..,to compliment any woman about anything to do with appearance in a workplace environment these days? If you want to say anything complimentary to anyone, say it only to other guys, and even then you might be walking on thin ice. One wrong move these days and you’re dead.
Henry Fonda starred in a pair of classic films during a four-month period in the mid ’50s — Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Wrong Man (opened 12.22.56) and Sidney Lumet‘s 12 Angry Men (4.10.57). Both were financial disappointments, but this didn’t matter in the long run. Today the film snobs (i.e., guys like Glenn Kenny and Richard Brody) absolutely worship the Hitchcock while your hoi polloi, hot-dog-eating Average Joes (i.e., film mavens like myself) tend to prefer the Lumet.
Both are first-rate efforts. Blurays of both are sitting on my bookshelves. While I certainly don’t “dislike” The Wrong Man, it is (be honest) a bummerish film that basically says one thing for 96% of its length — “This Queens-residing, moderate-mannered family man and musician is unlucky and therefore fucked.”
I feel a much greater degree of affection and camaraderie for 12 Angry Men.
Sometime last night San Franciscco Chronicle critic Bob Strauss declared that The Wrong Man is “better” than 12 Angry Men. I tapped out a reply this morning:
“The Wrong Man is certainly ‘well made’ as far as that term goes or allows, but it mainly plays like a suffocatingly Kafka-esque thing, a chilly and rather downish and dull procedural about what it’s like for an innocent man (Fonda’s Chris Ballestrero, a Stork Club bass player) to be caught in the vines and tendrils of a judicial system that regards him as guilty of theft, and then what it’s like when his wife (played by Vera Miles) begins to succumb to depression and mental illness.
“The Hitchcockian care and craft levels are there in every frame, but watching The Wrong Man is like sinking into a pit of quicksand and being helpless to climb out…deeper and deeper into the slithery muck. Artier than 12 Angry Men — moodier, more visually expressive — but so much grimmer.
“And what a cast of dispirited downheads! Poor Fonda and Miles. Those suspicious, hawk-eyed detectives (the borough-sounding Harold J. Stone and the younger, WASP-ier Charles Cooper). The none-too-bright women from the insurance company who mistakenly identify Fonda as the thief. The intelligent and personable attorney (Anthony Quayle) who tries to defend Fonda in court. The woman who plays Fonda’s mother and even the two young sons. They’re all part of the same oozy swamp, and then the stuff begins to seep into your pores and down into your lungs and gradually you’re asphyxiated.
“It all alleviates when the real bad guy is captured at the very end. My favorite shot is when Cooper happens to spot the bad guy being brought into the police station. He walks outside, starts down the street and then begins to realize that the bad guy looks an awful lot like Fonda, and so he turns around and goes back inside.
“But that’s one good moment in a movie that’s all about being slowly smothered by a large bureaucratic judicial octopus. Compare this to the 15 or 20 diverting, emotionally engaging, character-rich or soul-stirring moments in 12 Angry Men, which is also one of the most inventively staged and shot confined-space films in cinema history.
“I’m sorry but only a Get Out-worshipping contrarian film snob would call The Wrong Man “better” than Sidney Lumet’s 1957 classic. For all I know Kenny and Brody feel the same way. (And don’t forget that these guys are Marnie fans also.)”
My God, the NYC jurors in 12 Angry Men could have been theoretically assigned to Chris Balistrero’s suspicion-of-robbery trial instead of the boy-allegedly-stabbing-his-father murder case, and then they would’ve died of boredom. As juror Robert Webber says early on, “Boy, these cases can be the dullest…”
A good portion of the critical community has ixnayed Lee Daniels‘ The United States vs. Billie Holiday (Hulu, 2.26) — 67% Rotten Tomatoes, 54% Metacritic. But everyone (HE included) approves of Andra Day‘s performance as Holiday, so there’s that.
It’s a story about heroin-using, velvet-toned Billie Holiday, perhaps the greatest American blues singer of the 20th Century, and the constant persecution of the poor woman in the late ’40s and ’50s by Federal Bureau of Narcotics honcho Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund) and a charming, lower-level agent named Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) whom Holiday “takes a shine to” despite being a predator.
We’re not just talking about an authoritarian campaign to eliminate the scourge of drugs and needles but a racist determination to punish Holiday for occasionally (often?) singing “Strange Fruit,” a protest song about lynching of African Americans. Anslinger and others in his realm felt that the song might goad African Americans into this or that form of social protest.
The movie basically says that (a) Holiday won’t stop using smack (obviously regrettable but then again she’s not hurting anyone except herself) and (b) Anslinger and his goons won’t stop arresting and harassing her and making her life miserable. And it goes on and on like that for 130 minutes, give or take.
Holiday finally dies in 1959 at age 44. She could have had a gentler, happier life, or at least one less defined by persecution.
I didn’t “enjoy” watching Daniels’ film — it’s an absolute slog to sit through. I was looking at the time code and muttering “lemme outta here” over and over. But at the same time it’s his most rigorous, ambitious and meticulously mounted film (period detail and all) and so I had to admit that it’s his “best” film. especially when compared to his previous four stabs at direction, none of which I was especially knocked out by — Shadowboxer, Precious, The Paperboy, Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
When I say “best” I mean that it’s his biggest, boldest “try” — a film that’s not just about a certain character but about the whole racist enchilada of the U.S. of A. in the bad old days of the ’40s and ’50s.
On 1.28 I wrote that Day‘s performance “as the gifted, tortured, persecuted and self-destructive Holiday is obviously an Oscar-calibre thang…Andra Day for Best Actress, Andra Day for Best Actress, Andra Day for Best Actress.”