Friday, September 28, 2012

BROKEN ARROW (1950)

If this western drama starring James Stewart had been re-released theatrically during the second term of President George W. Bush, it would have felt so contemporary and a had an echo of modern times to it.  The 1950 western is Broken Arrow.  I watched it for the first time just last week and was really wowed  by its political frankness that still feels relevant.  I thought of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the creation of Homeland Security and even some of today's comments from Conservatives and "Teabaggers" as we gear up for another presidential election.  Cochise, the Indian leader, says "We fight for our land against Americans who try to take it."  That's not a Conservative holding up a sign reading "Time To Take Our Country Back."  That's Cochise, a Native American.  Broken Arrow is worth a look.  This stars the post-war Jimmy Stewart, the Stewart who returned from active duty in WWII and got to a  deeper, often darker, layer of his All-American Guy persona.  We saw this in his George Bailey of Capra's It's A Wonderful Life.  In Broken Arrow, he's not the "Aw shucks" sheriff of his 1939 classic, Destry Rides Again.  He's a white man who's been taught to hate the Apaches.  He questions that lesson.
Tom Jeffords:  "...it never struck me that an Apache woman would cry over her son like any other woman.  'Apaches are wild animals' we all said."  It's 1870 in Arizona.  One lone figure on horseback is seen as the story opens.  He's Tom Jeffords, an army veteran who is sick and tired of war.  He spots a wounded Apache youth and tends to his wounds.  Whites and Apaches Indians have been at war for ten years.  In nursing the 14 year old Apache back to health, Jeffords learns about his culture.  The youth learns about Jeffords'.  The boy has been away from home for days.  He's sure his mother cries for him.  He's her only child now.  His brother and sister were killed in the battle of Big Creek.
Protective tribesmen appear and jump Jeffords.  The Apache boy saves his new friend.
He tells them of the white man's kindness.  As first, they are suspicious.  Jeffords can understand that.  As he tells us, there was "terrible cruelty on both sides."  They don't harm him.  Then a party of 10 to 12 white miners trespass and gets beaten by the five Apaches.  However, when the survivors get back to town, it's reported that they were ambushed by a war party of 50 savages.  Jeffords, now in town, hears of the story and calls out the lie.  Because he was there.  He saw the ambush.  He aided a wounded Apache youth.  In a cultural job for baby boomer  TV viewers, Will Geer plays the ultimate right-winger who accuses Jeffords of being disloyal to his race by not killing the Apache teen.  Apaches burned his frontier home.  His wife was inside and she died.  Jeffords verbally fires back, "At Big Creek, we murdered Indian women and kids."  He goes to inform him that Cochise didn't start this war. "A snooty little lieutenant" from out East did.
Geer became beloved by television audiences as the gentle grandpa on CBS' heartwarming series, The Waltons.  Here, he wants to kill people of another color.  Jeffords will come to meet and seek peace with Cochise.  He's the tough, wise and brilliant Apache leader.  A broken arrow means a truce.  Jeff Chandler stars as Cochise.
