THE OUTFIT (2022) – Mark Rylance Performance Leads Compelling 1950s Era Mob Thriller

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Mark Rylance delivers another superb performance in THE OUTFIT (2022), a compelling thriller which takes place in 1950s Chicago and is about a tailor, played by Rylance, who finds himself in the middle of a mob war fighting for his survival when efforts to find a mob rat play out in his shop during one eventful evening.

Rylance plays Leonard, a World War I veteran who says he moved to Chicago from London when the market for fine clothing dwindled after blue jeans took over the men’s clothing scene. Leonard is quick to point out that he’s not a tailor but a cutter, someone who designs and makes quality suits. The film opens with a voice over of Leonard explaining the many intricate steps of creating such a suit. Leonard owns a small shop with just one employee, his young secretary Mable (Zoey Deutch), who seems to have eyes for the young mobster Richie (Dylan O’Brien) who frequents the shop.

At times, this movie called to mind PHANTOM THREAD (2017), another 1950s period piece in which Daniel Day Lewis played a dressmaker, but that film became a love story, whereas THE OUTFIT becomes a mob crime thriller.

Richie is the son of mob boss Roy (Simon Russell Beale), who uses Leonard’s shop as a front to deposit and retrieve messages from other mobsters. Leonard wants no trouble and allows them use of his shop without argument, as he quietly goes about his cutting business. But one night, Richie and Roy’s right-hand man, Francis (Johnny Flynn) return to the store after being ambushed by a rival family, and Richie has been shot. Francis forces Leonard to sew up the wound, and afterwards, Leonard learns that Richie and Francis have in their possession a cassette tape which when played will reveal the identity of the rat in their outfit who has been supplying information to the FBI. Richie and Francis were on their way to obtaining a recorder to play the tape when they were attacked, and now both the FBI and the rival mobsters want that tape.

Tensions rise between Richie and Francis, as they both suspect the other of being the rat, and things grow more complicated when Roy arrives and then Mable, and through it all, Leonard finds himself having to outwit the mobsters in order to save his life and Mable’s.

THE OUTFIT is a handsome, polished production by first-time director Graham Moore, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Moore also wrote the screenplay for THE IMITATION GAME (2014), the excellent World War II drama which starred Benedict Cumberbatch as genius Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazi messaging code.

Here, Moore gives THE OUTFIT a claustrophobic feel as the entire film takes place within the small confines of Leonard’s shop. The costumes and sets look authentic to the period, and the somber cinematography supports the quiet, unobtrusive persona of the solitary cutter.

The screenplay by Moore and Johnathan McClain is excellent. The dialogue is first-rate and the characters, especially Leonard, Richie, and Francis, are well-developed. Things do get more contrived as the story goes along as Leonard continues to pull one rabbit out of his hat after another, and the final premise of the movie, the notion that things were more planned than they seemed, is not terribly convincing.

Mark Rylance, as always, is a joy to watch. If you like fine acting, you want to watch Rylance. He’s a master at his craft and has been memorable in such movies as BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015), DUNKIRK (2017), and more recently DON’T LOOK UP (2021). Here, Rylance plays Leonard as a man who definitely seems to be hiding from some past life, harboring a tragic secret, and we know this long before the plot tells us, because Rylance plays him this way. With his quiet, unassuming and methodical delivery, Rylance makes Leonard someone who is adept at listening and observing details, two skills which serve him well when dealing with the mob.

Also making an impression and giving the second-best performance in the movie is Johnny Flynn as Francis. Flynn stood out as Ian Fleming in the recent World War II drama OPERATION MINCEMEAT (2021), as well as in THE DIG (2021) and in EMMA (2020). Francis is a much different role than the ones Flynn played in these other movies. Francis is a hardened killer, a man who has risen in the mob ahead of the obvious heir apparent, the mobster’s son, which causes a lot of tension between Francis and Richie. Flynn gives an edge to the character which make other characters in the movie as well as the audience feel uncomfortable whenever he’s around.

Simon Russell Beale is spot-on once again as head mobster Roy. Beale also starred in OPERATION MINCEMEAT alongside Johnny Flynn, as Beale played Winston Churchill in that movie. Beale was most memorable, however, in THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017).

Dylan O’Brien is also very good as Richie.

And Zoey Deutch is fine as Mable, Leonard’s secretary, and the two characters share a sort of father/daughter relationship. But the role is limited and doesn’t allow Deutch to show off her talents as well as she has in some other movies, films like BUFFALOED (2019) and ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019).

THE OUTFIT was released theatrically in March and is now available to rent on Prime Video.

The term “outfit” has a double meaning here, as it refers to what Leonard creates as well as being the term used to describe the league of mobsters spread out all around the country. And more specifically, at one point in the movie, Richie’s outfit, his coat, becomes a key item in the plot.

I really enjoyed THE OUTFIT. I could watch Mark Rylance all day, and his performance is the driving force behind this movie, which also tells an entertaining story filled with some twists and turns, and it’s fun to watch Rylance’s character Leonard outsmart the mobsters. It’s also shot very well by first-time director Graham Moore who invites you into this small shop in Chicago in 1956, and under his expert direction, you really feel as if you are truly there.

So much so that when Leonard and Mable are fighting for their lives, you feel as if you are right there with them, which only adds to the suspense and intensity of this fine period piece thriller.

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INTERCEPTOR (2022) – Netflix’ Latest Action-Adventure Entertaining in Spite of Uneven Script

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After watching INTERCEPTOR (2022), a new action-adventure movie which just premiered on Netflix this past week, I couldn’t shake the feeling that had this movie been in different hands, and had it been a major theatrical release, it could have been so much better.

Instead, this tale of one woman’s stand against a band of terrorists as they try to disarm and destroy the last of the United States’ interceptor missiles, so that the Russian nuclear warheads they stole could be used to nuke a bunch of cities in the U.S., all in the name of burning a country to the ground which they had lost faith in, so they could build it back up the way they wanted, plays out like a “B” movie of old. Everything about it is decent and watchable, but none of it is amazing or first-rate.

