Sunday, May 20, 2012

Art Carney, Ellen Burstyn & Larry Hagman in Harry and Tonto (1974)

Paul Mazursky has had an interesting career. His work was so relevant to cultural trends in the 60's and 70's. That period of his filmmaking is a remarkable time capsule of the era. This film is part of that, but like his best work, also has something to say about people and relationships. Harry (Art Carney) feels out of place as a septuagenerian in a society increasingly focused on the young. Aside from a few old friends, the only real companion he has left is Tonto, his cat. The brutality of the city has dented and tarnished his life, and when his apartment building is slated for demolition, he has a crisis that is temporarily placated by moving in with his son and his family. The discomfort of the living arrangements  drive Harry to a cross country odyssey where he visits friends and family, meets strangers who have gifts for him and learns to shed the identity of a victim and own his power.
This film, for which Carney won a best actor Oscar, made quite an impression on the American public at the time, though it has since fallen into relative obscurity. The "road picture" nature of the film allows for a great series of memorable small parts and cameos. Look for Ellen Burstyn as Harry's daughter, Larry Hagman as his younger son, Geraldine Fitzgerald as an old flame, Chief Dan George as a Native American medicine man, Barbara Rhodes as a hooker and a delightful turn by Melanie Mayron as a runaway.

Harry and Tonto is available on DVD. Above is the trailer for the film, uploaded to YouTube by Mazurskyfilm.

Obscurity factor: 7 (somewhat known for it's Oscar winning performance by Carney, otherwise largely forgotten, on DVD)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Elizabeth Montgomery in Johnny Cool (1963)

Kill, kill, kill... The poster for Johnny Cool says it all. When a Sicilian rebel leader (Henry Silva) is ambushed by the police, he's presumed dead. He's really been smuggled to Rome where he's given a new identity by exiled American gangster, Johnny Colini. He becomes Johnny Cool, the epitome of the iron fist in the kid glove. Sent to America to exact revenge on the men who deposed his benefactor, Johnny Cool is merciless. Along the way, he meets, and becomes the obsession of divorced socialite Darien Guiness (Montgomery). She becomes entangled in his plot of revenge and murder and soon regrets it. Will Johnny Cool complete his homicidal plans and emerge alive or will he lose the game?
This Rat Pack production has the distinction of being produced by Peter Lawford and features many familiar faces from that illustrious group of stars, including Sammy Davis Jr. as a craps shooter called Educated, and Joey Bishop as a used car dealer. It was directed by William Asher, who cast his wife as Darien (oddly close to Darren, isn't it?) and she gives a performance which will be a revelation to fans who only know her as Samantha Stevens. Look for Jim Backus and cerebral comedian Mort Saul in a pivotal role.

Johnny Cool has been out on DVD less than a year. It's part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection, which is similar to the Warner Archive in that it's printed on demand. It has something of a cult following and clips can be found on YouTube. Above is the trailer, uploaded to YouTube by Soapbxprod.

Obscurity factor: 8 (on DVD, has cult appeal)