Friday, July 11, 2008

Hold Your Horses, Pull Your Punches, and Watch Your Money (and Your Back)

Goatdog is traveling: he flew out to Paris but will apparently be driving back. I'm off in Oklahoma (my actual birth state!) looking for Yancey Cravat, who hitched up a wagon one day and no one, not even his wife Sabra, has heard from him since. Nathaniel has been busily consoling her. To be more efficient, he invited Sabra into the same weekly group-therapy sessions he's already been holding for four years now with Kate, Catalina, Imelda, and the Bening.

Which is all to say: we're busy, but Best Pictures from the Outside In will be back next week, with Cimarron and Million Dollar Baby.

For those of you who need a little Oscar-flavored morsel to snack on between now and then, here's a ridiculous tidbit: I just saw my 500th writing nomination yesterday, in the auspicious form of Smart Money, on Goatdog's recommendation. The movie starts slowly with Edgar G. Robinson (in the same banner year as Little Caesar and Five Star Final) starring as a small-town barber with a gambling addiction. He, of course, thinks of this as a gambling talent, and so do his co-workers and buddies at the shop, including best friend James Cagney (in the same banner year as The Public Enemy and Blonde Crazy). For a while, Robinson seemed to be giving too much of the character upfront: gregarious but self-deluding, and heading straight for a rude awakening when he heads into The City looking for a good game. But part of what earns Smart Money its Original Story nomination is that the film keeps taking unpredictable tacks, spending more time than we expect with this character and less than we expect with that one, shifting its center of gravity repeatedly as Robinson is conned, then cleverly avenges himself, and then becomes a leading kingpin of the city and a thorn in the side of law enforcement... and even at that point, we've still got half the movie to go.

The sea of nearly indistinguishable blondes swirling around the Robinson character are a purposefully baffling mixture of lovers, spies, decoys, and unwitting bystanders: Hitchcock must have loved this. As the narrative builds, even if Alfred E. Green's direction is never conspicuously first-rate (and the screenplay itself isn't as strong or as interesting as the story), Robinson's character as well as his performance deepen considerably, his alliance with Cagney becomes more than a retroactive casting coup, and Margaret Livingston—so indelible as The Woman of the City in Sunrise—contributes a splendid supporting performance as a different kind of female enigma: almost certainly the lever of Robinson's downfall or his redemption, but a significant ethical litmus test either way, and an engaging, layered character in her own right. The actual ending resembles at least a couple of the dozen alternatives you've been imagining over the course of the film, but let's just say the tone of the final sequence, as acted and edited, doesn't quite rhyme with its narrative import. Which means that Smart Money does what it does best—it keeps you guessing—right through to the finish. B+

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Blogger Sam Brooks said...

Nice review!

And also nice to see a shiny A- on Up The Yangtze.

10:17 PM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Hayden said...

Sorry. I have no opinion on the post-at-hand. Sorry.

I just wanted to tell you that your banner is absolutely delicious. =]

9:45 PM, July 13, 2008  

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