Movies watched for the book

Enemy Within is due at the end of the month. It will be a busy April, but I don’t think it will be an impossible April (though this week was a lot less productive than I’d hoped).

THE QUILLER MEMORADUM (1966) has spymaster Alec Guinness send agent George Segal to root out a Berlin neo-Nazi network “that looks just like everybody else—no brownshirts.” This is a curate’s egg: Harold Pinter’s screenplay has some great scenes, but also a lot of plodding stretches (the effect of his style on an espionage story, I think). With Max von Sydow as the neo-Nazi leader and Senta Berger as a teacher devoted to the “new Germany.”
THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942) is a bordeline case (but probably the wrong side of the border) wherein vengeful hit man Alan Ladd and stage magician Veronica Lake wind up on the wrong side of Laird Cregar, the front man for a conspiracy of industrialists sabotaging the defense industry for profit. A great one to rewatch—Ladd’s stony-faced killer was what made him a star and it’s easy to see why.
BAD COMPANY (1995) didn’t make the cut at all, since the conspiracies going on concern corporate corruption and a struggle between Frank Langella and Ellen Barkin for control of their industrial espionage firm, with Laurence Fishbourne caught in the middle. Slick, but predictable.
THE FRONT (1975), like GUILTY BY SUSPICION, is a film too heavy on the message and too light on the entertainment. The story of Woody Allen becoming the front man for several blacklisted writers is earnest and well-intentioned, but not terribly interesting; as an account of the real-life political paranoia of the fifties, it goes in the book nonetheless.
MISSING (1982) is Costa-Gavras’ gripping drama in which hardnosed conservative Jack Lemmon comes to realize daughter-in-law Sissie Spacek is right that her husband was executed by the Chilean government after a US-backed coup. I watched this as a possible entry—a film in which American interests are the fifth column infiltrating someone else—and haven’t quite decided, but Lemmon’s performance and his character arc make it a much better message film than The Front.
LET’S GET TOUGH (1942) is one I dismissed the first time I saw it, but in rewatching this tale portraying the East Side of New York as a hotbed of fifth columnists that only the Bowery Boys can stop, I’ve decided to reconsider.
In some ways, JFK (1991) reminds me of Red-baiting 1950s films like Big Jim McLain in arguing that criticism of Jim Garrison’s (Kevin Costner) crackpot quest to prove Oswald didn’t act alone is proof how close he came to exposing the conspiracy. No substance, but lots of style: My favorite moment is when one of Garrison’s aides tells him a Mafia/CIA/FBI/Corporate conspiracy is insane to even contemplate and Garrison replies matter-of-factly that “The Mafia were only involved at a very low level.”
TRUE LIES (1994) doesn’t hold up as well as I would have expected—what was spectacular action at the time doesn’t look quite so impressive 15 years later, and the annoying parts of the story (heavy sexism, and Arnold Schwarzennegger using federal resources to spy on wife Jamie Lee Curtis) annoy me on rewatching more than the humor appealed to me. And there’s not enough of a fifth column for my purposes.
ENDGAME (2005) is a dull assassination thriller in which Cuba Gooding is the angst-ridden Secret Service agent who let the president get shot and tries to figure out why. Burt Reynolds, James Woods and Anne Archer are also wasted here—and no, it doesn’t qualify for the book either.
AMAZONS (1986) definitely fits as a secret Amazon cult plots to put one of their own in the vice president’s office (presumably the president would have died as dead as he did in Hitler’s Daughter) only to run afoul of surgeon Madeline Stowe and cop Jack Scalia. Not great art, but fun, with several DC Comics references (the history of the Amazons and the use of the element promethium).
THEY GOT ME COVERED (1943) stars Bob Hope as the world’s worst foreign correspondent (“It’s definite-Hitler will not attack Russia.”) whose hunt for a scoop embroils him with an Axis terrorist conspiracy operating out of a DC beauty shop. Marginally enough for my book by virtue of the scope of the operation (an all-out terrorist attack on multiple cities); with Dorothy Lamour as Hope’s long-suffering girlfriend
CONSPIRATOR (1950) is a dreary domestic melodrama in which Elizabeth Taylor falls for dashing Yank Robert Taylor only to being to suspect there’s something he’s not telling her … the discovery he’s a Red doesn’t make for enough of a fifth-column element.

1 Comment

Filed under Movies, Screen Enemies of the American Way

One response to “Movies watched for the book

  1. Pingback: Crusade impossible!: Movies viewed | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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