, including Paul Sloane's service comedy, which for many years must have been most people's first encounter with the RKO comics. I remembered little of the film nearly forty years later, except that I was deeply unimpressed. It took several more experiments with the pair, thanks to Turner Classic Movies, before I warmed to them. When Half Shot at Sunrise (slang for "drunk") was run last week as part of a day of Wheeler and Woolsey films, it seemed like time at last to give the picture another try.

I remain unimpressed. Half Shot was RKO's first original screenplay for their team, who had hit big in support of Bebe Daniels in 1929's Rio Rita and then appeared in two more Broadway adaptations, including their first starring vehicle, The Cuckoos. Many hands, reportedly including those of an uncredited Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, were involved in the screenplay. The result reduces Wheeler and Woolsey to a pair of generic girl-chases A.W.O.L. in World War I Paris. Woolsey has a stash of insignia and decorations allowing them to pass for any rank of soldier they please, and the pair are nimble enough to slip the armbands off a couple of MPs when needed. In the spirit of cherchez la femme these representative Americans try to hit on every female they encounter. Their seduction techniques include a lot of unfunny wordplay and even less funny fake French, all lacking the endearing naivete or the dyspeptic cunning that came to define Wheeler and Woolsey's screen personae in later films. It includes an interminable sequence at an outdoor cafe table where Wheeler desperately tries to get Woolsey to look into a mirror and notice the MP who is practically breathing over his shoulder. It really feels like you could have inserted any two comedians into the roles.

Strange to say, Half Shot hardly registers as a Wheeler and Woolsey movie until Dorothy Lee, Wheeler's usual dance and romantic partner on film, shows up as the colonel's daughter. From her arrival the film becomes more of a musical, as that was still expected from the team. My assumption is that most of the musical numbers were cut from the Matinee at the Bijou broadcast, since the movie runs 78 minutes on its own while the show ran for only 90 and had to pack in more content. They neither improve or degrade my opinion of the picture. The rest of it is wartime farce involving the confusion between secret military orders and equally confidential correspondence between the colonel and his French girlfriend, under the nose of his shrewish wife (Edna May Oliver). Everything works out for the best, of course, which is another way of saying that the film eventually ends. After this belated, and to an extent regretted second viewing, I can at least acknowledge that the film's failings aren't really Wheeler and Woolsey's fault; they were stuck with the material written for them. In hindsight, it was wrong for my younger self to hold this film against them, but it was impossible to know that until I'd seen more of them. First impressions aren't everything, I guess. Maybe I'll even enjoy a Ritz Brothers film someday.

Saturday, April 27, 2019


I laughed when the title of the sequel to Avengers: Infinity War was announced last year. "Endgame" is one of those cliche titles you see everywhere. Nearly every genre show has an "Endgame" episode. It seemed almost hilariously unimaginative of Marvel Studios to use it now. But while that made me laugh months ago, the surprising thing about the actual film is how consistently funny it is. I really shouldn't have been surprised, since humor has been crucial to the more-than-decade-long success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There seemed to be no room for comedy after the previous film, which saw half the life of the universe, if not 50% of all Marvel superheroes, snuffed out with a snap of Thanos' fingers. Yet there is such a thing as gallows humor, and there's always a new normal with room for jokes. That's how some people (or whatever Rocket is) cope with situations, after all. The really surprising thing about this is that the comedy star of the picture turns out to be Mark Ruffalo as The Incredible Hulk. In what may be his last turn in the role, Ruffalo gets to perform the popular variation of the character in which Ol' Greenskin has Bruce Banner's brain. It's alarming how at ease Ruffalo makes the mighty monster, compared to the pouty, childish Hulk of Thor: Ragnaraok and the default rage mode. This Hulk always has time to pose for selfies with fans -- for there are still fans in this traumatized world -- and, compared to normal, seems almost imperturbable, even when dealing with theoretical science over even Banner's head. There's a wonderful scene in which this new Hulk time-travels to 2012 New York during the climactic battle of the original Avengers film. In order to be inconspicuous on his mission (see below), he's advised to behave in his old self's smashing manner. The well-meaning yet hopelessly halfhearted way in which he goes about lazily growling and lackadaisically wrecking a car is, as of now, my favorite scene in the picture.

