Sunday, September 16, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different (Or a Tale of Two Beattys)

Picked up two new DVDs this week. Well, one actually came in the mail from Amazon and I picked the other up at Movie Stop. Neither film has anything to do with guys with swords. Guns yes. Swords no.
First off is Ring of Fear from 1954. This is a movie about a psychotic killer seeking revenge against a circus for more or less imagined wrongs. He escapes from the asylum and wreaks havoc by releasing animals, starting fires, sabotaging the trapeze, etc. So far just a standard fifties thriller. Here's where it gets weird. The circus in the film is the Clyde Beatty circus, which was a very real and very popular circus at the time. It still exists. Look here.
Clyde Beatty plays himself in the film and when he hits wits end with the sabotage in his show he calls in...Mickey Spillane. Yes, Spillane, the author of the Mike Hammer novels. Guy in all the beer commercials. Seems that the Mick is an old friend of Beatty so he hurries to the circus to track down the killer. Spillane basically portrays his own hero, Mike Hammer, questioning folks, cracking wise, and ogling dames. It's just a tremendous amount of fun. I had only seen the movie once before and that was on a bad video transfer, which I had gone to insane lengths to acquire in the early 1990s when the film was pretty much unavailable. (I'll explain this in another post. Long story.)
In a way this is an early example of what would later be termed, meta-fiction which is a self referring text that blurs the lines between fiction and reality. Some of the characters in ring of Fear are actors. Others are people playing themselves in a fictional narrative. We also see some of Spillane's paperback books in the film, so one medium refers to another.
The other DVD was the extended cut of Warren Beatty's Bugsy. This one's a bio pic of legendary gangster Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel. Along with Meyer Lansky and Charley 'Lucky' Luciano, Siegel got his start as a New York street punk and eventually became one of the most powerful gangsters of all time. He was also, oddly enough, the man who created Las Vegas. The real Bugsy was a sociopath, outwardly charming, and inwardly a monster. More than willing to kill anyone who crossed him, Siegel was known as 'Bugsy' (though not to his face) because of his unpredictable and volatile nature. Beatty does an amazing job of capturing this. His Bugsy is a ladies man and a clotheshorse and completely and utterly ruthless. It's an incredibly powerful performance as Beatty manages to show the simmering, dangerous nature that lurks always beneath his character's surface. Even in repose you can almost see the barely restrained violence and when it explodes suddenly, you can believe that this guy is nuts.
The rest of the cast is great too, and includes Ben Kingsley, Harvey Keitel, Joe Montegna, (playing Hollywood tough guy George Raft, who was a friend of Siegel's) and Annette Benning as the tough talking Virginia Hill. Hill's nickname was Flamingo and of course that is the name of the first ever resort hotel in Vegas. Hill was also a southern girl and in fact lived for a time in one of the houses on the Marietta Square just a couple of miles from where I sit as I type this.
Anyway, I have always loved this movie, so when I saw the extended cut with deleted scenes, documentaries and such, I had to pick it up.

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