Then again, even in the right hands, this tale may have been too convoluted to actually work. There’s a lot to swallow here.

INTERCEPTOR tells the story of Captain J.J. Collins (Elsa Pataky), an army officer who has been dealing with the backlash of calling out a superior officer for sexual harassment. As such, she receives threats and vulgar sexual slurs, as well as being assigned to a post in the middle of nowhere, a rig in the middle of the Pacific Ocean housing the U.S. interceptor rockets. J.J. barely has time to unpack her bags when the station is attacked by terrorists.

The terrorists, who infiltrated the station by posing as janitors, are led by the dashing Alexander Kessel (Luke Bracey) who in the spirit of movie supervillains everywhere, takes the time to explain to J.J. his plans. They’re there to destroy the interceptor missiles, which are the United States’ only defense against nuclear attack, and they want to knock out this defense so they can use the Russian nuclear warheads they stole to bomb major cities in the U.S. Everything has gone according to plan, except J.J. was assigned to the base at the last minute, and so they were not prepared for her, and she lets them know that she is more than up to the task of stopping them, even if it means taking them on single-handedly.

Kessel is assisted by army officer Beaver Baker (Aaron Glenane), a traitorous type who represents the far-right presence in the movie, as he constantly talks about minorities trying to take over the country, and that this is his way of “cleansing” the nation of these impurities. So as not to alienate one side of the political spectrum, Kessel holds another view, that basically the entire country needs a “re-do” because it’s the government and the elites who are ruining it for everybody, and he speaks about racial disparities and how people of color have it so bad and how nobody is doing anything to help. So, he’s there to do something.

But not if J.J. has anything to say about it.

Yup, INTERCEPTOR is pretty much a DIE HARD movie, with the Bruce Willis role changed to a female character. It’s the same formula, but not as well-done.

This is no fault of the actors who all do commendable jobs. I really enjoyed Elsa Pataky in the lead role as J.J., who she makes a believable action hero as well as a woman pained by constant attacks because she spoke out against a male superior officer who sexually assaulted her and basically got away with it. Pataky plays Elena in the FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies.

Likewise, Luke Bracey makes for a polished, handsome, and trying-to-be-charming terrorist Alexander Kessel. As I said, he would be right at home in a DIE HARD movie. The only knock against him is he went to the “Dr. Evil school of villainy” and talks too much about his diabolical plans of terror.

Aaron Glenane uses a thick Southern drawl to be that character you wouldn’t want to meet if you were hiking alone in the wilderness. Can anyone say DELIVERANCE (1972)? Actually, he plays Beaver Baker less like a hillbilly and more like a character who might cross paths with the heroes in SUPERGIRL (2015-21). In fact, I can almost hear Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl lecturing him now.

The biggest knock against INTERCEPTOR is its screenplay by director Matthew Reilly and Stuart Beattie. The dialogue is particularly bad throughout, and the plot is definitely convoluted and not all that believable. Since this is an action movie, the convoluted part didn’t bother me all that much, but the often-laughable dialogue was a major distraction. The script tries to cover both sides of the political spectrum in its plot to “cleanse” the United States, and to this end largely succeeds.

Stuart Beattie has written lots of movies. He’s worked on the scripts for some of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, and co-wrote 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007), an intense horror movie I really enjoyed. But he also co-wrote the screenplay for G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF THE COBRA (2009) and I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014), two rather dreadful movies.

Matthew Reilly’s direction is okay. None of the action scenes are all that impressive, and the fight scenes definitely seem slower and less intense than some of the hand-to-hand combat sequences we’ve seen in other movies of late, action films like EXTRACTION (2020) and ATOMIC BLONDE (2017).

All of this being said, I have to say I enjoyed watching INTERCEPTOR. It held my interest for its one hour and forty-minute running time, and while the dialogue could have been better, I bought into J.J.’s plight and was certainly rooting for her to take down the bad guys in this one. It’s an enjoyable ride even if it’s not all that believable.

So, as long as your expectations aren’t too high, you might have fun watching Netflix’ latest action adventure.

I did.

—END—

MONSTROUS (2022) – More Mournful Drama Than Monster Movie

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MONSTROUS (2022), a new horror movie starring Christina Ricci as a woman fleeing with her young son from her abusive husband and looking for a fresh start in a new home in a new town, has the advantage of taking place in the 1950s, not something you see every day in a horror movie.

But it also has the disadvantage of a plot twist, the likes of which audiences have seen all too often before.

The result is a slow burn horror film that takes its time laying out its story, a process that in its 1950s setting is generally interesting, but what it ultimately does with this story isn’t all that exciting or horrifying. In fact, the prevalent emotion throughout this movie isn’t horror but sadness, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but it’s simply not enough to make this movie an effective horror film.

In MONSTROUS, Laura (Christina Ricci) and her young son Cody (Santino Barnard) relocate to a new California town, far away from her husband and Cody’s father. They set up shop in a farmhouse run by the pleasant Mr. Langtree (Don Durrell) and his cantankerous wife Mrs. Langtree (Colleen Camp). Laura enrolls Cody in a new school, and she starts a new job, all in the hope of starting a new life together and moving on from the life she had before with her husband, and with its brightly lit nostalgic 1950s cinematography, it seems like everything should be hunky-dory.

But such is not the case. And that’s because there is a monster in the pond in back of the farmhouse, a monster that emerges from the water and creeps into Cody’s bedroom. At first, when Laura is watching a black and white horror movie on TV also about a monster emerging from the water, the feeling is that perhaps MONSTROUS is going to be a creature feature type horror movie, but when Cody tells his mom that the monster isn’t really a monster, but a pretty lady, and that she’s talking to him, and he’s not afraid anymore, the film takes a different direction.