Cochise will teach Jeffords many things about Apache culture as they establish a special bond.  He'll even give him a moisturizing tip one night after dinner.  Unlike white soldiers who see themselves as bringing civilization to the land, Jeffords respects the Indians.  Soldiers have orders to "clean out Cochise and his Apaches." The colonel has fresh troops coming in from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  He believes they can whip the Indians quickly because the Apaches are uneducated and live in the woods.  Army vet Tom Jeffords states, "Cochise can't even read a map, but he and his men know every gulley, every mountain, every waterhole in Arizona...He can't write his name but his intelligence service knows when you got to Fort Grant and how many men you've got...He stopped the U.S. Mails from going through..."  In his personal war against violence and hatred, Jeffords has also has to contend with Christian men manipulating the Bible as an excuse for racism and killing.  Broken Arrow is quite a strong, compact story.  It runs only minutes.  This came out in 1950.  In those days, Hollywood still had to give audiences a love story to hook them into social commentary.  If the movie sags a bit, it's in the love-at-first-sight romance with the shy Indian maiden played by beautiful Debra Paget.
It's obvious that he's older than she by many, many moons.  Paget looks like an Apache Gidget and Stewart could be her high school guidance counselor.  But this relationship brings home the message of racism's uselessness and the importance of peace.
Jeff Chandler, who rose to major movie stardom in the 1950s, earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his Broken Arrow performance.
The tall talented actor and singer who played Cochise, the Native American Indian leader in Arizona, was really a big butch hunk o' Jewish beefcake from Brooklyn.
After Broken Arrow, Chandler was paired with top movie queens like Lana Turner, Esther Williams, Kim Novak and, pictured, Joan Crawford in 1955's Female on the Beach.
Chandler's signature look was his salt-and-pepper hair.  The premature grey started in his late teens and worked for him as an adult when he got before the movie cameras.
If you grew up watching the totally cool weekly animated action series on the ABC network, Jonny Quest, you remember Jonny's silver-haried bodyguard, Race Bannon.
Race Bannon, sort of the unofficial domestic partner to widower Dr. Benton Quest -- a buffed, well-groomed scientist and devoted dad -- was inspired by Jeff Chandler.
Besides Chandler's Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Broken Arrow received two other well-deserved nominations.  The 20th Century Fox release was nominated in the Best Color Cinematography and Best Screenplay categories.  Screenwriter Albert Maltz did not see him name in the opening credits because he was a victim of blacklisting.  Senator Joseph McCarthy, with his House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) hearings, was at war with the Broadway and Hollywood community.
The studio's heavyweight champ in the 1950 Academy Award nominations, victories and rave reviews was All About Eve starring Bette Davis and Anne Baxter.  Broken Arrow director, Delmer Daves, guided Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall through the imaginative Dark Passage (1947).  That's the one with Bogart's face entirely bandaged for the first half of the film.  Later in the 1950s, Daves gave us another classic western, one that has since been remade -- 3:10 to Yuma starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin.  In the canon of Jimmy Stewart films, Broken Arrow doesn't get a lot of attention.  Also, a John Travolta nuclear warhead action thriller came out with the same title in 1996.  The 1950 James Stewart western is on DVD and worth renting.  Seriously, it could've been released theatrically fifty-five years later and felt significant to our times.  It holds up.
Cochise:  "To talk of peace is not hard.  To live it is very hard."





Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Julie Delpy's 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK

TIME Magazine's critic felt it landed with a thud.  Roger Ebert liked it.  I'm on Team Roger.  I was charmed by and entertained by 2 Days in New York, a comedy written and directed by Julie Delpy.  Is  it a great comedy?  No.  It's not a category with the best of Billy Wilder, Elaine May or Woody Allen.  But, to me, it sure felt fresher than another comedy released over the summer -- Woody Allen's To Rome With Love.  The working class French family making a mess of things in Manhattan tickled me more than the upscale Americans in Italy with sex on their minds.  Julie Delpy stars in this low-budget indie comedy.  Chris Rock stars as the overwhelmed new man in her life, Mingus.
This is a sequel.  Her character, Marion, broke up with Jack.  Adam Goldberg played her American in Paris boyfriend in 2007's 2 Days in Paris.  That was a fun movie Delpy also wrote and directed. One of the reasons why TIME's critic didn't like this sequel is because, as she wrote, Chris Rock can't act.  Well, to me, there are times when Goldberg can really overbake the New York hipster bit and does just as much "schtick" as she accused Rock of doing.  Did you ever see Seinfeld?  C'mon.  Jerry Seinfeld wasn't much of actor but he was hailed as a comedy sensation.  Has Billy Crystal ever starred in a comedy that didn't get injected with Billy Crystal "schtick"?  I thought Rock did some fine work under Delpy's direction.  He's not the stand-up comedian Rock.  He's more subdued.  He has to react here.  He's basically her straight man in a more sophisticated original comedy than he usually releases.  I totally bought him as Mingus, probably the one black host on a liberal National Public Radio-type station in New York.
In our history of movies, we see the French as being the epitome of class, sophistication and fashion statements.  In Sabrina (1954) and Funny Face (1957), Audrey Hepburn is the smart, overlooked caterpillar who goes to Paris and becomes an elegant, desirable butterfly.  Marion, a French woman in Manhattan, is one lovable mess.  Delpy flips the script on how we see French women in American movies.  Marion and Mingus are a Manhattan couple with sweet youngsters from previous relationships.  She's stressed because she's an artist with an exhibit coming up -- and her family is coming into town.  Her family is a handful.  Dad tries to smuggle sausages down his pants, for one.  He's like a cross between Santa Claus and one of the Dead End Kids.  Marion bickers with her jealous sister.  The sister brings her boyfriend.  He happens to be Marion's ex-boyfriend. Cultures will clash in a kooky way as Marion's unpredictable relatives disrupt everything.
