Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Police work can make even a good cop an alcoholic, at least in these two good movie gems: THE BLACK MARBLE and 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE. Both movies based on bestsellers by Joseph Wambaugh and Lawrence Block

1980's The Black Marble, (a term used by a suspect, as someone with no luck) is a Wambaugh's version of a love story... a cop love story. Robert Foxworth plays Sgt. A.M. Valnikov, the most Russian cop you'll ever meet on the Hollywood beat; he sings, he dances and he also has a serious "potato juice" drinking problem... if you know what I mean? This cop would make Foster Brooks look like a Mormon (what... dated reference?) Paula Prentiss (I've dug her since WHERE THE BOYS ARE? What another dated reference?) plays Sgt. Natalie Zimmerman  his new no nonsense (& against her wishes) partner, both are divorced and unknowingly longing for a little love. Then there's perhaps the greatest piece of work in The Black Marble... Harry Dean Stanton.  Stanton plays, Philo Skinner a dog groomer who's into his bookie for some serious money, desperate he masterminds (and I use that word "mastermind" very loosely) a dog napping of a popular show dog to get him out of his jam. Stumbling on to this quirky case, it gives Foxworth a chance to put aside some of his demons (along with the possible chance for love with his new partner.)  Prentiss (always great) doesn't disappoint as her tough, icy exterior slowly melts away as she reluctantly gives her heart away to her down on his luck partner. She finds that his drinking is due to memories of a series of torcher murders involving children and the death of his ex-partner. Both are great in this picture and they really bring Wambaugh's characters to life, but as great as they are (and they are) it's the Harry Dean Stanton show, no one plays a desperate character like Harry Dean. The finale between Stanton and Foxworth, in a dog kennel is like no other... it's both hilarious and pathetic. It's a chase scene that's a long way from say; Bullet or Dirty Harry. Directed by Harold Becker who also helmed Wambaugh's more somber piece, THE ONION FIELD, does another great job here, making great use of Hollywood circa 1980. Also look for James Woods in a funny cameo as a street violinist (making this his third Wambaugh film adaptation; The Choir Boys & The Onion Field.)

Los Angeles goes "Miami Vice style" in 8 WAYS TO DIE, is based on the Lawrence Block novel, featuring his popular print, private eye character Matt Scudder. Jeff Bridges gives yet another slam bam performance, as the former sheriff's detective, who's loses his badge (& his family) due to his hard drinking ways. After Bridges hits bottom after a bad drug bust, that forces him to fatally use his weapon on a suspect at the family dinner table, he joins AA. Now sober (one day at a time), he  moonlights as unlicensed a private eye, Bridges suddenly finds himself working for Sunny, a beautiful hooker (the leggy, Alexandra Paul) who's desperate to get out of the business, unfortunately for her, Bridges lets her out of his sight and she soon winds up leaving the business the hard way; dead. Bridges now wrecked with guilt, goes on a black out bender and wakes up in the hospital, barley able to talk or walk. Having failed his client, he knows that he has to get back on the wagon to solve her murder. Bridges, soon finds himself playing a deadly game of chess, with a slick, snow cone loving drug dealer Angel Molonado (in a scene stealing performance by then newcomer Andy Garcia.) Caught in the middle of this 80's noir, is 80's sex symbol Rosanna Arquette, playing another hooker, she's a real tough cookie (or as Bridges calls her "the Pete Rose of the house", because she's what he calls a "player manager.") Bridges and Garcia use Arquette as a ping pong ball that bounces between the two as they try to out smart each other, with her in the middle. The films climax features an intense shootout (reminiscent of the final scene in Howard Hawk's western, RIO BRAVO.) The script was co-written by none other than Oliver Stone and is surprisingly the last film directed (with great zest) by the late, Hal Ashby (who's credits include such 70's classics: Shampoo, Being There, The Last Detail, Bound for Glory, Coming Home and Harold & Maude.) Oddly this great LA crime drama is not yet released on DVD.

Both The Black Marble and 8 Million Ways to Die, feature great Los Angeles film locations that really give you a feel for the city and the times that they were shot.  But after watching these heavy drinking heroes, you might want to have some asprin handy!

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