For most of the movie, the monster serves as a metaphor for the challenges and pain Laura experiences as she tries to raise her son on her own, dealing with his problems at school, stress at her job, and at home trying to deal with what seems to her to be a demon or spirit haunting their house, as well as her son’s changing personality. As I said earlier, there is a mood of sadness permeating the proceedings, and for most of this movie, I was reminded of another similar and better made tale, THE BABADOOK (2014). A lot of what happens in MONSTROUS is derivative of THE BABADOOK.

Carol Chrest’s screenplay works for most of the movie. I was definitely intrigued by the premise, and I was enjoying its 1950s setting, but the plot twist doesn’t do it any favors. It’s not awful. It’s just not very original. And there are enough hints throughout the movie for the audience to have a pretty good idea as to what is really happening.

I did like where the story finally goes, as it’s a touching emotional conclusion to a somber sad story. That being said, what comes before it doesn’t always make sense. In other words, l liked the conclusion, but the story of the monster and how the characters reach this point, didn’t completely work for me. The biggest question I have is, when you finally know the big reveal, why was it a monster in the first place?

Chris Sivertson’s direction is interesting. The brightly lit 1950s sequences work well, but the horror elements are few and far between. The film really isn’t scary. And without giving much away, the feel of this movie and the sense one has while watching it, is it definitely has a similar vibe as the Marvel TV show WANDAVISION (2021). You’re watching this “ideal 1950s world” and you just have that feeling in your gut that there’s something not right here. There’s also the TV commercial which plays nonstop nearly every time Carol turns on the TV, about a brand-new dishwasher— cleaning has never been easier, and water, water, water.

Water is everywhere here. Lots of hints. And the payoff works to an extent, but makes you question all that came before it.

Christina Ricci is fine as Laura, the mom who is fighting a losing battle in her attempts to raise her son on her own, and this in and of itself is sad to watch. Her life is a challenge even without a monster. And young Santino Barnard does what he has to do as Laura’s son Cody, acting sad, scared, and ultimately creepy weird. He does get the best scene in the movie, along with Ricci, when the two make peace with their situation, and Cody makes one final request of his mom. It’s an emotional moment, and the movie could have used more moments like this.

MONSTROUS really isn’t much of a horror movie, but it is a somewhat diverting drama with supernatural undertones that were enough to hold my interest for most of this slow burn chiller’s 90-minute running time.

It’s not the monster that’s monstrous here, but the hand with which life has dealt Carol. Seen through this prism, MONSTROUS is more mournful drama than monster movie.

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X (2022) – Exceptional Horror Movie Captures Feel of Both 1970s Horror and Porn Movies

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It’s 1979, and a group of young filmmakers set up shop at a farmhouse in rural Texas where they plan to shoot a porno movie, hoping to cash in on the growing genre, but the elderly owners of the farm where they are staying have some rather different ideas about sex and don’t take too kindly to the acts happening under the roof of their guest house. In fact, things get rather violent. And very, very bloody.

That’s the premise behind X (2022), a new horror movie by writer/director Ti West, which in the process of telling this compelling story, also captures the feel of both a 1970s porn flick and a 1970s horror movie. It’s DEBBIE DOES DALLAS meets THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977).

Maxine (Mia Goth) wants to be a star, and as she says, she doesn’t want to be denied all that life can give her, and so she travels with her much older boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson) to make an adult movie in which she will star. Wayne is the brains behind the movie and serves as the producer. He hires a young filmmaker RJ (Owen Campbell) whose intent is to make more than just a porn film, as he wants to give it style. Helping RJ is his young girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), and rounding out the team is Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), a stripper with adult movie experience, and her boyfriend Jackson (Kid Cudi) who plays the main male lead in their movie, “The Farmer’s Daughter,” which follows Jackson’s character as he arrives at a farmhouse when his car breaks down and meets the various daughters at the farm. Well, it is a porn movie, after all!

All is well, until the old couple at the main farmhouse discover what they are doing, and then the body count begins.

I really enjoyed X, and one of the main reasons is that Ti West’s screenplay in addition to creating interesting characters tells a far deeper story than a murder tale about two elderly prudes who want to stamp out the evils of sex. The prevalent them in X is aging and how life goes by in the blink of an eye. The couple, Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (also played by Mia Goth)— both actors are under heavy prosthetic make-up to make them look exceedingly old— are haunted by the fact that the best times of their lives have passed them by, especially Pearl, who seeks out Maxine, and is sexually attracted to her.

Heck, you can break things down here to the fact that Pearl just wants to have sex, and she can’t anymore. Her husband Howard is too afraid to touch her because of his weak heart, and he fears that he won’t survive a sexual encounter. So, when Pearl observes these people having sex while making their movie, she is motivated more by jealousy than out of moral disdain.

There’s also a PSYCHO vibe happening here… in fact, Hitchcock’s classic is mentioned in a conversation in the movie… as when Pearl disappears, and Howard asks for help finding her, he says she’s not well, and after a pause says he’s afraid she would get lost in the woods alone, but during that pause, the implication is that, in the words of Norman Bates, “she just goes a little crazy sometimes.”

We will learn more about Pearl, because Ti West is filming a prequel to this movie about the character, and Mia Goth will reprise the role.

Speaking of Goth, she is outstanding here in the dual role of Maxine and Pearl. As Maxine, Goth exudes sexuality and promise, and it’s clear that she will do just about anything to fulfill her goal of becoming a famous star. As Pearl, Goth captures a weary sadness of a life gone by, while at the same time imbuing the old woman with an underlying sense of insanity. You know right away that there’s something off about this lady, and that she is capable of some truly violent acts.

Mia Goth is no stranger to horror movies. She starred in A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016), Gore Verbinski’s atmospheric and steamy flick about a sinister wellness center that captured the look and feel of the classic Hammer movies of yesteryear. It was one of my favorite movies that year. Goth also starred in the remake of SUSPIRIA (2018).

