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Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It plays out like a modern Jekyll & Hyde story, told as a cautionary tale; a suburban nightmare with the ring of truth to it. James Mason, who also produced, is superb as a financially strapped high school teacher who needs to take a life-saving experimental drug for his incurable condition. But the self-administered cortisone gives him such a physical & mental lift that he starts over-dosing. Within days his mood swings are out of control and he’s hopelessly addicted, a freak at work and a scary menace to his wife & son. Helmer Nicholas Ray was a troubled soul, personally & professionally, but his manic-depressive nature chimed perfectly within this narrative frame. The stylistic over-reaches of color in JOHNNY GUITAR/’54 and his growing comfort with the CinemaScope format he first used on REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE/’55 achieve a maturity & balance on this perfectly scaled project that he never quite repeated. (Those rows of yellow taxis, the shadowy doppelgängers on the wall, the Posters-of-the-World decor; to say nothing of the great supporting perfs, including Barbara Rush’s wife & Walter Matthau’s best friend.) And if the story’s ‘push-me/pull-you’ manipulation doesn’t deliver the level of satisfaction found in the circular plotting & sophisticated character studies of THE LUSTY MEN/’52 (Ray’s shamefully undervalued masterpiece), this remains remarkable moviemaking. And don’t miss author Jonathan Lethem's enthusiatic observations, one of the Extras on this gorgeously remastered Criterion DVD.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Does composer David Raksin run a few cues in reverse for an eerie effect? Sounds that way.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY2: There’s an OTT nature to many of the great ‘50s melodramas by Minnelli, Sirk, Ray et al. that skirt the very edge of audience comfort zones. Seen in a theater, there’s always a risk for a ‘bad laugh.’ (Quentin Tarantino refuses to try a Sirk style film because of it.) So, home-viewing may actually be the best way to watch these great works. Alone on a couch, no one can hear you giggle inappropriately.

CONTEST: Three actors in this film have prominent roles in key Alfred Hitchcock pics. Name the actors, and the Hitchcock features, to win our usual prize, a MAKSQUIBS WriteUp of the NetFlix DVD of your choice.

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