Tuesday, July 15, 2008

house of products

still from "The Oscar" (1966)

Yesterday, I accidentally posted a promo for the next installment of my radio show here- it was supposed to go on the show's blog http://modernproducts.blogspot.com. But then I realized I might as well leave it up, since maybe some of you who read this blog don't actually know about the radio show, Modern Products, which I've been doing for the past four years on www.eastvillageradio.com. It airs live Sundays from 4-6pm and can also be downloaded as a podcast. The music is a mix of mostly postpunk, new wave, diy, gothic, deathrock & similar styles from the 1970s and 1980s, though I like to mix it up alot of play music from other genres and eras, including some new stuff- recently we've been debuting some new tracks by Mt. Sims from their upcoming 12" on Hungry Eye Records. Often on the show I'm joined by my friend Justin, who hangs out and talks trash with me between the songs. I think Modern Products is a fun aural extension of the Negative Pleasure ethos (even if Modern Products came first). I hope you'll give a listen and enjoy, and maybe I'll post more album covers here in the future, since, y'know, I like them. Also, Halloweiners should know we're doing our second annual "13 weeks of Halloween" on Modern Products starting August 3rd- 13 weeks of scary horror tunes, spooky novelty records, soundtracks and more, leading up to Halloween...


Meanwhile, I've got a lot of reviews to catch up on here. One I've been meaning to cover for a while is "House of Numbers," a 1957 film directed by Russell Rouse from a script by Rouse and Don ("I Want to Live!," nephew of Joseph) Mankiewicz based on a novel by Jack Finney ("Invasions of the Body Snatchers"). I came across this film researching Rouse, who directed "The Oscar" in 1966, covered here last month. I was curious about what else he had done, since despite "The Oscar's" general ridiculousness and overall shortcomings, it was certainly competently constructed. Turns out Rouse has some more-than-adequate credits under his belt, as a writer on the Laurel & Hardy film "Nothing But Trouble" and one of the quinessential low budget films noirs, "D.O.A." As a writer/director he did the dialogue-free "the Thief" with Ray Milland, film noir-ish "Wicked Woman" (1953) and "New York Confidential" (1955) with Broderick Crawford and Richard Conte, and western "The Fastest Gun Alive" (1956) with Crawford, Glenn Ford, Russ Tamblyn and Jeanne Crain. All of which is to say that Rouse is a solid, I might even venture talented filmmaker who probably got caught up in a film that most likely would have been a mess whoever directed it (in the form of "the Oscar", which also came fairly late is his career- Rouse retired a year later after making the comedy "the Caper of the Golden Bulls" with "Oscar" star Stephen Boyd and Yvette ("Where the Boys Are") Mimieux (ex-wife of Stanley Donen, by the way).

All of this is a roundabout way to get at "House of Numbers," a noir-ish tale starring Jack Palance in an impressive dual role as two brothers, one in prison, the other who teams up with the convict's wife to help bust him out. The caper aspect of this flick is pretty innovative- Palance as the "good" brother (Bill) sneaks into the prison in order to switch places with the Palance the convict brother (Arnie) so the latter can work on a tunnel under the wall. Practical? Not exactly. Cinematic? Yup, in spades. Typical to flicks like this, things go awry when a prison guard, Nova (Harold J Stone from "the Wrong Man," perfectly slimy in a mix of smiles and menace), turns out to be a neighbor of Bill and Arnie's wife, Ruth (Barbara Lang, also in Nicholas Ray's "Party Girl"), and takes a sinister shine to her.

Timothy Carey in "Paths of Glory"

The ending isn't quite as tragic as one might want from a film like this, and it's all kind overly moralistic in its' way, but overall this is a perfectly solid and engaging crime drama. There's great, stark b&w cinematography and a heightened sense of realism due to the fact filming took place at San Quentin prison, with real inmates standing in as extras. Great character actor Timothy Carey (who worked with every from Kubrick to Cassavetes) plays Bill/Arnie's cell mate (interestingly, another Kubrick regular Joe Turkel, also plays an inmate). Best of all is Palance's nuanced performance as the two brothers. Those who only know Palance from "Batman," or worse but more likely "City Slickers" (or even his very hit-or-miss European films from the 1960s and 1970s) (or "Ripley's Believe it or Not" for that matter), would do well to take a gander at some of the actor's more interesting roles from the 1950s, particularly this film and Elia Kazan's "Panic in the Streets," "Sudden Fear" with Joan Crawford and Gloria Grahame, in the Jack the Ripper flick "Man in the Attic" and Robert Aldrich's Clifford Odets adaptation "The Big Knife," with Ida Lupino. Russell Rouse, by the way, won as Oscar for co-writing the Rock Hudson-Doris Day comedy "Pillow Talk" in 1959.

Joe Turkel in "The Shining"

"House of the Numbers" belongs on the shelf with some of the better borderline film noirs of the 1950s, it's not as hysterical as Sam Fuller's films, nor as stylish as Alrdich's, nor as deeply psychological as Nicholas Ray's films, and yet it is stlyish, smart and clever, and certainly worth any discriminating viewer's time and attention...

More to follow...
Palance & Zero Mostel in "Panic in the Streets"

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