Couchzone Movie Club 1976: King Kong Ain’t Got Nothing on Watergate
May 19th, 2018 by Dazza
- The Sex Pistols appeared on TV and said Fuck a lot.
- The UK won the Eurovision song contest with Brotherhood of Man’s creepy if you pay attention “Save all your kisses for me!”
- And Chairman Mao died (haha)
But in more important events, these films were released which would one day leave a mark with me.
(Note from Mike: THIS EUROVISION THING HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR THAT LONG?!)
Shout at the Devil
When ever I’m asked to recommend a good old fashioned, fast paced, adventure novel, I normally suggest the early works of Wilbur Smith. My parents had a ton of his works that I read through as a teenager in between working through Stephen King. There’s a really fun, pulpy feel to them that make great holiday reads, full of action and humour. Unfortunately the South African author’s early works are tough to find on bookshelves these days, perhaps due to the sensitivity of a white male writing adventure novels set in mid 20th century Africa.
Although his stories lend themselves perfectly to movie adaptations, very few of them have made it to the screen despite the film rights being sold. For example my personal favourite Eagle in the Sky would make a fantastic movie, but having the hero being a pilot in the Israeli airforce probably makes that a no go. Those films that have been made seem to slipped from consciousness, such as Shout at the Devil, I film I saw as a kid one Sunday evening on the telly.
Again there are some modern day sensibilities that would baulk at a movie where our “heroes” are involved in a smuggling plot that has links with the ivory trade and features an scene where one of the leads shoots an Elephant. Like the Man Who Would be King featured in the last instalment, it also a very old fashioned adventure tale aesthetic about it.
Like The Man who Would be King, the film rests on a great double act with Lee Marvin as a rowdy, hard drinking adventurer and Roger Moore (during his early days in the James Bond role) as a naive English gentleman conned into joining one of Marvin’s schemes. While the odd couple pull capers in pre World War one East Africa they raise the ire of the local German Commander Herman Fleischer.
The partnership runs into even more complications when Moore falls in love with Marvin’s daughter Rosa and the revelation leads to a fist fight between the two leading to the hilarious wedding scene where the Groom and father of the bride are covered in black eyes and bruises. Legend has is that the two actors did actually get into a bit of fisticuffs for real on set and Moore gained the respect of the grizzled hardman Marvin by handling himself quite well.
It’s a fun adventure romp with tons of tons of humour. I always loved the scene during a heist to steel the taxes paid from the African tribes to the Germans by disguising themselves as German troops. Moore naively asks why the uniforms have patches sewn on and Marvin quiets him with the claims that it’s to cover holes caused by moths when it’s clearly bullet holes made when “aquring” the uniforms.
The film does take a darker turn at the outbreak of the first world war and during a raid on their home village an incensed Fleicher kills Moore and Rosa’s baby by throwing her into a burning hut. It’s a distressing and horrible moment and absolutely revolted me as a kid having never seen such an act in a film before. This turns the film into a revenge movie as Moore and Marvin embark on a mission to blow up a German Warship and kill Fleicher.
Just like the works of Wilbur Smith, Shout at the Devil has not retained an audience with later generations. It’s a shame it hasn’t been remembered fondly as it’s a fun movie with some cracking performances from the two leads for play off each other so well. Roger Moore has a charisma and dashing hero quality about him that he seems far more natural in this film than he ever did in his stiff role as Bond. Meanwhile Marvin is excellent as the rough brawling drunk and is almost unrecognisable from his macho persona in his crime and war movies.
All the President’s Men
If you’d have been in attendance at some of the Watergate hearings, you may have been lucky to catch sight of a A-list celebrity amongst the reporters and politicians. That would be Robert Redford who’s instincts told him that the biggest scandal to hit the Presidency of the United States would make for a compelling movie. Intending to star in it himself quick to pay almost half a million dollars to secure the rights to the Woodward and Bernstein book that detailed their reporting into the affair, highlighting their investigation for the Washington Post that started with the Watergate break in and lead to a cover up attempt by Nixon.
When I first saw All the President’s Men in my teens I knew nothing about Watergate or the scandal and only really knew Nixon as being one of the “Baddie” Presidents. And after watching the film, I still wasn’t 100% sure what it was about as it’s a very complicated story if you’re not paying attention, that starts with a break in and attempt to bug the Democratic party offices and leads to a money trail of funding, leading to a cover up ordered by Nixon (I think). Even now and after watching it many times, I still sometimes find the investigation of Woodward (Redford) and Bernstein (played by Dustin Hoffman) hard to follow, with so many names flying around of key figures such as Hunt, Colson, Halderman and Mitchell who remain off camera for the entire film.
To truly understand Watergate you probably need to do some background reading to supplement this film. Likewise with the ultimate fall of Nixon, as the film only covers the first half of Woodward and Bernstein’s book and abruptly finishes with them completing their story while Nixon is sworn into Office for his second term. An epilogue of sorts in the form of a typewriter reveals Nixon’ resignation over a year later.