With his cowboy hat and southern drawl, Martin Henderson channels a Matthew McConaughey vibe in his performance as Wayne, the smooth-talking producer and man running the show. Brittany Snow as Bobby-Lynne is sufficiently sexy and wise to the ways of the world, and Kid Cudi is solid as Jackson, the porn actor who is also a Vietnam vet who is cool under pressure.

Owen Campbell is convincing as RJ, the young innovative filmmaker, who wants to be creating art here rather than pornography, and Jenna Ortega is spot on as Lorraine, RJ’s girlfriend who barely says a word and seems to frown upon the type of movie they are making, but then does an about face and decides she wants to be in the movie, a turnaround that does not sit well with RJ. She also gets one of the film’s better moments, late in the game, when she’s screaming and hysterical, and Maxine begs her to calm down, that they need to work together, to which Lorraine basically tells her to go f*ck herself and she runs smack dab into the end of her life, which is one of the few laugh out loud moments in the movie.

Once the movie pivots to straight horror in its final thirty minutes, director Ti West holds nothing back in the gore department. As I said, it captures the feel and flavor of 1970s horror. Some of the killings are over the top and will generate nervous laughter. In fact, in a few places, West uses humor well, including the last line of the movie, spoken by the sheriff who up until that point hadn’t uttered a single line in the entire film.

So, on top of ample sex, there’s plenty of blood and gore, and West handles it all expertly. The film earns its R rating, and then some. I was somewhat disappointed that the film included yet another “bare foot stepping on a nail” scene, which seems to be a thing nowadays and has been featured in numerous horror movies in recent years. But the rest of the fright scenes work well, from eye gouging to head smashing, and even a hungry alligator gets in on the action. If you love gore, you won’t be disappointed, and if you’re squeamish, you may find yourself looking away from the screen.

The “X” in the title obviously refers to the X rating which was used for porn films back in the 1970s, but it also has the double meaning for something Wayne continually talks about in the movie, the “X-factor,” which is as he says that thing which some people just have which makes them a success and separates them from people with equal talent. He continually tells Maxine that she’s got it.

And in life, this is largely true. Regardless of the endeavor, some people just have “it,” that uncategorized intangible thing, some call it charisma or a gift, that gives them an edge. In this film, Maxine believes she has this X-factor, and it drives her personality forward and influences her actions. She is someone who is trying to break away from her past, take part in the American dream, and become a success.

X, which was released theatrically back in March, and is now available to rent on Prime Video, is a well-made horror movie that I liked a lot. It has interesting characters, a plot that goes deeper than one would expect in a horror movie about the making of a porn movie, and once it gets to its horror sequences, takes no prisoners and goes for the throat all the way down to its final reel.

X is X-ceptional horror.

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IN THE SHADOWS: RALPH BELLAMY

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Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today, it’s Ralph Bellamy, who during his long and prolific career often flirted with leading man roles but most of the time played supporting roles and developed into one of the most respected character actors of his time. Bellamy is known for so much more than his appearances in some horror movies, but for purposes of this column, we will focus on those horror movie roles, especially since one of those roles was a prominent one in one of the greatest horror movies of all time, Universal’s THE WOLF MAN (1941).

Bellamy was also known for his tireless advocacy for actors behind the scenes, as he helped create the Screen Actors Guild and served as President of Actors’ Equity from 1952-1964, leading the charge against McCarthyism and its baseless accusations against actors of the time.

Here now is a partial look at Bellamy’s career, in which he amassed 194 screen credits, with special emphasis on his horror movie roles:

THE SECRET 6 (1931) – Johnny Franks – Bellamy’s first screen credit, in a gangster movie which also featured Clark Gable in the cast.

THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937) – Daniel Leeson- comedy starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunn in which Bellamy eventually loses Dunn to Grant. Bellamy would become known for playing roles in which his character would not end up with the girl.

Ralph Bellamy, Cary Grant, and Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940).

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) – Bruce Baldwin – one of my favorite Ralph Bellamy roles as the honest but dull Bruce Baldwin who once again loses out to Cary Grant for the affections of the leading lady.

ELLERY QUEEN, MASTER DETECTIVE (1940) – Ellery Queen – first in a series of movies in which Bellamy played famed detective Ellery Queen.

THE WOLF MAN (1941) – Colonel Montford – if you’re a horror fan, this is where you know Ralph Bellamy from, and for me, this is my favorite Bellamy role. As the village law enforcement officer, it’s up to Montford to solve the mystery of just what or who is killing the villagers. Further complicating matters is he is good friends with Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) who just happens to be the Wolf Man, the creature who is committing all the murders. And what makes THE WOLF MAN so great is this compelling storyline isn’t even the main one, but only one of the many compelling storylines in the film, which includes an amazing cast. In addition to Bellamy and Chaney, there’s Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Patric Knowles.

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)- Erik Ernst- Bellamy teams once again with fellow WOLF MAN stars Evelyn Ankers, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr. in this fourth Universal FRANKENSTEIN movie, the first and only time Lon Chaney Jr. played the Monster. Bellamy again plays the town’s top law enforcement officer, this time involved with Dr. Frankenstein’s (Sir Cedricke Hardwicke) daughter Elsa (Evelyn Ankers). Lugosi of course plays one of his all-time best movie characters, Ygor, the second and last time he would play the character, having created the role in the previous Frankenstein movie, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939). Bellamy gets to be the hero here as he leads the charge to rescue Elsa and destroy the Monster.

ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) – Dr. Sapirstein- it took nearly 30 years for Bellamy to appear in another horror movie, but his turn here as the sinister Dr. Sapirstein in Roman Polanski’s classic thriller is one of his best and most frightening performances.

SOMETHING EVIL (1972) – Harry Lincoln- TV movie about a haunted house starring Sandy Dennis and Darren McGavin, directed by a young Steven Spielberg!

THE MISSILES OF OCTOBER (1974)- Adlai Stevenson- Bellamy won an Emmy for his portrayal of Adlai Stevenson in this TV movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis, starring William Devane as JFK and Martin Sheen as Robert Kennedy.

