Blog Directory CineVerse: June 2020

Keep two eyes on these Jacks

Saturday, June 20, 2020

It's incredible to think that the first cut of One-Eyed Jacks, Marlon Brando's one and only directorial effort from 1961, ran close to eight hours, if the rumors are true. The version we can view today is still a lengthy watch at 141 minutes, but it's packed with interesting characters, classic western film conflict, and Marlon mannerisms that suggest a Method actor's approach to a fairly conventional oater. Our CineVerse group put this film under the magnifying glass last Wednesday and surmised the following.

What did you find interesting, unexpected, surprising, or memorable about Oned-Eyed Jacks?

  • Marlon Brando directed as well as starred in the film; known for being a Method actor, he personifies and enlivens this character with traits and idiosyncrasies that many wouldn’t expect for an antihero character in a tough western.
  • There’s a Freudian Oedipal subtext going on in this film, which depicts a man betrayed by his partner but refusing to immediately seek revenge on him—even though he can; instead, Rio opts to seduce his ex-partner’s stepdaughter, lying to her about who he is and what he intends, and deflowering and impregnating her.
    • Consider that the ex-partner’s name is “Dad Longworth,” which suggests that Rio has “daddy issues” and is almost acting out like a rebellious, unpredictable teenager who hasn’t quite matured yet to make the best decisions but who is steadfast in his determination to wreak revenge upon Longworth.
  • The visuals and runtime are sprawling; there’s some fantastic location shooting here on display that showcases Mexico and Monterey in picturesque splendor. Also, this is quite long in the tooth for a western of this time or any time, clocking in at 141 minutes (after Brando originally had a first cut of nearly five hours long).
  • The movie feels like a blend between an old school Hollywood western—the kind directed by John Ford or Howard Hawks—and a New Hollywood film that employs greater acting nuance and range as well as deeper psychological themes, adult situations, and shades of grey in which the antihero—later perfected by Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name—could thrive and be accepted by audiences.
    • This picture has been described as having European arthouse film sensibilities to some extent, especially in its meandering, nontraditional narrative.
    • It also interestingly has characters speak Spanish without the use of subtitles, forcing non-fluent viewers to pay close attention and attempt to decipher what’s being said in the context of the scene.
  • The ending feels morally and practically unresolved and ambiguous. We see Rio determined to move on and hide out from the law, refusing to take Louisa with him but vowing to be reunited with her.
  • Brando is presenting an intriguing antihero character who is designed to leave us conflicted. How are we supposed to feel about Rio, who has proven himself to be a pathological liar, opportunist, bank robber, and murderer (or at least manslaughterer)? Rio is a walking contradiction: a man who takes advantage of women and their trust in him, uses threats and violence to get what he wants, and is a known criminal, yet a character who seems to redeem himself and defend the honor of women and whom we are unavoidably rooting for and charismatically drawn to. Is he worthy of our trust and admiration?

Themes at work in One-Eyed Jacks

  • The duplicitous and hidden natures of human beings. The film is titled “One-Eyed Jacks” for a reason; the idiom means someone who presents a positive side of their character while obscuring their dark other side. Rio tells Dad: “You may be a one-eyed jack around here, but I've seen the other side of your face.”
  • Betrayal, revenge, and attempted redemption in a morally ambiguous universe.
  • Rebellion against patriarchal authority, as embodied by Rio versus a former partner in crime named, interestingly, “Dad Longworth.”

Other films similar to One-Eyed Jacks

  • Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
  • The Appaloosa
  • The Missouri Breaks
  • The Law and Jake Wade
  • Lonely Are the Brave
  • Johnny Guitar
  • Shoot Out


Very Cary, auspiciously Audrey, but essentially Alfred

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Any filmmaker who has attempted to outdo Alfred Hitchcock in the suspense/thriller department, or slavishly imitate his style, has usually failed. But not always. One shining example of a Hitchcockian film that you might swear was directed by the Master himself if you didn't know any better is Charade, a 1963 outing helmed by Stanley Donen, which fits neatly within the Hitchcock canon in multiple ways. We counted those ways last week during our CineVerse meeting and discussed the following:

Other films and works that Charade makes us think of

  • Hitchcock thrillers like North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief as well as Vertigo
  • James Bond spy thrillers of the time, including Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger
  • Once Upon a Time in the West
  • 1960s stylish crime comedies and romantic thrillers, especially ones set in foreign countries, such as Arabesque, How to Steal a Million, Mirage, and The Pink Panther
  • Agatha Christie’s And Then There Was None

This film has been hailed as the greatest Hitchcock picture not made by Hitchcock himself. How does this movie look and feel like a Hitchcock film?

  • It casts Cary Grant, who starred in four outstanding films for Hitchcock: North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief, Notorious, and Suspicion.
  • It uses the theme of the wrong man suspected of a crime or act that he (in this case, a woman) did not commit, which Grant played to perfection four years earlier in North by Northwest. It also employs two other common Hitchcock themes: deception and duplicity.
  • It features a MacGuffin—a device that motivates the characters but which doesn’t matter much to the overall story or our satisfaction with the movie. Here, the MacGuffin is the missing $25,000, which later turns out to be three rare stamps.
  • It deftly balances the Hitchcock blend of suspense, black comedy, intrigue, and romance between two attractive leads.
  • It’s set and filmed in a romantic and picturesque location—in this case Paris—similar to how Hitchcock filmed To Catch a Thief in the south of France and showcased all the lavish facets of that country. Here, as in many Hitchcock films, our characters also interact with or observe popular landmarks, such as Notre Dame, Champs-Élysées, and the Palais Royale. Hitchock reveled in featuring American landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Rushmore, and the Statue of Liberty in some of his movies.
  • The opening titles are reminiscent of visually arresting and textually animated openings for Vertigo and Psycho.
  • Aping Hitchcock, there’s even a cameo by the director, Stanley Donen, who appears, opposite the film’s screenwriter, in one of the elevator scenes.
  • Unlike most Hitchcock films, however, this one infused more comedic and cutesy elements into the story, which created a more lighthearted tone. This tone would be more consistent with a latter Hitchcock work like Family Plot or, to some degree, The Trouble With Harry.

What did you find interesting, unexpected, or surprisingly different about Charade?

  • It can quickly turn from light and funny to dark and disturbing. One moment we’re enjoying a chuckle-inducing scene between Grant and Hepburn and a few scenes later we are shown the victim of a brutal murder (such as a man drowned, a man with his throat cut, and another man who has been asphyxiated with a plastic bag).
  • There’s a lot more action, perhaps, than you’d expect in this film, especially action demanded of Grant’s character, despite the actor and the character being in his late fifties. Peter has to grapple acrobatically with a hook-handed hulk, run full bore in pursuit of Regina, and engage in a nimble shootout with Hamilton.
  • The casting is impressive, considering the presence of Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and Oscar winner George Kennedy in addition to Hepburn and Grant.
  • Criterion Collection essayist Bruce Eder wrote: “Charade occupies a special place among sixties thrillers. In an era of spy films resplendent with macho-driven eroticism (the James Bond series), cynicism (Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer series), or farcical irreverence (Casino Royale; the Flint movies, with Charade costar James Coburn), it was the only successful take on the genre to place a woman at its center.”

Other films directed by Stanley Donen

  • On the Town
  • Royal Wedding
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • Funny Face
  • The Pajama Game
  • Damn Yankees
  • Indiscreet


Take a swig of vintage redrum

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Kim Newman
For Cineversary podcast episode #24, host Erik Martin takes an eerie trip into the Overlook Hotel with film critic and horror movie expert Kim Newman to commemorate the 40th anniversary of "The Shining," directed by Stanley Kubrick. Erik and Kim explore why this horror masterwork is worth honoring all these years later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the picture today, how it has stood the test of time, and more.

To listen to this episode, click 
here or click the "play" button on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyGoogle PodcastsBreakerCastboxPocket CastsGoogle Play MusicPodBeanRadioPublic, and Overcast.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at and email show comments or suggestions to


A Ronin stone gathers no moss

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Looking for an action flick that's a bit offbeat without missing a beat as an entertaining and gripping picture? Check out Ronin, John Frankenheimer's 1998 thriller starring Robert De Niro and a notable cast of supporting performers. Why is it worth your time? Our CineVerse group discussed Ronin's merits last week, as summarized below.

What did you find interesting, unexpected, or refreshingly different about this film, particularly as a spy/espionage-type action thriller?

  • Robert DeNiro plays against type here, portraying at 54 years old an action hero. We’ve never really seen him in this kind of role before, although his turn in Midnight Run showed he could effectively play an athletic tough guy with a gun (in that film he was a bounty hunter).
  • Instead of developing a love story subplot between Sam and Deidre, which is hinted at briefly, the real relationship that blossoms in this movie is between Sam and Vincent: a bromance instead of a romance, if you will.
  • The film also avoids many tropes and conventions for this breed of picture, including a comedic sidekick, an obligatory sex scene, excessive explosions, speechifying from heroes or villains, and music-accompanied montages (like a weapons-gathering montage orchestrated with pulsing hip-hop music).
  • The cast assembled here is exceptional for a smart action movie of this kind. Aside from DeNiro, we see Jean Reno, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgård, and Sean Bean—each of whom has served as impressive lead actors in films of their own.
  • The car chase sequences—especially the more elaborate second one—are impressive, especially when you consider how tight some of these streets are and how congested the thoroughfares are with drivers and pedestrians. These are real stunt drivers driving real cars at real fast speeds in real European locations, and the stunt choreography, fast-paced editing, and sound design make for a pulse-pounding experience.
  • The film lacks a comprehensible plot and character development. Still, with all the double-crossings and surprise twists and turns it takes, the rapid pacing, and the fact that much is left unexplained (like what’s in the case, who is working for who, why Miki doesn’t care about the skater Natacha being killed, and what happened to Deidre), the narrative can be confusing and difficult to keep up with.
  • Thanks to the European actors cast and European settings, this doesn’t look or feel like an average American spy/heist derring-do movie.

Themes on display in Ronin

  • Betrayal, shifting allegiances, double-crossing, and switchbacks
  • Abiding by a professional code, which in this line of work includes trusting no one, anticipating your enemy’s next move, solving problems yourself without relying on others, not getting personally attached, and knowing who you’re working for and with.
  • Playing chess, in which anticipating your adversary’s next move is crucial to winning the game, the professionals are the major pieces and bystanders are the disposable pawns.
  • Finding purpose and merit as a wayward warrior. We learn that Ronin are masterless samurai who essentially become mercenaries for hire, yet because they are so highly trained and disciplined, they are valued for their specialized talents. Interestingly, we think Sam is ex-CIA but by the end of the film he reveals that he’s still with the CIA: In other words, his partners in the scheme are ronin but he is not.

Other movies that Ronin brings to mind

  • Films with fantastic car chase scenes, including Bullit, The French Connection, and Vanishing Point
  • Pulp Fiction, which also features a mysterious case that’s never opened
  • The Bourne films, including The Bourne Identity
  • Heist, CIA, and spy films like Heat, The Jackal, From Paris With Love, Mission: Impossible, Spy Game, The Assignment, and The Foreigner

Other films directed by John Frankenheimer

  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Seconds
  • Seven Days in May
  • Birdman of Alcatraz
  • The French Connection II


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