Josh Olson is the Academy Award Nominated screenwriter of A History of Violence (2005), and a remarkable cinephile to boot. His commentaries over at Trailers From Hell are always among my favorites. In fact, he just recently covered STRAIGHT TIME which is in my all-time top 25:
He is also the first person I ever interviewed for my long running series at The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema, back in 2010:
It's no surprise to me that his list is full of great choices, several of which I need to see myself!
SITTING TARGET (1972)
A very tasty British crime flick from the early seventies starring
Oliver Reed in one of those roles that reminds you of why he was so
great, albeit so under-used. If THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU is the movie
that makes you wish they’d given him a shot at Bond, this is the movie
that makes you realize he’d have been THE great Parker, and that’s no
slight on Lee Marvin. (And speaking of Donald Westlake’s great
character, Sitting Target’s screenwriter Alexander Jacobs also wrote the
best Parker movie, POINT BLANK. Look up Jacobs some time. He didn’t
write a lot of movies, but when he did, man, did he bring the noise.)
ON THE BOWERY (1956)
Lionel Rogosin’s amazing film has gotten a gorgeous new release in the last year, and it’s essential viewing. Rogosin spent months down on New York’s Bowery, immersing himself in the life of the lost men who congregated there. The end result is a docu-drama featuring real Skid Row denizens in scripted parts, and an incredible look at poverty in the Fifties.
NIGHT WATCH (1973)
This one’s a bit of a cheat, as I actually saw it as a child, with my dad. But all I really remembered was one brief bit of semi-gore. Rediscovered it this past year, and oh my lord, is it ever a treat.
Elizabeth Taylor in the beginning of her, shall we say “fleshing out” period, plays the frazzled and neurotic wife of Laurence Harvey. She believes there’s a dead body in the dark, abandoned house next door, but no one will believe her. Clearly based on a play, the movie affords Taylor plenty of room to flex, and without giving anything away, her final scene is a gorgeous display of an actress revelling in her ability to play multiple levels. Tight, taut, mean and nasty, and very, very fun.
WELCOME HOME SOLDIER BOYS (1971)
Hollywood didn’t start making movies about Vietnam until the war had been over for some time, but America’s indie filmmakers had been there, done that a long time before 1978’s COMING HOME. Joe Don Baker leads a cast of magnificent character actors as a group of Vets come home from the war and working their way West, to pursue their own American dream. A subtle, quiet film that you just know is going to end badly, it’s a real treat. And strangely enough, it doesn’t just feature some terrific Ronee Blakley songs on the soundtrack, it features THE SAME SONGS she’d go on to sing in the very great NASHVILLE, several years later. A true lost gem, that deserves to be discovered and released on DVD, dammit.
COP HATER (1958)
Speaking as someone who plowed through all of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels during his formative years, this is far from a good adaptation of his work, but it’s the first, and it’s interesting to watch the filmmakers struggle in their attempt to marry McBain’s fresh approach to the cop genre with their innate need to make a conventional thriller.
It’s the middle of a heat wave, and someone’s shooting cops, and a lot of very great and very young character actors get a chance to strut their stuff - Vincent Guardinia and Jerry Orbach show up in small parts, and the leads are a very young Robert Loggia and Gerald S. O’Loughlin. Loggia’s pretty contained, but gets to do some classic Loggia rage-work at the end, and even if you’re not enthralled by every minute, the filmmakers take full advantage of their heat wave device to show a lot of shirtless men and negligee’d women, which gives the movie a nice veneer of sleaze. I still prefer FUZZ, but the great 87th Precinct movie was never made, and I suspect that its time has passed, as TV has done a magnificent job of carrying that torch, from BARNEY MILLER, to HILL STREET BLUES, HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS, and culminating in the greatest of them all, THE WIRE.
UP TIGHT (1968)
How the hell did I ever miss this? I love me some Jules Dassin, and the notion of him doing a remake of The Informer set in the midst of the Black Power movement on the even of Dr. King’s assassination is astonishing. The film delivers, too. Beautifully shot, Dassin eschews the typical period trap of hand held pseudo-doc. Co-writer/Star Julian Mayfield isn’t the greatest actor, and doesn’t have maxium screen presence, but he’s surrounded by an amazing cast - Ruby Dee, Raymond St. Jacques, Roscoe Lee Browne, Robert DoQui, Max Julien, and Frank Silvera. In the middle of shooting, Dr. King was killed, and Dassin and his cast and crew worked that horrific event into the storyline, making it all the more effective. The footage of the memorial procession is magnificent and powerful.
The film is also noteworthy because it’s the only time the great Booker T. Jones (of Booker T & The MG’s fame) ever wrote the score for a movie. It’s worth mentioning that The Clash did a terrific cover of the title song “Time Is Tight” that appeared on Black Market Clash.
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