OH, GOD! (1977) – Sam Raven- supporting role in this very popular Carl Reiner comedy in its day starring George Burns as God who communicates to unsuspecting John Denver. Also features Teri Garr and Donald Pleasence in its cast.

THE WINDS OF WAR (1983) – Franklin Delano Roosevelt- won another Emmy for his portrayal of FDR in this TV miniseries, the second time he played Roosevelt in a movie, the first being in SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO (1960).

TRADING PLACES (1983) – Randolph Duke- memorable pairing with Don Ameche in this funny John Landis comedy starring Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Denholm Elliott.

WAR AND REMEMBRANCE (1988-1989)- Franklin Delano Roosevelt- plays Roosevelt once again in this TV miniseries sequel.

PRETTY WOMAN (1990)- James Morse- Bellamy’s final film role in this insanely popular romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.

Bellamy passed away on November 29, 1991 due to a lung ailment. He was 87.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of IN THE SHADOWS, where we looked at the career of Ralph Bellamy, known to horror fans for his work in THE WOLF MAN, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, and years later, in ROSEMARY’S BABY.

I hope you will join me again next time when we look at the career of another memorable character actor in the movies.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

EMERGENCY (2022) – Exceptional Eloquent Drama About Racism Intense Yet Funny

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My favorite movies often are the ones in which the script is spot on and honest and taps into truth, so that regardless of where its story goes, it’s believable and clicks, because the audience knows where its coming from and understands what’s going on.

EMERGENCY (2022) is such a movie, with an exceptional script by K.D. Davila that speaks to race relations in the here and now, specifically the treatment of black men by the police, and it does so in a way that not only isn’t overbearing and heavy-handed, but instead is wild and insane and even funny.

EMERGENCY, now available on Prime Video, tells the story of two black college students, Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler), who on the eve of spring break, are on their way to an epic night of partying, but first they return to their campus apartment and there discover the door open and an unconscious body of a white girl lying on their living room floor. Their video game playing dorky roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) is in his room playing on his computer and doesn’t even realize there’s a girl sprawled out on their floor.

Kunle wants to call 911, but the streetwise Sean stops him from doing so, explaining that if they call the police, no one is going to believe them that this girl just showed up on their doorstep. They will suspect Kunle and Sean of foul play, and worse, things could get out of hand quickly and they could be shot. This plot point isn’t hard to believe because… it’s true.

Kunle, who is responsible to a fault, eventually convinces his two friends that they should drive this girl to the hospital, as she definitely seems intoxicated or perhaps worse, drugged, and needs medical attention. Sean and Carlos agree, and they covertly carry the girl out to Sean’s car where they hope to drive her across town and leave her at the emergency room.

And thus begins an odyssey of a night that gets crazier and more intense by the second, as what could go wrong does go wrong, and then some.

While director Carey Williams obviously seems to have been influenced by the work of Spike Lee and Jordan Peele, two other films come to mind when describing how EMERGENCY plays out. In terms of sheer intensity and frenetic stress, I was reminded of brothers Benny and Josh Safdie’s GOOD TIME (2017), the film which told the story of the harrowing efforts of a bank robber played by Robert Pattinson trying to spring his mentally challenged brother from a hospital before he was transferred to prison. EMERGENCY also calls to mind the original THE HANGOVER (2009), the insane comedy starring Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis, where three men awake after a bachelor’s night out to find the groom missing and their lives in complete disarray, and their attempts to locate the missing groom only make things worse. THE HANGOVER of course was played completely for laughs, whereas EMERGENCY isn’t, but the two films share the zany unpredictability of the best of intentions gone awry.

EMERGENCY captures that same HANGOVER- type journey blowing-up-in-your face vibe as things continue to unravel for these three young men as they try to do the right thing, even as they remain afraid of the simplest solution, calling 911, fearing it could cost them their lives.

Things that go wrong include the girl becoming more intoxicated when Carlos offers her a sports drink which he doesn’t realize is an alcoholic concoction created by Sean; the tail light on their car isn’t working, something that could get them pulled over by the police, and so they try getting another car; they learn that the girl, Emma, is underage, and Emma’s sister Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter) is hot on their trail with her friends, as she is tracking Emma with her cell phone.

I really enjoyed EMERGENCY. As I said, the script by K.D. Davila is as real as it gets, and it makes its points while also telling a compelling and entertaining story. Carey Williams’ direction is equally as good. The in-depth characterizations do not come at the expense of plot, as the film moves quickly through one ordeal after another. This is a high energy tale that does not sacrifice storytelling for poignancy.

Donald Elise Watkins is excellent as Kunle, the student with a bright future, described as the Barack Obama of the science world by his buddy Sean. Watkins plays Kunle as a young man who disagrees with his friend’s Sean’s take on the world and wants to call 911 and do the right thing, but ultimately, he doesn’t.

He also gets one of the best moments in the movie, the moment where his view of the world changes. When they are finally stopped by the police outside the hospital and are ordered at gunpoint to get out of the vehicle, Kunle is shoved to the ground after having a gun pointed directly in his face, even after he says that he is only trying to save the girl. The most interesting aspect of this scene is that the police do not overreact, but there is still a marked difference between the way Kunle is treated and the way the other students who are all white, are treated. It’s almost imperceptible, since this isn’t an overdramatic “shoot first ask questions later” scene, but it’s there. The experience not only frightens Kunle but traumatizes him, as shown by the last shot of the film, when he hears a police siren in the distance, and his expression goes cold.

RJ Cyler is also excellent as Sean, the street wise friend who knows a bit more of the real world than Kunle does. Sebastian Chacon as Carlos largely serves as the comic relief, and he’s very good at it. And although she spends most of the movie unconscious, Maddie Nichols makes her mark as Emma, and when she’s not vomiting and gets to speak some dialogue, has some key moments. Likewise, Sabrina Carpenter is explosive as Emma’s older sister Maddie, who is guilt ridden over bringing her sister to a college campus and then losing her. She has her own issues with racism which come out over the course of the movie, even as she pushes back and claims she’s not racist.