As complicated as the investigation can appear, All the President’s Men is instantly watchable and gripping. The first time I saw it I admit I lost track, but I was kept engaged by the dramatic way the conspiracy begins to show it self and how alive and exciting the film makes the world of investigative journalism appear. There’s a real subtle vibrancy in Redford’s performance as he covers what appears to be a routine burglary but his nose for a story and the appearance of a mysteriously evasive onlooker lead him to investigate further.
We sit with him at his desk as he chases leads on his telephone, filling his pad with a mess of notes, often going down deadends and finding his progress barred. Until finally he presents his findings to his bosses, and relates how when speaking to the Whitehouse Press agency he was told that Coulson or anyone at the Whitehouse had nothing to do with Watergate. His bosses shrug unimpressed until he reveals that he never asked a question about Watergate “I merely asked what Hunt’s duties at the Whitehouse. They volunteered he was innocent but nobody asked if he was guilty.” It’s an electric goosebump moment that gets you with the anticipation that something is afoot.
All the President’s Men does something that was sorely lacking in last year’s interesting but by the numbers The Post by Spielberg. It injects a sense of theatre. The deep brooding music conveys a foreboding as the two reporters get deeper into the story. There’s also that famous iconic scene of the two of them working through piles of library records, the camera is directly over their desk and slowly zooms unnervingly out to take in the vastness of the library and showing with a sinister feel how small they are in regards to the hugeness of the conspiracy.
Running the narrative is the relationship with Woodward and Bernstein, thrown together on the story there is a mild tension and resentment between the too. There is a conflict between them due to their different approaches with Woodward being inexperienced but careful and reasoned, while Bernstein although with more experience is hot headed and jumps to conclusions without full evidence to back himself up. The two of them almost play tennis with each other over the story, with Bernstein serving up speculation and ideas with Woodward throwing them back to him when the evidence is less than airtight.
Hoffman and Redford are naturally great but not to be overlooked is Jason Robards playing Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (played in The Post by Tom Hanks) who brings a commanding, grizzled veteran feel to his role. He also has one of the best monologues in the film.
You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad. Goodnight.
Dramatic license has been used somewhat. While Woodward’s inside source the enigmatic “Deep Throat” was real, the clandestine methods of communication have been disputed , although Woodward has always maintained them to be real. One thing that is total fiction is the iconic line from “Deep Throat” to “Follow the money” and never appeared in the book and only comes from William Goldman’s script. Likewise the scene with Bernstein tricking is way past the secretary to get an interview is also fiction and probably appeared in the rewrites Bernstein did himself (it’s claimed that the flirty, charming manner Hoffman has when interviewing women was also down to Bernstein’s pen).
All the President’s Men is easily in my top ten movies of all time. While writing this I popped in my dvd of it (yep still oldschool physical) just to check a few things and ended up watching the whole thing again. It’s full of memorable scenes of natural dialogue and interactions where people are actually just talking to each other as opposed to to stirring one liners designed to fit into a trailer or catch the ear of the academy.
It’s thrilling chase for a story, full of triumphs with every break and knockdown of every failed lead.
Just a note. There’s a scene just over one hour into the film that really pisses me off. It’s an overhead shot of a full carpark and there are two cars just left in a way that completely boxes in several parked cars. If those drivers came back to their cars, no way would they be able to get out. Fuckers.
If there was to be a casualty of the 70’s cinema slide towards alternative counterculture, it would be an actor like John Wayne. In a disillusioned America still reeling from defeat in Vietnam, a right wing patriotic like Wayne came across as painfully out of touch, especially after the embarrassing pro war, propaganda movie The Green Berets. With the Golden age of the classic western over, the ageing Wayne tried to remain relevant by following Clint Eastwood into cop movies but with mixed results. Fortunately in what was to prove his final movie Wayne was able to bring magic once more time to the genre that made him. It’s a fitting tribute to the man and also happens to be my favourite John Wayne movie.
In The Shootist, John Wayne is Bernard Books, an ageing gunfighter dying of Cancer who comes to Carson City to spend his final days. While there he befriends his landlady (Lauren Bacall) and her son (played by Ron Howard during his Happy Days period) who sees in Books a potential father figure, already being good with a gun himself.
Books finds himself the target of gunfighters wanting to make their reputation off him. Rather than face a slow descent into death he arranges a showdown with three troublemakers to go out in a blaze of glory.
The Shootist is a stunning movie, devoid of music for so much of it and with a sombre, melancholy tone throughout. It’s almost like the death of the John Wayne persona, the film opening with a montage from all his other movies, as if Book is the amalgamation of all the Wayne characters. Book himself laments on the end of the Wild West, with him having no place in civilisation (a theme explored in the other classic the Searchers), just in the same way the optimistic Westerns of Wayne’s heyday have no place in the gritty 70’s cinemas. In many ways this could be considered the end of that style of Western.