I've seen Delpy do drama.  She's delightfully ditzy in this comedy -- like Annie Hall with a Bordelaise sauce on the side.  Mingus just wants to get through all this as gracefully as he can.  One of my favorite screwball moments finds them all at a restaurant.  Mingus, of course, want to distinguish himself in his radio career.  At the restaurant, he runs into a gentleman who may be able to help him get a short interview with President Obama.  As he's networking with the man, Marion and Rose (her sister), start bickering slightly.  Then the bickering gets more intense.  Then they start punching each other like grade schoolers.  It's so goofy, so un-French. I loved it.  Like Diane Keaton, Delpy can do screwball comic acting with a nice light touch and also be effective dramatically.  Think of Keaton's comedies -- Sleeper, Love and Death, Annie Hall and Baby Boom.  Think of her strong dramatic work -- Looking For Mr. Goodbar, Reds, Shoot the Moon and Marvin's Room.  When I saw Woody Allen's To Rome With Love, it made me feel like I was sitting in a tepid bath.  Nothing wrong -- just not much is happening and the water could be warmer.  I felt as though I'd seen it already.  Ellen Page was basically a modern-day rewrite of the Diane Keaton character from Allen's Manhattan.  Penélope Cruz, quite yummy, was basically a Sophia Loren character from a 1960s Vittorio De Sica movie.
The neurotic opera singer could've been a Broadway Danny Rose act.  Alec Baldwin played an update of Bernadette Peters as the muse in Woody Allen's Alice.  Jesse Eisenberg was a tad like Mia Farrow as Alice.  Allen's To Rome With Love summer release was very familiar.  Like good Italian leftovers reheated and served with cocktails.
Woody Allen was a darling of movie critics and fans in the 1970s and '80s with wonderful films he directed and wrote such as Annie Hall (the 1977 Best Picture Oscar winner), Manhattan, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Hannah and Her Sisters.  Then some fans started to wonder why the director never had any black people in supporting and/or lead roles in his movies rooted in New York City.  Soon critics too noticed the lack of color.  That changed when Hazelle Goodman played Cookie, the hooker, in his 1997 comedy Deconstructing Harry.  Julie Delpy's 2 Days in New York is the kind of loopy comedy Woody Allen could've made in the 1980s if Allen had given a lead role to a black or Latino actor.  That's a main reason why I appreciate it.
This isn't a classic comedy like Annie Hall but watching Mingus' culture shock dealing with his girlfriend's relatives made me giggle like I did watching Woody as Alvy Singer deal with Annie's family.  Marion's scamp of a dad is played by Albert Delpy, her real-life father.  I liked seeing Rock challenge himself with a more upscale role.  This isn't the big Rock of movies like Lethal Weapon 4 with Mel Gibson, Down to Earth and Head of State.  He brings it in.  He's believable.  I felt like I knew low-key Mingus and nervous Marion.
Ms. Delpy has got the gift for writing, directing and performing comedy.  This film of hers did make me wish that Woody Allen had cast black or Latino actors in top roles in his comedies of the '70s and '80s.  That would've been so great for diversity and such a truer reflection of the real New York.  Delpy showed me a New York that I know.  She showed me situations I've experienced.  And how refreshing to see a working class Manhattan couple in an average-sized apartment.  I enjoyed spending time with these two.
Julie Delpy's 2 Days in New York is a breezy comedy and a good date night movie.