K. D. Davila’s screenplay provides first-rate dialogue throughout.

EMERGENCY is a superior movie, a film that tells a story of our time that as a wild and oftentimes funny vehicle is about as far removed from a preachy sermon as one can get. Yet, it makes its social and racial points as eloquently as any well-written speech or diatribe.

It’s one of my favorite movies of the year so far.

—END—

UNCHARTED (2022) – Actioner Based on Video Game Wastes Talents of Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg

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UNCHARTED (2022) proves once again that movies based on video games often play out like… video games, and as a result, aren’t any more fun than sitting there watching someone play video games. Some people like that sort of thing. I don’t.

I only decided to watch UNCHARTED because of its two leads, Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, two actors I enjoy a lot, and I was curious to see how they would be working together. And you know what? After watching this movie, I don’t really know how they are working together, because they are playing two characters with as much depth as characters… in a video game. In short, while they were both doing their thing on screen, Holland acting like he walked off the set of his latest SPIDER-MAN movie, and Wahlberg like he was in another action/comedy, it didn’t matter, because the characters they were playing in this movie could have been played by any actor.

UNCHARTED, which is based on the popular video game franchise by Sony PlayStation, tells the story of Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) who is recruited by wisecracking treasure hunter…. always a bad sign in a movie when the main character has as his main job title “treasure hunter,”….Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) to help him find a treasure lost by Magellan some five hundred years ago. I swear, as soon as this plot point was mentioned in the movie, I was ready to bale. I mean, if there was such a treasure, these two knuckleheads would be the last two people to be able to find it!

Anyway, Nathan agrees to help Sullivan, or “Sully,” because Sully tells him he had been working with Nathan’s older brother, who’s been out of Nathan’s life for years, and if Nathan helps him, Sully promises that there’s a good chance he’ll find his brother. Now, you don’t have to listen to Sully talk for more than three seconds before you realize he’s about as trustworthy as a villain in an Indiana Jones movie, but Nathan listens to him anyway and joins him on his treasure hunt. Along the way, they join forces with fellow treasure hunter and equally untrustworthy Chloe (Sophia Ali), and cross paths with villains Braddock (Tati Gabrielle) and Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas).

Yawn.

And more yawns.

There’s no getting around it. UNCHARTED was by far the dullest and most boring movie I’ve seen all year. In spite of polished and energetic directing by Ruben Fleischer, the story is a snooze, and the characters are literally right out of a video game with no more depth than that. It’s also one of those stories where the main characters find all the clues so easily there’s simply no dramatic tension whatsoever.

The screenplay by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway scores highest with the banter between Holland and Wahlberg, but at the end of the day, this dialogue doesn’t matter because neither character is fleshed out. The experience was like listening to Holland and Wahlberg exchange wisecracks while they were playing video games. Their characters were no more interesting than two dudes playing a game. And the story is dreadfully unbelievable and dull.

Director Ruben Fleischer has made some good movies, films like ZOMBIELAND (2009) and VENOM (2018), and this movie looks great, but none of it means anything. It’s one polished action scene after another with no compelling characters or story, the perfect recipe for a two-hour nap.

UNCHARTED opens with a rousing action scene featuring Tom Holland’s character battling bad guys while falling out of a plane. It’s a sequence that borrows heavily from a far better sequence in the Timothy Dalton James Bond movie THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987). The sequence in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS was better because they had real stuntmen up there falling out of the plane, whereas here it’s all CGI. Plus, it’s the opening sequence of the movie, and we know nothing about Holland’s character at this point. More importantly, we don’t know why he’s up there in that plane. Imagine if RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) began with Indiana Jones simply fighting villains without seeing him attempt to snag the treasure first. You’d be like, neat action, but who is this guy and why is he fighting all these guys?

UNCHARTED, which premiered in theaters back in February and is now available to rent on Prime Video, is the emotional equivalent of its source material, a video game. Some people like this. I don’t.

And if you like movies, you probably won’t either.

So, for movie fans, UNCHARTED is best left unwatched.

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE (2015)

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Killer grizzly bear movies are a thing.

Sure, maybe not as widely known as the killer shark genre, thanks to JAWS (1975) and the SHARKNADO movies, but they’re still a thing. Probably the most famous of these flicks is GRIZZLY (1976), which while a complete rip off of JAWS, is still a lot of fun in spite of its low budget and total lack of originality. It was also wildly popular in its day, making a ton of money when it was released, and it’s also quite gory for a PG rated movie.

Then there’s my personal favorite, THE NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY (1966), a western in which a rancher played by Clint Walker has to protect his family and farm from a giant marauding bear. This is an exceedingly entertaining film. There are a host of others as well, and probably my favorite movie scene with a killer grizzly is from THE REVENANT (2015). The fight between Leonardo DiCaprio’s character and the bear is as intense as it gets.

Which brings us to today’s movie, INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE, a horror adventure available on Netflix which I chose to watch because… well, yeah, because there was a grizzly in it. I was curious. Fight me!

Anyway, let’s get right to the point: INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is… not as intense as it gets. Not even close. It’s also not among my favorite grizzly bear movies, nor is it much of a horror movie, which I guess isn’t its fault. The film doesn’t appear to be advertised as a horror movie, but it did show up on Netflix in their horror category. So, there’s some false advertising in there somewhere!

INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is the story of two estranged brothers, Rowan (James Marsden) and Beckett (Thomas Jane). Rowan has returned to their small town after leaving under controversial circumstances, which doesn’t sit well with his older brother Beckett, since he’s a deputy for the sheriff’s department and thinks his brother is up to no good. But actually, Rowan’s a stand-up guy, a tracker, and he’s back to track someone lost in an area of the woods known as the grizzly maze, an area in which his and Beckett’s dad had taught them all about.

But there’s a new bear in town, and he’s stalking the woods and is hungry for humans. Everyone in the woods is in danger, so it’s up to Rowan and Beckett to put aside their differences and take down the killer bear.