Conversely the film comes alive in tone as Wayne makes his way to his final showdown. Book seems alive more than at any other time in the film, at peace even. You’re really rooting for this old man, yet deep down you know that he is going towards his death.
Book gets to go out in a blaze of glory and hence Wayne’s career gets to do the same. But there is one last nail in the coffin of the western as young Ron Howard rather than follow in Book’s footsteps as his mother feared, rejects the violence and lawlessness that he represents.
The Shootist is filled with poignancy and there is a real lump in the throat at seeing Wayne well dressed and dignified and finally meeting his end (Wayne rarely died in his movies and the only Westerns he died in were The Cowboys and The Alamo). In a way the Shootist could have featured the end of any of his characters, Book could be Roster Cogburn, Ethan Edwards or John Chance. It’s a powerful movie, even more so with Wayne passing away from Cancer just a few years later.
Technically speaking, The Shootist wasn’t the final movie for John Wayne to appear him. Wayne’s last film was Star Wars. That long snouted informer who tells the Stormtroopers that Luke and co have gone into the Millennium Falcon hanger, well his garbled voice was a digital mixture of John Wayne recordings.
(Mike: Wait, really?)
There are so many WTF moments I could pick from 1976. There was the murder on screen hoax “Snuff” or Jenny Agutter being totally naked in Logan’s Run (you didn’t get that in the Railway Children). But instead I decided to highlight a film that had a profound effect on me as a little kid, because it was the first film to crushingly disappoint me.
I can vividly remember this experience, even though I was only three at the time. My family used to have a caravan by the coast of Whitley Bay. When staying there we used to go into the town to the cinema a lot, the reason being there was fuck all else to do in Whitley Bay (Seriously, the caravan didn’t have any electricity, so in order to watch a couple of hours television on our black and white portable, we had to go for a drive in order to charge up the car battery and then remove it from the car and attach it by jump leads to our crappy little TV. Looking back I’m sure this is not safe, but anyway think of me the next time your internet is down and you can’t watch netflix for five minutes.)
Anyway one of the first films we saw (maybe the first) was the remake of King Kong, the Dino De Laurentis 1976 version. I was only three, but I already in love with the original and I remember thinking this would be even better, because well it was in colour, modern and had an absolutely awesome poster with Kong standing on two tall buildings (unbeknown to me these were the Twin Towers and how they would impact the world decades later.
I had little understanding about the concept or reasoning behind remakes but I knew one thing. This movie sucked!!! I would like to point out that as a three year old I already had the patience of a little saint when it came to films. Because I sat for what seemed like an eternity and only once had to be shussed by my mum when I asked “When is King Kong coming on?” Because the journey to skull island in this version seems to take an absolute age and this time we’re not following a camera crew making a movie we’re following a boring ass oil company. Of course they still need a blonde, white woman for Kong to get besotted with when they reach the island. So rather than just have a woman working on the ship in a bit of modernity they just find Jessica Lang in a dingy floating in the ocean.
And boy was he not worth the wait, because the charming and facially charismatic stop motion version had been replaced by a very obvious man in a suit. This shoddy look was the least of my complaints of this crappy remake as compared to the original that was so dear to my heart. For one in the original Kong got into three scraps with the various monsters on the island, (hell there are even a bunch of dinosaurs he doesn’t get to tangle with) but in the remake he just has one fight with a snake.
Then when we get to the city rampage scene but not before we have to have a long scene following Kong’s journey from Skull Island to the United States, probably because some dipshit saw the original and went “hey how did they get him to America.” Personally if you’re going to split hairs you should ask the question why the tribesmen built a giant wall to protect them against Kong, but also include a giant door big enough for him to get through. Anyway Kong escapes plods along in a really dull riot which includes our only look at the 40ft mechanical King Kong that cost half a million to build, was all over the marketing but didn’t work very well at all. Kong proceeds to take an absolute age to climb up the twin towers (to be fair though they were significantly higher than the Empire State Building of the original) and takes on not planes but helecopters. Which makes sense in the modern setting but in the original Kong makes a real fight of it against the planes, here they kinda just pick him off from a distance.
I was appalled at this treatment of my favourite film at that young age and back in the caravan complained all night about everything wrong with the film. But at least I can look back and be proud that even then I had a somewhat discerning film taste (which many people would argue I have since lost).
This film was still a box office success for it’s day and spawned a board game that I got for Christmas which had nonsensical instructions and the only fun I got from it was spinning the Kong part of it around like John Cena’s early title belts.
I got Chicken pox while in Whitley Bay and I have fonder memories with that than this piece of shit movie.
And in case you were wondering what other movies we saw, they all featured Doug Mcclure battling monsters.
See you in 1977