Drive-In Friday: Black & White Night

For this week’s installment of our weekly (at 11 AM) Drive-In Friday feature, we’re kickin’ it old school out ‘ere in the sticks amid the aroma of mosquito coils and heat-carouseled hotdogs — and probably cow and horse poo from the farm on the otherside of our lot’s treeline. Now if yer one of those folks who “don’t do black & white movies, they depress me,” then you just keep on drivin’ into the big city and spelunk that air-conditioned 28-screen behemoth selling the $5.00 (tiny) boxes of Snowcaps (they’re a $1.79 — and bigger — on the candy isle at the registers where I grocery shop).

Three-for-one watermelons and cantaloupes! Ten ears of corn for $2.00!
B&S About Movies 2-4-1 DVD and VHS movie sale blowout this Sunday.

I dated two women who hated black & white movies (those relationships didn’t last long, natch). My cousin? She refused to watch anything “that’s not in color.” Me? A great movie is a great movie, color be damned. And long before Crown International Pictures and Roger Corman began pumping out B-Movie fodder for the big screens under the stars, these are the movies you necked to your girlfriend by on the nights the “submarine races” were cancelled.

So, let’s hook up that speaker on the window and fire up that mosquito coil and, like the marquee states, get ready for a night of comedy with No Time for Sergeants, drama with Marty, and lose it over Barbara Stanwyck (Scha-wing!) in the suspenseful film noirs Double Indemity and Sorry, Wrong Number.

Movie 1: No Time for Sergeants (1958)

Before there was Bill Murray’s 1981 military comedy Stripes, there was CBS-TV’s ’60s series Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. And before that there was No Time for Sergeants.

Before you became familar with Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor from the syndicated TV reruns of The Andy Griffith Show and as lawyer Ben Matlock on Matlock, you may have known him as Harry Broderick, the junk man astronaut from Salvage 1.

But before all of that, Andy Griffith was a stand up comedian-monologist that wowed audiences with humorous, long-winded stories, such as “What it Was, Was Football.” As with most comedians (see Jerry Seinfeld for a modern context), Griffith made the transition to acting and won across-the-board acclaim for his turn on the stage, television, and film versions of No Time for Sergeants. He starred as Will Stockdale, a country bumpkin drafted into the Air Force too daft to realize he drives everyone crazy — especially his beloved Sergeant King. And the fact Will keeps falling into buckets of poo (the iconic “toilet salute” scene) and keeps coming out like roses only makes Sgt. King crazier.

Griffith’s co-star/comedic foil is Nick Adams, who went from the highs of Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean, to the lows of working on the B-flicks Frankenstein Conquers the World and Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. He also starred in 1965’s Die, Monster, Die, which is a (very) loose adapatation of H.P Lovecraft’s short story “Colour Out of Space” (we recently reviewed the new Nicolas Cage version Color Out of Space).

Movie 2: Marty (1955)

“You don’t like her, my mother don’t like her, she’s a dog and I’m a fat, ugly man!” exclaims Marty to his best friend, Angie, a gangly guy who pines for women way out of his own league.

Now if this sounds alot like Jackie Gleason’s CBS-TV series The Honeymooners, which begat that network’s series King of Queens, which begat Mike and Molly, then it probably is. Did you ever see John Candy as the lonely bachelor cop in 1991’s Only the Lonely alongside Ally Sheedy? That’s where Marty takes all of it’s cues and Mike and Molly pinched its plot.

The “dog” Marty speaks of is Claire (Gene Kelly’s then wife, Besty Blair): a plain Bronx school teacher that our middle-aged butcher meets at the Stardust Ballroom — where she’s humilated by a blind date that ditched her. A sweet, clumsy romance that his doting mother and sexually immature buddies try to discourage, blossoms against all odds.

While you may not know of this deep slice of celluoid set on the streets of New York, you know of the film’s screenwriter: playwright Paddy Chayefsky. He’s best known to fans of ’70s and ’80s cinema for the award-winning films Network (1976; “I am mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”) and the sci-fi feature Altered States (1980; the film debut of William Hurt, aka Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, from the Captain America/Avengers/Black Widow film arc).

The 1953 teleplay of “Marty” on which the film is based aired as part of the NBC-TV Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse and starred Rod Steiger (American Gothic, The Amityville Horror, Mars Attacks, and Stallone’s The Specialist) in the title role.

And do we have to tell you that Ernest Borgnine was “Cabby” in Escape from New York? Really, do we? (He talks about that role on You Tube.)

Intermission!

Back to the Show!

Movie 3: Double Indemnity (1944)

“That’s a honey of an anklet you got there, Ms. Dietrichson,” salivates the nebbishly dashing Walter Neff, an insurance salesman.

Poor bastard; he didn’t stand a chance.

Now, in today’s #metoo movement, Ms. Dietrichson would be on the phone to the insurance company to report Neff to his superiors. He’d be fired, slandered on social media, become an alcoholic, and slither around on rock bottom until his eventual self-demise.

But this is a James M. Cain novella-based film and back then, a comment about a woman’s anklet triggered a femme fatale chain-of-events from which a man could never recover. And in this case: a rich, seductive housewife romances an insurance salesman into a murder/insurance fraud scheme of her husband, which arouses the suspicions of an insurance investigator played by Edward G. Robison — who you know as Saul “the Book” from the apoc-romp Soylent Green.

Do we really have to tell you who Fred MacMurray is? Ugh. Yes, he’s the old guy from all of those Antenna TV reruns of My Three Sons, you know, the “Uncle Charlie, where’s Chip and Ernie?” show. But before his TV career, Freddie starred in hit-after-hit movie, including this film noir ranked No. 38 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best American films of all time.

Study this film, ye potential filmmaker. It’s the gold standard.

Movie 4: Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Sigh. Barbara Stanwyck. The art of flashbacks to tell a story. Long tracking shots out of windows, over roof tops, across exterior walls and through windows — without bogus CGI After Effects digital stitching. In other words: “real oners.” Dark lighting. Moody shadows. Swirling cameras. And Barbara Stanwyck. Schwing for all of it, not just her.

She stars as Leona Stevenson, the spoiled, bedridden daughter of a wealthy businessman that — in the days before cellphones, where operators used patchcords in a circuit board to patch phone calls to various parties — hears a murder plot on a crossed phoneline. The twist: the plot is to murder her. And the murderer is her lover, played by Burt Lancaster, a slimy-yet-dashing businessman-cum-drug dealer (toned down for the movie).

If you’re interested in screenwriting and filmmaking, this is the film you study again and again. And again. Simply magnificent.

And you thought we were all about Sergio Martino and Fred Olen Ray movies at B&S About Movies? Don’t forget: hang up your speakers and please, use the trash recepticles on your way out. We’ll see you next Friday under the stars.

Sadly, there’s no free online streams available to share with you. However, because of each of the film’s “classic status,” they’re commercially available on all of the streaming services — You Tube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu, iTunes, and Vudu for less than $5.00 (cheaper than a box of multiplex Snowcaps!) — and DVDs are easily obtainable at your local public library. Happy viewing!

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

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