That’s pretty much it for plot. There are more subplots involving other characters, including female characters played by Piper Perabo, Michaela McManus, and Kelly Curran, but none of these three ever take center stage. Scott Glenn plays the sheriff, and in the most intriguing bit of casting, Billy Bob Thornton plays a grizzly bear tracker and hunter.

Sadly, he’s not a particularly good grizzly bear tracker and hunter. That should give you a clue about his fate in this movie.

James Marsden, who plays the lead role, younger brother Rowan, is probably best known for playing Cyclops in the original X-MEN movies. He also starred in the recent THE STAND (2020-21) miniseries.

Thomas Jane, who plays big brother Beckett, played the lead role in THE MIST (2007), and he also played Frank Castle in the 2004 version of THE PUNISHER.

Both actors are decent here, as is the entire cast.

The biggest problem with INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is that its story isn’t so hot. The screenplay by Guy Moshe and J.R. Reher gets the set-up right. The characters are all introduced well enough, and the story of the murderous grizzly in the woods is intriguing, but the payoff just isn’t all that exciting. In fact, most of the grizzly scenes disappoint.

Director David Hackl is handed the perfect setting but doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot with it. The grizzly scenes just never go for the jugular.

Which brings us to the grizzly. Hackl used a real grizzly bear here, which should have been a plus, a step above CGI in the realism department, but for some reason, the bear here just doesn’t come off as all that terrifying. I’ve seen Winnie the Pooh look creepier.

The story may be about a vicious grizzly bear, but his actions as captured on film here are all rather tame.

So, if you’re looking for a horrific grizzly-bear-on-the-loose monster movie, you’re going to have to dust off that old JAWS-on-land chestnut, GRIZZLY, because you won’t find it here with INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE.

Instead, you may find yourself stuck in a grizzly daze.

—END—

OPERATION MINCEMEAT (2022) – World War II Period Piece Tells Fascinating Story of Deception

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OPERATION MINCEMEAT (2022) may sound like a horror movie about cannibals, but it’s not.

It’s a World War II period piece based on the true story of a top-secret espionage plot by British Intelligence which aimed at duping Hitler and the Nazis into believing the Allies were going to invade Greece rather than their intended target of Sicily.

Now available on Netflix, OPERATION MINCEMEAT tells the story of two intelligence officers, Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) who face the arduous task of having to create a false narrative to make the Nazis believe something that they have no business believing, because conventional wisdom has it that the most strategic spot for the Allies to attack next is Sicily. They come up with the idea of having a corpse wash up on the shore of Spain where they believe the contents of the false plan which will be in the corpse’s possession will make its way to the Nazi leaders there who in turn will forward the information to Hitler.

Their superior officer Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs) thinks the plan is absolutely ridiculous and obvious, and that the Nazis would never fall for it, but Churchill (Simon Russell Beale) believes it is so obvious that the Nazis wouldn’t think the British would try something so blatantly foolish, and hence would then suspect the information as being real, and so he greenlights the project.

Ewen and Charles face complications from the get-go. For starters, their search for a suitable corpse proves nearly impossible, to which Ewen quips that he can’t believe they are in the middle of a war and they can’t find corpse for their needs anywhere in the country! Their attempts to photograph the corpse prove fruitless, as no matter how hard they try, they can’t make him look alive, and so they decide to then search for a live person who resembles the dead man and take pictures of him instead.

They have to create an entire back story for this man to make everything as realistic as possible, including creating an entire love story complete with love letters, and to this end they receive help from a key member of their team, Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald). Jean’s involvement eventually complicates matters as she and the married Ewen begin to share a chemistry together, while the single Charles also has eyes for her. Further complicating matters is Admiral Godfrey suspects Ewen’s brother of being a communist spy for the Soviets and orders Charles to spy on Ewen. Through all this, they do eventually create an entire back story for their corpse and do get him to the shores of Spain where the information is then picked up by the local authorities. From there, the plans must get to the Nazis in the hope that Hitler will believe the ruse and send his troops to Greece rather than Sicily.

OPERATION MINCEMEAT tells a fascinating story that if it weren’t true would be difficult to believe. I mean, no spoilers since this is history, but the ploy worked, and as meticulously mapped out in this movie by screenwriter Michelle Ashford, it was an incredibly tall order to pull off. So many things had to go right, and they did. Of course, a lot of it was because of the careful and relentless planning by Ewen and Charles. They prepared for everything, including inserting an eyelash inside the closed letter, so that when eventually the materials were returned and the letter unopened, when they opened it they saw the eyelash was gone, to which Admiral Godfrey laments that he wasn’t going to send British soldiers to their deaths based on one missing eyelash! The detailed screenplay was based on a book by Ben Macintyre.

OPERATION MINCEMEAT reminded me somewhat of another recent World War II espionage movie, MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR (2021). I actually enjoyed MUNICH somewhat more than OPERATION MINCEMEAT. As fascinating a story told in OPERATION MINCEMEAT, it often falls short in the emotion department. The film works more on an intellectual level. Also, while there are moments of dramatic tension, in terms of suspense, it’s a little more subdued than it could have been.

Director John Madden has made a handsome production that firmly fits the period, but in terms of driving the film forward to a riveting climax he tends to coast rather than speed.

Colin Firth is excellent as Ewen, and his personality kind of sets the tone for the entire movie, as he is dealing with all sorts of stress, both professional and personal, and he deals with it all subtly and politely.

Matthew Macfadyen is equally as strong as Charles, who is much more straightforward than Ewen and far less complicated. The two don’t always see eye to eye, but they put aside their differences and work well together.

Kelly Macdonald is very enjoyable as Jean, the widower who grows attached to Ewen even as she knows she shouldn’t.

Jason Isaacs is pompous and cranky as Admiral Godfrey. It’s another topnotch performance by Isaacs. And Simon Russell Beale is fun to watch as an irascible yet imaginative Winston Churchill. Isaacs and Beale also both co-starred in THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017), a film that gave both of them far meatier roles than here in OPERATION MINCEMEAT.

