Directed by William Wyler
I can’t get over the two opening scenes. I watch the behavior, I watch every gesture, every gliding camera angle, the way all of the characters’ heads, including Davis’, are turned away from the camera, as Davis retells the tale of how she shot that man in the first scene … It’s a huge “tell”, that “back-of-the-heads” choice, dramatic both visually and thematically. Tension! Herbert Marshall is excellent and quite heartbreaking in the role of Davis’ gentle credulous husband. And James Stephenson, as Howard, the attorney who takes on the murder trial, is also great. Much is withheld from the audience throughout, including the text of the letter (which we eventually hear, but at first we only see Davis’ reaction shot as she re-reads her own words, so we can only imagine). Watch Davis’ behavior during that early scene of questioning, in her own bungalow. The way she checks in with her husband, almost deferentially, the way he soothes her, her unconcious gestures reaching out to him, all the perfect picture of a perfect and innocent woman. What is eventually revealed, through the course of the film, with the advent of “the letter” in the title, makes you want to go back and watch that first questioning scene again, when Howard and another detective, ask her what happened earlier that night. Davis is completely in charge of what she is doing here. When the truth bursts out (late in the film, the second to last scene or so!), it’s primal and raw, and nearly destroys her husband. You can see lives being destroyed onscreen. Filmed in elegant lush black-and-white, with stark shadows, and moons going behind dark banks of clouds, and palm trees waving in the muggy night air, it’s melodramatic, filled with atmosphere and tension. Everyone is awesome, but I am mainly fascinated by Davis’ work here. She has a delicate line to walk. She can’t reveal too much, she can’t cover up too well. But she has to cover up pretty damn well, so that you are never sure what is actually going on with this woman. The performance from Davis is a marvel. I love the one later scene where she works at her piece of lace, glasses on, and you can see how ferociously she goes at it. It’s frightening. A great psychological performance from Davis.
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
Directed by Robert Butler
Sometimes, in grade school, on rainy Fridays when we couldn’t go outside for recess, they would have us all file down to what was referred to as “the multi-purpose room” (a cafeteria, a gym, a place where concerts/plays were put on), have us all sit in metal chairs, put up a big white screen, and show us movies. One day, they showed The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, a Disney movie from 1969, starring a gorgeous young Kurt Russell. I know they showed us other movies on other days (my friend Betsy remembers some of them), but The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes is the only one I remember. I have not seen it since that day in the multi-purpose room, when I fell in LOVE with it (and Kurt Russell, a crush which continues to the present moment). So I figured, what the hell, let me watch it again. This can sometimes be a disheartening experience. Re-visiting something you loved as a child only to find it … stupid or lame as an adult. But this still is a pretty good movie, for what it is. My “way in” when I was a kid was Kurt Russell. Those giGANtic closeups, where the camera is so close his chin and forehead are cut off, the whole screen is his mug. I love his face, and there was just SO MUCH of it to look at! Cesar Romero acts his balls off as the local businessman-slash-crime-lord who “donates” his computer to the local university and starts up all of these problems. Joe Flynn is funny as the harassed and ambitious dean of the College, a square fuddy-duddy who resists the advent of computer technology classes because there are so many other things that take precedent. But he eventually comes around. Kurt Russell plays Dexter, a college student who, one rainy night when he tries to replace the “logic board” in the new computer, gets a big shock, and then wakes up the next day, beeping from within, and able to finish his math test in 4 minutes flat. There’s a whole war that then ensues: Cesar Romero, of course, wants to co-opt Dexter to help him pick out winning racehorses. And the Dean wants Dexter to stay at his school and not be recruited by another university (Medfield University is like no college I have ever heard of. There only appear to be 15 students, first of all, and they only appear to take one class per semester). Mayhem ensues once Dexter’s increased brain power becomes apparent, he goes on a nation-wide tour, he’s given a ticker tape parade, and there’s even a car chase, involving falling buckets of gloopy orange paint, and Cesar Romero nearly falling out of his buggy as he goes around a sharp curve. Kurt Russell is so photogenic, it’s just unbelievable, his expressive face carrying this whole damn thing. It made me laugh: there are no less than two scenes where Russell is eating, his mouth so full of food that one cheek bulges out, and something happens that stuns him, or catches his attention, and there he stands, listening, with his cheek bulged out with food. Like, dude, you can swallow that!
I hadn’t realized it was made in 1969, I associated it with my own childhood which was later. It’s certainly quite dated now, and all of the hub-bub and anxiety about computers replacing humans is at the forefront of the film. The opening credits are straight-up late 60s psychedelia, with colorful dots filling the screen in strange geometric swirls and lines, and a funky theme song. And good to see reliable goon Richard Bakalyan play the sidekick to Cesar Romero’s sleek crime lord. Bakalyan is straight out of Runyon, and was still working fairly regularly as of a couple of years ago.