Tuesday, September 25, 2012

HOPE SPRINGS for Young Actors

I went to see Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as a long-married couple in the AARP category whose relationship is stuck in a pocket of stale air.  In Hope Springs, she so longs for a return to their intimacy they once had that it occasionally breaks her heart and puts tears in her eyes.  I enjoyed this light comedy/drama, basically a B-movie with A-list stars.  Streep, a way above-average actress, has just the right touch for playing the complicated, tender heart of this average woman.  She does lovely work here.
She's married to a white collar, "meat 'n' potatoes" kind of guy who always looks and walks like his shoes are too tight.  Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast as the sometimes grumpy papa bear Arnold.  In the Hollywood studio days of the early 1950s, this would've been a Spencer Tracy role.  Kay succeeds in coaxing Arnold to fly out with her to meet with a best-selling couples therapist and to work to rekindle their romance.  He, of course, would rather stay home to become one with his armchair while watching a game on TV with a beer in his hand.  The things we do for love.  They need this trip.
In the commercial and trailer for Hope Springs, you see the wife reading possibilities for spicing up their sex life.  Near her -- a bunch of bananas.  There is a lot more to this film than a proper middle-aged housewife considering oral gratification.  You think it's going to tread into that sitcom Two and Half Men territory but it doesn't.  Thank goodness.
I really wanted to see this after I caught Meryl Streep as Andy Cohen's guest for an episode of his "Watch What Happens  Live" clubhouse-like chat show on cable's Bravo TV.  She (Streep) verbally focused a bright spotlight on her co-star's performance -- especially in their scenes "on the couch."  She praised it.  Man, she was right!  He's excellent.  Young actors really should be watching this kind of work and learning from it.  His character tone and body language are so spot on, as my Brit buddies would say.
Steve Carell stars as the therapist, Dr. Feld.  Kay and Arnold are aging babyboomers.  They do love each other.  The marriage has been marked by high fidelity.  But he's gotten used to Kay.  Dr. Feld's office, Kay and Arnold occupy the same space but they've emotionally drifted to opposite ends of it.  That couch visual represents the state of their marriage.  Arnold's not the type to gab about his innermost feelings to a stranger.
He may shoot a flash-frame of a smile at Dr. Feld but it's not a smile that means "I like you and it's good to be here."  His smile covers up a feeling of "Personally, Dr. Feld, I'd like to see your head catch on fire right about now for putting me through this."  The way he fidgets with the crease of his pants  while Kay speaks, his attitude on the couch -- that's all reaction to the other characters and information about his character.  He's not just sitting there waiting until it's time to deliver his line.  He's involved with the scene.  That non-verbal business he does on the couch is exactly what casting directors would be looking at and looking for at an audition.  This is what new actors need to study.  Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are Oscar-winning pros.  Watch them and learn.  And be entertained.  Hope Springs is the kind of mature comedy the French have made quite well for quite some time.  One could easily imagine Kay and Arnold subtitled and performed by Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu.  The French know that women are still sexually attractive after 40 and that people over 50 still have sex.  Hollywood films need to acquire the sophistication in that regard found in foreign films  In Hope Springs, sex is a bonus.  The real prize is intimacy.  Watching Arnold  struggle to remove that crust from his heart and match Kay's willingness to reconnect was well worth my time and ticket.
Sweet, suburban Kay with her Midwest galleria wardrobe and hairstyle in Hope Springs is quite the opposite of Streep's New York City ultra-chic, ultra-tough fashion magazine executive in The Devil Wears Prada.  Streep was directed by David Frankel in both films.
Young movie fans to day know Tommy Lee Jones as Will Smith's stone-faced, no-nonsense Men in Black sci-fi action comedy partner.  Before that, he was the obsessed U.S. marshal hunting wrongly accused Harrison Ford in the big screen version of TV's The Fugitive.  Like Streep, Jones was slamming across solid work in the 1970s and '80s on the big and small screen.  She stood out in the acclaimed NBC mini-series Holocaust, about the horrors of Hitler's Germany, before her Oscar wins for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie's Choice.  Long before Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett played Howard Hughes and Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorcese's The Aviator, Tommy Lee Jones and Tovah Feldshuh played them in the 1977 TV movie, The Amazing Howard Hughes.
He was a knock-out in the 1982's, The Executioner's Song.  Norman Mailer wrote the TV screenplay, based on his book of the same name.  Jones played Gary Gilmore, a convicted killer in Utah who lobbied for his own execution by firing squad.  Gilmore's case was top national news in the mid '70s.  Jones won a Best Actor Emmy for this feature.
He struck gold with critics in the hit biopic, Coal Miner's Daughter, an Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1980.  Sissy Spacek took the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of country singer Loretta Lynn.  He played Loretta's Kentucky backwoods husband.
When the Food Network TV show I hosted, "Top 5," was in weekday repeats, I felt I needed to learn some new things and keep current.  I took classes at TVI Studios in Manhattan. More about that in a future blog.  But I can honestly tell you that what a couple of casting directors were trying to teach young actors as far as on-camera technique for film acting is what these two veterans do in Hope Springs.  It's not just a light comedy.  For wise students, this movie is an acting class.  It left me satisfied.
Tommy Lee Jones is another actor whose talents are just as impressive behind the camera.  He directed one mighty fine, moving and memorable independent film about a ranch hand's unshakeable and true commitment to his best friend, an illegal alien.  It covers a deep friendship, loss, the senselessness of racism and the power of redemption.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada came out the same year as Brokeback Mountain.  The ranch hands in that film got more media attention.  This, too, deserved big media attention.  A bit of a quirky tale, it has Jones at his craggy yet very compassionate best in the lead role.  His directorial debut is exceptional.  I felt this was one of the ten best films of 2005.  Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakim and future Oscar-winner Melissa Leo co-star.  Put this modern day western on your DVD rental list.




Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Biopic for Anthony Mackie

Entertainment press has done many reports over the years on how the opportunities for minority actors are dwarfed by the number of opportunities for white actors.  Don't get me started.  It does make one wonder when checking IMDb online.  That's the Internet Movie Database.  Channing Tatum has 5 films in development.  Taylor Lautner has 3.  Adam Sandler has 10. One of my favorite young actors, Anthony Mackie, has 1 movie in development.  I've blogged about this gifted young man before.  Besides having Broadway work on his resumé, he also has roles in two winners of the Best Picture Academy Award to his credit.  Mackie boxed in Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, the Best Picture of 2004 winner co-starring Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank.
Co-starring with Jeremy Renner, he played a member of the elite Army bomb squad unit serving in Iraq in Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, the Best Picture of 2009 champion.
He played Tupac Shakur in the 2009 biopic, Notorious, about rapper Notorious B.I. G.  He delivered as a high school student's irresponsible dad in the critically hailed Half Nelson co-starring Ryan Gosling as his daughter's drug addicted teacher.  A dapper Mackie had a key role in The Adjustment Bureau as one of those mysterious men in hats.
Entertainment news reported that Mackie is slated to hit the action/fantasy film scene as "The Falcon," one of the Stan Lee superheroes, in Captain America:  The Winter Soldier.  Say "Amen" somebody!  It's about time we got a minority superhero in Hollywood!
As I wrote, Mackie has only one film in development according to IMDb.com.  Maybe Hollywood just can't come up with any ideas for him.  So let me remind Hollywood of my Anthony Mackie biopic movie idea:  He should play Dr. Martin Luther King's most trusted advisor and the architect of the historic civil rights March on Washington -- Bayard Rustin.  He was outspoken, brilliant, controversial, a Quaker -- and gay.
Today, we have a black president who is pro-gay marriage.  Bayard Rustin helped free the path for Barack Obama's journey to the White House with the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech is now a great event in our modern American history.  Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the march and the man who introduced King to Gandhi's principles of non-violence, was there behind Dr. King.  Rustin was arrested in Pasadena in 1953 for being homosexual.
Because Bayard Rustin was gay, he was a minority within a group of struggling minorities.  That's how this important figure came to be called "Brother Outsider."  That's also the name of an award-winning documentary about him.  A few weeks before the March on Washington, it's documented that Sen. Strom Thurmond publicly denounced Rustin as a "Communist, draft dodger, and homosexual." He implied to the FBI that Rustin and Dr. King were lovers.  They denied the implication.  Thurmond was for segregation and against the civil rights movement.  This was in 1963 -- during the same exact time Aibileen and Minny are maids making snacks for racist housewives in The Help.
The time is right for this story.  I bet millions of Americans don't even know about Bayard Rustin.  I bet Mitt Romney has never even heard of him.  There's a school in the Chelsea section of New York City named after Bayard Rustin.  Besides all that, if Anthony Mackie takes my advice and does it right, he could have the words "Oscar nominee" in front of his name one day.  This we all know for sure:  The Academy loves actors who do biopics.  Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich, Nicole Kidman as writer Virginia Woolf, Colin Firth as England's King George VI, Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, Helen Mirren as The Queen, Philip Seymour Hoffman as another queen -- Truman Capote, Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin.  Each of those actors won an Oscar for playing that real-life character.  Oscar loves a real-life character performance.  Oscar especially loves it when that real-life character is dead.  Then your acting job seems like a bigger challenge.  That's Hollywood.  Rustin was on a humanitarian mission in Haiti when he died in 1987 at age 75.  His March on Washington pressured Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The march was covered live in special network news telecasts and also topped the international news.
College-educated and an accomplished tenor, the native Pennsylvanian sang in a short-lived Broadway show starring Paul Robeson.  Rustin travelled to Europe, Africa and India.  In America, his sexual orientation caused drama.  He was rejected by some of the very people whose cause he championed.  Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell was one such person.  Information says Powell threatened to tell people that Rustin and King were lovers if Rustin wasn't removed from a certain position.  Think of what segregationist Strom Thurmond implied to the FBI.  With all his skills, Rustin had bouts with unemployment and low-income jobs due to race and sexual orientation.
For the rest of his life, Dr. King's main advisor continued to be a passionate activist for racial equality, economic justice and gay rights -- issues America still deals with today.  Lee Daniels, Best Director Oscar nominee for Precious, is currently directing a true White House story called The Butler.  Oprah Winfrey is one of the stars.  Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda have been cast as Ronald and Nancy Reagan.  Robin Williams and Melissa Leo star as Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower.  Nelsan Ellis, the actor who plays Lafayette on HBO's True Blood, got the role of Dr. Martin Luther King.  The Los Angeles Times reported that Lee Daniels will also direct Hugh Jackman in a true story.  In Orders to Kill, Jackman will play William Pepper, a real-life attorney and activist.  Pepper, who is still alive, was convinced Dr. King's 1968 assassination was the result of a conspiracy, not a lone gunman.  I think the time is right for a Bayard Rustin biopic -- and I think Anthony Mackie is the right actor to play him.

"To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true." ~Bayard Rustin




Friday, September 21, 2012

On THE LATE SHOW (1977)

The 1970s was a bountiful decade for good movies and good new filmmakers.  Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorcese were just getting started then.  Bob Fosse had transferred his talents from Broadway to the big screen.  His choreography, editing and styling in Cabaret and All That Jazz had a major influence on MTV and VH1 music videos in the 1980s and '90s.  It's still influential.  Francis Ford Coppola gave us The Godfather.  Roman Polanski took us to Chinatown.  Woody Allen introduced us to Annie Hall. George Lucas got us involved with Star Wars.  You got your money's worth when you went to the movies in the 1970s.  Some '70s movies that do not get as much attention now as those I just listed are way better than some big budget fare we got on screens over the summer.  One example of an overlooked treat is a very entertaining crime caper from the man who went on to direct Kramer vs. Kramer starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep and Places in the Heart, the film that brought Sally Field her second Academy Award.  I highly recommend seeing Art Carney and Lily Tomlin in The Late Show, a neat and smart murder mystery written and directed by Robert Benton.  This is one cool movie that has the added zest of terrific chemistry between veteran TV comic actor Carney (The Honeymooners) and the -- at the time -- new TV comic actress Tomlin (NBC's Laugh-In).
I won't give away the plot but I will write that, if you're a classic film fan, you'll dig this movie.  You'll really dig it if you're a fan of classic films like John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, This Gun For Hire starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake and The Thin Man with William Powell and Myrna Loy.  Extra points if you know that MGM spun that famous franchise into a TV series starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk in the Powell and Loy roles.  The Late Show is an homage to those kind of films and the characters in them.  Carney plays Ira Wells, a semi-retired private eye living in Los Angeles.  Sure, he's older, thicker around the middle and can't run as fast as he used to...but Ira can still handle a gun and he's also armed with a quick mind.  He was born to be a detective.
One of his old buddies, a fellow private eye, shows up newly air-conditioned with a fatal bullet hole in him.  Ira, of course, needs to find out who did it.  Into his life comes kooky Margo (Tomlin), who hires him to find her missing cat.  Somehow this will all connect as they become an unlikely Nick and Nora solving the mystery of murder and blackmail.
Benton's script is witty.  It has a Pacific Coast jazz vibe about it.  The storyline is complex but it doesn't get confusing like The Big Sleep with Bogart and Bacall.  Just like The Big Sleep, you're hooked by how well the two leads play off each other.  By this time in is career, Carney had won a Best Actor Academy Award for Harry and Tonto.  Ira is hipper than Harry.  And in danger.  Carney further proved his character acting chops here.
Keep in mind that, for a previous generation, Carney's Ed Norton character on The Honeymooners was to those viewers what Michael Richards as Kramer on Seinfeld was to our later generation.  Carney was a beloved and versatile actor.
Did you know that Art Carney was the original Felix Unger?  He co-starred on Broadway with Walter Matthau in Neil Simon's comedy, The Odd Couple.
The Late Show has its share of action.  Ira does legwork -- giving you a chance to see the Los Angeles of my youth -- and he can handle himself well in a car chase shoot out.
The cast includes two actors who also added sitcom work to their credits -- Howard Duff (who co-starred on a 1950s sitcom with his real-life wife, Ida Lupino) and Bill Macy (Walter on Maude).  As I wrote earlier, the main zest of the chemistry between Tomlin and Carney.  In the movie and out of the movie, they were of different generations.  Watching them blend is delicious.  Her Margo is like a tonic to his top shelf Scotch.  Tomlin was such a great understated hipster.  Like the early Shirley MacLaine.  Lily could do more with a knowing sideways glance and the hint of a smile.  And someone like Diana Krall or Melody Gardot should record the tasty song heard over the closing credits.
"What Was" is the perfect lyrical garnish for this breezy movie that's only about 90 minutes long. Put The Late Show on your weekend viewing list.  I think you'll enjoy it.