I also really enjoyed Penelope Wilton as Hester, Ewen’s exceedingly loyal secretary and valued member of the Mincemeat team. Johnny Flynn is also really good as a young cool and confident Ian Fleming who is also a member of the team. The film even provides some fun insights into the future James Bond author’s writing.

OPERATION MINCEMEAT is a polished World War II period piece drama that tells the unlikely yet true story of one of the greatest ruses pulled off during the war, a deception that fooled the Nazis into defending the wrong nation and enabled the British to successfully take over the strategic location at Sicily. While the movie sometimes lacks emotion and tension, it does feature topnotch performances and tells a fascinating story of a side of the war not always told, the intelligence side.

And in this case, intelligence means deception.

—END—

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)

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Ralph Bellamy, Cary Grant, and Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940).

In the day and age where classic black and white movies are getting more and more difficult to view, and if you don’t believe me, check out your favorite streaming services and see how many classic movies made before 1960 they offer, it’s becoming more and more important to celebrate these gems of yesteryear.

With that in mind, on today’s MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES column, we look at the hilarious dialogue in Howard Hawks’ classic comedy HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. For my money, HIS GIRL FRIDAY has the funniest rapid-fire script this side of the Marx Brothers!

HIS GIRL FRIDAY is the remake of THE FRONT PAGE (1931), but in this Howard Hawks version the character of Hildy Johnson was changed from a male reporter to a female one, which changed the whole dynamic of the story for the better. THE FRONT PAGE was remade again in 1974 by Billy Wilder with Hildy once again cast as a man in a vehicle for Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It’s been remade other times as well. HIS GIRL FRIDAY is my favorite version.

In HIS GIRL FRIDAY, which pokes fun at the ruthless newspaper business and the even more ruthless but completely incompetent political leaders of the day, newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is about to get married to the easy going and honest Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), but her wise-cracking and impossibly dedicated editor and former husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) will have none of it and will stop at nothing to keep Hildy at the paper while they work on the explosive happening-in-real-time story of a massive manhunt for a fugitive wanted for murder.

The script by Charles Lederer, based on the play by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht is nonstop hilarious, with the key word being nonstop. The dialogue is fast and relentless, the actors speak at a rapid-fire pace and if you’re not ready, you’ll be caught off guard. But the pace is ripe for humor, and without further hesitation, let’s have a listen:

A lot of the humor comes from the banter between Cary Grant’s Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson.

For example:

WALTER: Look, Hildy, I only acted like any husband that didn’t want to see his home broken up.

HILDY: What home?

WALTER: “What home”? Don’t you remember the home I promised you?

And:

WALTER: What were you when you came here five years ago – a little college girl from a school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick…

HILDY: Well, you wouldn’t take me if I hadn’t been doll-faced.

WALTER: Well, why should I? I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering.

It’s also a very playful script with in-jokes and moments that break the fourth wall, like this one where Walter is trying to describe what Bruce, who’s played by Ralph Bellamy, looks like:

WALTER: He looks like that fellow in the movies – Ralph Bellamy.

There are parts which play on misunderstandings, like the exchange between Hildy and newspaper heavy Louis:

LOUIS: What’s the matter, Hildy?

HILDY: Don’t give me that innocent stuff! What did you pull on Mr. Baldwin this time?

LOUIS: Who, me?

HILDY: Yes, you and that albino of yours!

LOUIS: You talkin’ about Evangeline?

HILDY: None other!

LOUIS: She ain’t no albino.

HILDY: She’ll do till one comes along!

LOUIS; She was born right here in this country!

Then there are moments which highlight Walters’ ruthlessness to get the job done, like in this moment where he’s talking to his copy editor:

WALTER: Hey, Duffy, listen. Is there any way we can stop the 4:00 train to Albany from leaving town?

DUFFY: We might dynamite it.

WALTER: Could we?

The dialogue between Walter and Bruce, where Walter consistently leaves the slow-witted and well-meaning Bruce in the dust is energetic and funny:

WALTER: Well, Bruce, you see, I thought… You don’t mind if I call you Bruce, do you? After all, we’re practically related.

BRUCE: Oh, not at all.

WALTER; You see, my wife, that is, your wife, I mean, Hildy, oh Hildy, you led me to expect you were marrying a much older man.

BRUCE: Oh, really? What did I say that led you to expect that…

WALTER: Oh, don’t worry about it. I realize that you didn’t mean old in years.

The local politcians are corrupt and inept. In this scene, the mayor tries to convince a messenger, Joe Pettibone, that he didn’t deliver the message, but Pettibone is a wide-eyed innocent and quite clueless citizen who won’t hear of it:

MAYOR: Now, remember, you never delivered this.

JOE: Yes, I did.

MAYOR: No, you didn’t. You got caught in the traffic or something.

JOE: No, I came around the…

MAYOR: Well, pretend you did. Now, get out of here and don’t let anybody see you.

And we finish with one of my favorite lines of the movie, and it comes near the film’s climax, where Walter finds himself surrounded by the authorities, and the fugitive they’re all looking for who Walter desperately wants to interview, is hiding inside the oversized desk. As the authorities enter the office and Walter struggles to come up with a plan of escape, the sheriff announces that if Walter doesn’t cooperate, they’ll start impounding his belongings, and he starts pointing to some of them, like the desk.

A light bulb goes off inside Walter’s head:

WALTER: This desk? I dare you to move this desk out of here!

To which the sheriff responds, “Come on, boys!”

Hilarious moment in a hilarious movie.

Check out HIS GIRL FRIDAY. It’s directed by one of my favorite movie directors, Howard Hawks, and stars Cary Grant at the top of his game, and Rosalind Russell who is equally as good, with a screenplay that is one of classic comedy’s best.’

Hope you enjoyed today’s MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES column and that you will join me again next time when we’ll look at more quotes from other classic movies!

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael