Friday, October 09, 2015

001. Carnival of Crime and 002. Absolution

Jump to Absolution (1978)


001: Carnival of Crime (1962) aka Sócio de Alcova
Director: George M. Cahan)
Writer: Bill Barret based on Winston Graham’s novel The Sleeping Partner
From: Cult Cinema

Mike, an architect from Rio de Janeiro, is in a tight spot. The government’s breathing down his neck about delays with his project in Brasília, his partner is an alcoholic more interested in hooking up with the secretary than getting anything done, and his wife is plotting something. When he returns from a trip to Brasília, he finds his wife has vanished and is asking for a divorce. As he tries to find her, he finds out about the hidden life she’s led and something much more dangerous.

A curious little flick. One of the oddest parts about it is the terrorism subplot. Early in the film, when Mike is down in Brasília and has missed his flight home, we cut to two American CIA agents discussing a revolutionary they’re waiting to ambush. The scene is indescribably incongruous—the film quality changes, the sound changes, and they’re speaking English while the rest of the movie is dubbed. I thought I had fallen asleep and woken up in this part, that’s how abrupt the shift is.

More than being an abrupt shift, though, these characters and what they discuss never come back. They talk to each other, constantly repeating themselves, for about seven minutes before the revolutionary shows up. They fail to catch him and then the revolutionary watches a plane explode. I guess we’re supposed to read that as the plane Mike was supposed to be on, but, as I said, it never comes up again. A plane explodes in a terrorist attack and no one in the movie mentions it.

Why is this here? To add drama to a movie that otherwise is a little flat? To give it some political relevance post-Bay of Pigs? To pad out the film so they could sell it as a different film? Did a reel from another movie accidentally get spliced in but seem similar enough that no one ever fixed it? This portion is the right mix of confusing and boring to invoke insanity.

The rest of the movie is pretty good by comparison, which says little because the film also invites comparisons to The Room. Lynn, Mike’s wife, is set up as a prima donna/manipulator/villainess early on, but then is barely in the movie. In fact, a la The Room, her first scene is her talking to her mother about how she’s going to do something to Mike and her mother protesting that Mike is such a good person.

Mike goes to Brasília, comes back to an empty house and a letter demanding a divorce, and starts trying to hunt Lynn down to ask her what’s going on. The movie is trying to fit into the noir tradition and that makes everything seem to carry more weight than it should. I felt like as Mike goes from friend to friend looking for Lynn, he’s going to uncover some massive plot or in fact some scheme being arranged against him, something like Lynn and his partner have embezzled all the money from the government job and have left him on the hook.

Instead he finds out that Lynn has slept with just about everybody—both before and after they got married—and he’s the only person in all of Rio who doesn’t know. Even her mother tells him Lynn had an insatiable sexual appetite—just like her—and it’s not his fault. By the way, if that doesn’t trip your Room sensors, then the flashback of Mike giving random people advice, saying “hi” to everyone, and people arriving at his place only to immediately leave could very well tear you apart.

None of this matters, though, because there’s a plot twist at the one-hour point: his wife hasn’t left him, she’s been murdered! Now he’s on the run from the law trying to find the real killer because he’s the obvious suspect. The movie stumbles through its final 20-30 minutes to a perfunctory ending with the killer explaining, unbidden, why they did it and then accidentally getting themselves killed while trying to escape Mike. Cut to Mike returning to the build site with his new wife—his secretary—beaming about how great the project is going.

I really thought the movie was going in a different direction and was more compelling than it has a right to be because of that misdirection. This is light film noir—very light on the noir it turns out—and unfairly benefits from the expectations of that genre. When Lynn disappears, I think all the problems facing Mike in the beginning—the job, the partner, Lynn plotting—are going to come back into play. Instead, it's just a search to find out how long Lynn has been cheating on Mike and who with.

That could be interesting as well: it’s character stuff and all about how characters react to each other’s choices and actions. I like those movies and would trade the faux noir for that. Only the movie drops that as well for a simpler, sloppier, pulpier ending that's neither earned nor satisfying.

If you want to spend an afternoon making fun of a movie with friends, this will serve your purposes well enough. It’s not great, not terrible, but it has some ridiculous situations and could provide some low-key fun. Outside of that, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want to see some nice stock footage of late-50’s/early 60’s architecture in Brasília.

I've added a copy of this film to archive.org. I think it's PD: no copyright logo that I can see in the film and no listing at copyright.gov. You can download a copy here


002. Absolution (1978)
Director: Anthony Page
Writer: Anthony Shaffer
From: Drive-In and Cult Cinema


Blakely, an itinerant traveler, camps out in the woods owned by a Catholic school where he catches the attention of Benjamin Stanfield. Benjamin is the school’s golden boy and the favorite of Father Goddard, but chafes at the expectations put upon him and wants to be free like Blakely. Blakely, who has his own grudges against the Church and Goddard, suggests Benjamin start admitting to terrible things in confession to horrify Goddard. As a priest, Goddard can’t reveal what’s been confessed to him, but his reaction sends things escalating to a disastrous conclusion.

I can’t talk about this film without talking about the cast: Richard Burton and Billy Connolly in his first film role. Seeing such talented people in movies on these sets is always confusing. How could this happen? Billy Connolly makes sense because it’s his first movie. Every actor has a first movie or some oddball early work that is interesting purely as a curiosity. Richard Burton, though! How did he get here?

The movie itself isn’t too bad. The natural competency Burton and Connolly have is echoed throughout. The script is okay, the direction works well enough, the other actors, mostly children, do their job. As a whole, it’s a competently-constructed piece.

Which means there isn’t much to say about it. The movie feels very televisual, like a high-quality Lifetime Original Movie or something shown on Masterpiece Theatre in the early 80’s. Things play out at a bit of a slow-burn. Benjamin, the golden boy, meets Blakely and envies his freedom. Blakely, a general rouge, encourages him to take some risks. Meanwhile, there’s Arthur, a disabled student who’s eager for the approval of both Benjamin and Father Goddard. Goddard keeps picking on him and Benjamin alternately includes him in his plans to prank Goddard and kicks him away.

The film’s plot and conclusion rely a little too heavily on an absolutist understanding of Catholicism, a strict adherence to the rules that allow no wiggle-room. Kevin Smith’s Dogma played with that same idea, but I’d argue in a more interesting way. The conclusion features Father Goddard in a literal damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation that’s a little bit, “Well, no, not really, but I see what you’re aiming for.”

This isn’t some hidden gem, but rather a better-than-mediocre, touch above by-the-numbers production. It keeps questions unanswered for most of the film, allowing you to doubt what's really happening. A little hammy, a little over-the-top, and it mistakes ending with a cliff-hanger with being clever but, overall, a fine Sunday afternoon hangover movie as We Hate Movies would say.

Just one final note on how context changes everything: watching this post priest-abuse scandal makes everything fraught in unexpected ways. It opens the movie up to obvious jokes, but more often just makes moments and scenes that aren’t supposed to be anything really uncomfortable.

Movie has a seemingly valid copyright marker and is noted as under copyright on the Archive.org forums. My copy has a Mill Creek pop up periodically so I don’t have a copy that I can upload even if it were PD

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