The Russo brothers and their writing partners, Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, take an actually daring approach to the story, getting a much-anticipated catharsis out of the way about 30 minutes into the film when Thor (I shouldn't have to identify the actors by now) decapitates Thanos on the latter's retirement planet. The problem is, killing Thanos doesn't solve anything, since he'd already destroyed his Infinity Stones, making a reversal of his infamous snap impossible. From this empty bit of avenging, the film jumps forward five years to a world -- not to mention a universe, as new arrival Captain Marvel reminds us -- barely hanging on. Some of our heroes aren't even doing that. Thor has lapsed into drunken slackerdom, hanging out at New Asgard with some of his Ragnarok buddies while Valkyrie does most of the real work without anyone asking where she was when Thanos attacked the refugee ship in the last picture. Hawkeye, having lost his entire family, goes full vigilante on a global killing tour, less convinced than ever of some people's right to live. Only Tony Stark (along with the Hulk) seems better off, having given up and settled down to have a kid with Pepper Potts. Yet when Ant-Man gets randomly released from his post-credits predicament from last year, he intuits a solution from the fact that only a few hours passed by for him in the Quantum Realm while years went by outside. It takes a while to convince Stark, who worries that changing the recent past might wipe out his daughter, but once he's on board the film becomes Avengers: Timeheist -- an excuse for a valedictory tour of past MCU moments in search of Infinity Stones to preempt Thanos' seizure of them. While probably no one really wanted to revisit Thor: The Dark World, that mission gives Rene Russo an opportunity to make one of this film's many, many encore appearances by its supporting players. This middle act is more caper film than action picture, but comes to a dark climax as one team of heroes arrives at that planet where the Red Skull curates the Soul Gem, which as ever requires a love sacrifice. This results in a surprise exit from the franchise, but the sacrifice may be for naught. Thanks to a big gimme -- the idea that past evil Nebula can tap into the memories of her good future self, Thanos circa 2014 is tipped off to his future and endeavors to change some details. Thwarted then, he takes the battle to the present, only to be faced with an almost entirely replenished superhero army, plus the game-changing power of Captain Marvel. Ultimately, though, the only way to keep the Infinity Gauntlet away from Thanos is to use it against him, and as Hulk experienced using it to reverse the Snap, it would very likely prove fatal for a human to wield it.

Endgame is a fine film but lacks the relentless tension of Infinity War and barely makes it past the three-hour mark with more endings than The Return of the King, but its indulgent length feels earned. The battles aren't as ambitious or dramatic as in the previous picture, though yet again we have a strangely sexist moment when all the female heroes converge on one location for no special reason apart perhaps for the convenience of GIF makers. I suspect, however, that many people will like it more than its predecessor simply for the feels, both happy and sad. For the most part, the sequel exemplifies Marvel Studios' commitment to quality control in pursuit of a consistent defining tone. It quite self-consciously marks the end of an era, as half the original Avengers are exiting the franchise, but also takes time to point toward new directions: Thor teaming with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Sam Wilson as Captain America, etc. It is not the end some fatigued critics may have hoped for, but it does at least feel like the end of a chapter. The one-two punch of Infinity War and Endgame puts an exclamation point on what so far has been (with a handful of exceptions) an uncannily consistent run of epic entertainment.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

On the Big Screen: BLIND WOMAN'S CURSE (1970)

Teruo Ishii might be called the Tod Browning of Japanese cinema. He shared with his American precursor an interest in crime and an instinct for the grotesque. These converge in Blind Woman's Curse, an early starring role for 70s death-goddess Meiko Kaji that I got to see at the Proctor's GE Theater thanks to the It Came From Schenectady cult film society. If some of the film's virtually supernatural elements seem incongruous in a yakuza film, bear in mind that its setting is implicitly a fantasy film, one in which a yakuza boss can be described as pure in heart. That boss is our star, playing Akemi Tachibana, who inherited the mantle and the unquestioned loyalty of her henchmen from her father. She's a fighting boss, as demonstrated in a formal showdown with another gang during the opening credits, and almost unconsciously charismatic, as demonstrated when, serving time for her role in the fight, she converts some skeptical fellow convicts in a women's prison into future soldiers. Her clan controls a public market but is regularly challenged by her clownish rivals, the Aozora clan. These challenges aren't to be taken too seriously, since the primary attribute of the Aozora boss (Ryohei Uchida) is the long-unwashed loincloth that adorns his prominently displayed buttocks. But when a retaliatory raid on his gang goes terribly wrong, Akemi comes under increasing pressure to escalate the feud.

As we quickly learn, events are being manipulated by a third gang, led by the ambitious Dobashi (Toru Abe) and abetted by a traitor in Akemi's midst. The provocations grow more extreme as Akemi's followers are stripped of the dragon tattoos that adorn their backs and a dubious feline is seen licking at the flayed remnants. There are, in fact, still more players in the game. One is a soft-spoken swordswoman (Hoki Tokuda -- at the time Mrs. Henry Miller!) who happens to be blind. She happens to have been blinded by Akemi in that opening-credits fight, during which her brother was killed. She actually looks really good for someone who apparently had her eyes slashed, and of course, this being Japan, her handicap confers a compensatory advantage in fighting skill. A cat licking her wounds immediately after the injury probably helped as well. Anyway, you get the idea; she's out for vengeance against Akemi. Meiko Kaji is the object of vengeance for once, that is, but this was still early in her career before she was set in her ways.

What the story is with the blind woman's sidekick, who can say? Ushimatsu is hunchbacked performance artist, played by Tatsumi Hijikata, credited as a creator of the modern dance form of butoh.  We're treated to one of his strange performances, enhanced (if that's the word) by Ishii's (and Osamu Inoue's) frantic editing. We're also treated (if that's the word) to his hobby, which is maintaining a carny house of horrors featuring fake (???) severed heads, limbs, etc. Ushimatsu appears to go above and beyond whatever mandate the blind swordswoman or Dobashi gave him, and his exploits are pretty much the essence of this picture. At one point, after the more conventional thugs have bumped off Akemi's wise old uncle, the rare yakuza who has gone straight, the hunchback shows up to lick and fondle the corpse. Later, the apparently living corpse shows up to spook some people, but when the head promptly rolls off we see that Ushimatsu is just having fun with his new meat puppet. As far as movie hunchbacks go, this guy makes Paul Naschy in Hunchback of the Morgue look like Quasi from the Disney cartoon.

Things can't go on like this forever -- can they? -- so finally Akemi's had all she can stand, til she can't stands no more. Once the traitor in her midst is exposed, she leads the climactic assault on Dobashi's headquarters, except that it's only a warmup for the inevitable showdown between our jingi-licious heroine and the blind swordswoman. Again, in Japan you always bet on the handicapped person in these encounters, even if it's Meiko Kaji on the other side. Only this time, you wouldn't collect, because nobody wins. After the damned cat tries to interfere and gets gutted for its trouble, it looks like Akemi is down for the count. She's waiting for the coup de grace, but it never comes, for the blind swordswoman can tell -- she usually can smell such things -- that our yakuza boss lady is genuinely repentant about killing her brother and the other stuff. She accepts this as an apology, takes her dying cat and goes home. But let's face it: anything after what we've already seen in this picture is going to be an anticlimax, and maybe that's for the best. Otherwise people are bound to leave the theater in a disoriented state dangerous to themselves and others. As it is, the downbeat-yet-upbeat finish gives viewers time to reflect on the fact that, for all its excesses and confusions Blind Woman's Curse is goofy fun, as long as you're in the right -- or fright -- frame of mind.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

On the Big Screen: PETERLOO (2018)

The Peterloo Massacre is the one moment I know of when journalists tried to make the "-loo" suffix derived from the Battle of Waterloo a thing like "-gate" is in American politics. The killing of approximately a dozen civilians by British troops took place during a mass demonstration at St. Peter's Field in Manchester on August 16, 1819. To some observers, it was like the war (against Napoleon) coming home, with some people involved in both events. Longtime radical filmmaker Mike Leigh uses Waterloo and Peterloo as bookends for his period piece portraying the erratic radicalization of one working-class family. We're introduced to them after Joseph (David Moorst) a bugler and traumatized survivor of the great battle, makes his way home to Manchester, then a cutting-edge industrial town with the inevitable exploitation of labor. Working people's main problem, however, was high food prices, artificially inflated by the protectionist Corn Laws that forbade the importation of foreign grain ("corn" in British English) and other foodstuffs. Employers imposing wage cuts proves the final straw for many, who now form a ready audience for orators local and national advocating for democratization of the parliamentary election process. In short, these people want regular elections on a "one man, one vote" basis in place of the infamous system of rotten boroughs and property qualifications for voting. The local grandees are having none of it, fearing a replay of the French Revolution that they and a European coalition had only just snuffed out. They're looking for any excuse to crack down on radical orators and publishers and intimidate workers into their proper deference to their betters. At St. Peter's Field, despite the best efforts of some organizers, the forces of reaction get their chance, with terrible consequences.

Peterloo left me wondering whether Leigh meant his history play as an implicit commentary on modern politics, or at least one aspect of it. The film is preoccupied with speech, to its detriment in some eyes. At first glance or listen, you might assume that Leigh is simply besotted with 19th century rhetoric in all its pyrotechnic pomposity. But it's important to note that the orators are hardly the heroes of the picture. They are often shown as self-indulgent, self-important and irresponsible. When a working-class woman comments that she can't understand much of what a female orator is saying at one women's meeting, Leigh means, I think, for us to sympathize with the humbler rather than the more progressive female. Elsewhere, a male orator clearly enjoys himself at least as much as his hearers enjoy him threatening the royal family with all manner of classical references. Such displays are inevitable with the stirring of liberty, but whether they further justice effectively is open to debate. The point of all the oratory isn't so much that Leigh is in love with the sounds of speech but that the speechmakers are in love with the sounds of their own voices -- a trait they share with their antagonists, who take much the same pleasure in their jeremiads against the poor, as individuals and a collective. There's an echo, perhaps intended as a premonition, of today's self-indulgent posturing in social media or partisan media in general. Peterloo leaves a cumulative impression that oratory didn't help matters as much as orators and their audiences may have assumed or hoped. Leigh definitely doesn't hold the orators responsible for the carnage -- the ruling-class characters are almost cartoonish in their flamboyant contempt for the poor and are quite capable of manipulating events to get the results they want -- but he does seem to be suggesting that a dependence on such spellbinders as "Orator" Hunt (Rory Kinnear) is more likely to lead to a dead end than other approaches. The fact that we don't get any epilogue title cards telling us when reform was finally achieved adds to that impression.

The climax -- the massacre -- is not as dynamic as movie buffs might want. It's definitely no Battleship Potemkin, for all the sabres slashing at helpless protesters, but it gets better as it goes on and the military charge devolves into a random sequence of individual fights between soldiers and demonstrators. These moments are more to Leigh's artistic scale and nicely illustrate how passions on both sides had been inflamed by the rhetoric of mutual hatred. Viewers should leave as outraged as Leigh wants them to be. It may be a bit heavyhanded to have the poor bugler of Waterloo meet his end at Peterloo, and then have reporters talk about the war coming home, but in our own reactionary age Leigh probably didn't want to be too subtle on his main point, which is the injustice of early industrial England before the emergence of a real labor movement or real labor party. Whatever a viewer may think the appropriate solution was to the situation, everyone watching Peterloo should agree that something had to be done. It's a history lesson worth taking, and if it gets you thinking about the way we do politics today, it'll be even more worthwhile.

Saturday, April 13, 2019


Pedantic genre fans probably have told you already about the convoluted publishing history of the protagonist of  David F. Sandberg's film and how another film's title should have been his. I'll limit myself to telling you that once upon a time, long long ago, the dude in the red costume with the lightning bolt was the most popular of all superheroes, but what to do with him in modern times has challenged DC Comics, his current publisher, for nearly half a century. There's been an effort to have it both ways with "the big red cheese," preserving him as an embodiment of a more innocent era of comics publishing and fandom, in part because co-creator C.C. Beck was a reactionary when it came to modernizing superheroes, but at the same time making him something of a laughingstock precisely for being the innocent among heroes. The occasional efforts to make him and his stories more complex generally haven't gone well. The default approach has been to treat him as a child in a super-adult body, sometimes emphasizing a seeming-inevitable naivete but more recently taking him in an arguably more sophomoric direction. Add to this Hollywood's preoccupation with the zero-to-hero paradigm and movie writers' own consensus on how a boy in a man's body would behave and Shazam! could have written itself with little significant input from credited screenwriter Henry Gayden.

Fortunately, the filmmakers gathered together a decent cast of child actors in support of a luckily likable Zachary Levi as the learning-on-the-fly (or learning-to-fly) hero who now takes the name of the old wizard (Djimon Honsou) who, as of old, empowers him. To be more exact, old Shazam empowers, as of old, Billy Batson (Asher Angel), the archetypal orphan who's just landed in a group home alongside his traditional playmates Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton) and a bunch of other kids recently introduced in the comics. We're given to understand that the old wizard has to be less choosy than he'd like, since one of the kids he rejected 45 years ago has grown up to be Mark Strong calling himself Dr. Sivana. Maybe twice the size of the hero's comics arch-enemy, the movie Sivana has used tremendous corporate resources, and presumably some mad scientist know-how, to find his way back to the old wizard's stop on the subway and claim the powers offered him long ago (i.e. at the start of the picture) by the monsters known as the Seven Deadly Sins. The old wizard has wanted a champion pure of heart but will settle for the sullen, rebellious Batson before breathing his last.

Barely conscious of his purpose, the magically-roided up Batson goes about discovering his powers, trying out different names and performing acts of petty heroism as the film becomes something like a cross between Chronicle and The Tick. In recent comics the hero has been somewhat successfully reimagined as a bit of a smartass dork, but Levi's performance leans heavily sometimes in the direction of the typical Hollywood infantile man. That's okay, though, because the point of the picture is for him, unlike the typical Hollywood infantile man, to grow out of that mode. He does this by learning to love his new extended family while leaving behind the ideal of his real mother that made every other option seem inadequate to him. It's ironic, once you actually see Shazam!, to see some people call it Spielbergian, since it actually refrains from idealizing its mother figure in favor of a "love the ones you're with" message. It's a practical message, too, since its corollary is that there's strength in numbers. The film follows current comics most closely in its conceit that all of Billy's surrogate siblings are eligible to partake of the Shazam power and thus help him fight off Sivana and the Deadly Sins. The kids are hit-or-miss as characters and their hero-forms get even less time to introduce themselves, but their innocent joy in getting superpowers -- please never let any of them go to the dark side, producers! -- is infectious. Unfortunately, they also make the climax a bit too busy and lengthy, and the action scenes here were never going to break new ground. The best super-stunt comes much earlier, when Billy has to figure out how to deal with a bus falling off an overpass, and then has to figure out how to put it down safely when there's a dog in the way. The filmmakers have a nice habit of throwing in little details like that or the increasingly frantic Santa Claus who keeps getting caught in the middle of the super-battles. Sandberg shows an admirable eye for the absurd that helps lighten the tone throughout; you have to like a film that will move into a crowd celebration for a close-up of a dancing gingerbread man. Overall, Shazam! is the sort of film that you can tell means well even when it doesn't always work, and it's hard to hold its misses against it when it hits often enough to be unpretentious fun.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

DVR Diary: VENOM (2018)

For some time, Sony Pictures, clinging to the film rights to Spider-Man, has been struggling to create a cinematic universe capable of sustaining feature-film showcases for Spidey's supporting cast. Now that Spider-Man himself has been revived with help from Marvel Studios, the time seemed right to resume the larger project. The challenge presented to director Ruben Fleischer and his writers, however, was to make a movie about one of Spidey's relatively recent antagonists, only without Spider-Man. The challenge wasn't necessarily insurmountable, since Venom is one of those characters who's gone back and forth from villain to antihero since his introduction in the 1980s. Back then, disgraced journalist Eddie Brock sort of inherited the infamous black costume that Spidey acquired back in the equally infamous Secret Wars comic. The costume was, in fact, a malevolent symbiotic alien that Spider-Man, recognizing its malevolent nature, rejected. Brock, meanwhile, welcomed the opportunity to take revenge on Spidey, whom he blamed for his disgrace. The movie retains Brock (Tom Hardy) as disgraced journalist, but makes him a victim rather than an arrogant blunderer, crushed by an evil Elon Musk type (Riz Ahmed) rather than discredited for blaming the wrong man for murder. The corporate villain has acquired some gloppy aliens from one of his spacecraft and hopes to graft them onto humans in the hope of creating a hybrid spacefaring species. Nosy Brock, still sniffing a story, ends up acquiring a symbiote that encases him in an inky muscle suit and endows him with superhuman stength and speed as well as an obnoxious tongue. Much of the time, however, "Venom," as the alien critter calls itself -- is it translating to English or are those the actual syllables of its name? -- is a disembodied voice that taunts and torments Eddie by forcing him to conduct multiple conversations at the same time. Brock naturally resents this intrusion on his person, but he and the symbiote will have to work together to stop the inevitable corporate symbiote from facilitating a full-scale alien invasion of Earth.

Venom may be the ugliest superhero movie I've ever seen. The protagonist, fully costumed, is pretty much a spasmodic black blob whose activities have a certain ejaculatory quality that may help explain his/its long-term appeal. The climactic fight pits him against a slightly more silvery variation on the same basic design, and while the splattery conflict may inspire nostalgia among some for the over-rendered comics of Venom's heyday, it struck me as simply tedious. A character whose face gets covered in glop periodically seems tailor-made for Tom Hardy, who probably thought that going way over the top was only doing justice to the source material. Instead, his performance helped show that Sony, with less input from Marvel this time, lacks Marvel's knack for making its protagonists likable even when they act like jerks. Hardy is hardly helped by the uncinematic reduction of Venom to a mere voice in scenes that require Brock to act like a madman. The results are at least sometimes meant to be funny but usually fall flat. Meanwhile, as Eddie's ex, Michelle Williams collects a paycheck, while Woody Harrelson in a Raggedy Andy fright wig promises much fan service in the sequel this film somehow earned. I'd like to say that Venom's success was improbable, but it was probably the sort of superhero film many longtime comics fans had been waiting for. The best I can say about the thing is that I hope they enjoyed it.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

DVR Diary: THE BURGLARS (Le Casse, 1971)

There's no point to judging Henri Verneuil's free adaptation of David Goodis' noir novel The Burglar by its fidelity to the source material. Goodis himself wrote a previous film adaptation which by definition must stand as definitive, so we may as well accept Le Casse for what it is: a vehicle for Jean-Paul Belmondo designed for the international-cast market. Goodis provides the bare bones of the story in which a slick safecracking gang goes to pieces while waiting to sell their plunder, but from there it's all Verneuil and co-writer Vahe Katcha. The action has been moved to Greece, where a crafty, somewhat corrupt police detective (Omar Sharif) picks the gang apart. The Belmondo character obviously proves the toughest nut to crack, so a local entertainer (Dyan Cannon) is called on to seduce and keep tabs on him. All of this is a framework on which to hang the action set pieces that audiences by now expected from Belmondo, who arguably qualifies as the missing link between Buster Keaton and Tom Cruise through his commitment to crazy stunt work. Keaton himself no doubt would have been proud of a then-unfakeable moment -- possibly inspired by Buster's own Seven Chances -- when Belmondo is dropped from a close-up position in the back of a truck down a steep gravel pit, with plenty of rocks following him down. Elsewhere, he clings from the outside to the window of a moving bus to avoid pursuers, only to transfer to another bus in the middle of a busy street. Beyond Belmondo's antics there's plenty here to suggest that Verneuil was a student of silent film. The picture opens with a fascinating, almost wordless sequence that shows how sophisticated a safecracker Belmondo is. The man basically carries a portable computer with him that allows him to program product specs and grind out a master key to order. If a film set around 1970 can qualify as steampunk, this scene should make La Casse eligible for that label. At the other end of the movie, the final fate of Sharif's character hearkens all the way back to D. W. Griffith's A Corner in Wheat or maybe Carl-Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr. Of course, a caper or crime film from this period wouldn't be complete without a proper car chase, and this one definitely delivers, even if it comes too early to be climactic. So much goes on in this picture that the car chase could almost be forgotten in the mix. Euro-stalwarts Robert Hossein and Renato Salvatori are along for the ride but this is clearly Belmondo's show, which means he doesn't have to do much with his character but live up to his pop persona. Some of his exploits wouldn't fly today -- it's meant as a gag when he slaps Cannon so hard and repeatedly that he sets off a room's light controls -- but for a good part of the world in his heyday he was the fantasy ideal of a man's man, and nothing about La Casse would change that. It's pretty much the opposite of the sort of noir one might expect from a Goodis adaptation, but on its own terms it's an often very entertaining action picture sure to appeal to Euro-Seventies fans.