So once again we have survived.

The Lost Man

tn_lostmanTHE LOST MAN is a 1969 Sidney Poitier heist movie, a pretty obscure one, never released on DVD. Maybe if it was better known then Tony Scott and Denzel would do a juiced up remake. But actually it’s already sort of a remake, based on a novel that was made as ODD MAN OUT in ’47, but that version had James Mason as an IRA type, this has Poitier as a Black Panther type.

He plays Jason, a black militant ready to sacrifice all for the cause. I’m not sure how much he’s recognized within the movement. He’s not a figurehead or anything, but he leads a small group of men who definitely regard him as the man. He’s planning a payroll robbery so they can give the money to the children of imprisoned activists. Not everybody seems completely sold on the idea, but he sort of scares them into it.

In the opening he and his team sit in a car watching a protest organized by councilman Dennis (Al Freeman Jr., the guy who played Elijah Muhammed in MALCOLM X). They watch what the cops do, then they leave. Poitier is real cold and stoic. He doesn’t take his sunglasses off until 20 minutes in, I honestly started to wonder if he was supposed to be blind. That would make the robbery more impressive.

mp_lostmanThe robbery is clever because it takes advantage of two racial conflicts. 1, they organize a protest at the same time as the robbery knowing full well that every cop on the force will be there to harass them. Two, they show up in suits and ties at the place where some council or committee meets with the white people, and the white secretary lets them in. Their whole plan is based on the assumption that she’ll see a bunch of black guys in suits and think it’s the usual guys. And it works.

But the thing goes south when a security guard senses that Jason wouldn’t really shoot him, takes a shot, and inspires him to actually shoot. So Jason gets wounded and kills an innocent man. Then he ends up stranded in the city. He goes to a movie, forces his way into Vonetta McKee’s apartment, etc. Luckily there’s another sweaty black guy in a suit running around with a briefcase who he gets confused with, that buys him some time.

Meanwhile the rest of the team (including Paul Winfield from WHITE DOG) fend for themselves. They take kind of an OUT FOR JUSTICE approach, instead of trying to get away they just go to a whorehouse and enjoy themselves. It goes about as well as you’d imagine, although not as badly as it does for the guys in OUT FOR JUSTICE. Less pain, I think.

Of course this is just a couple years before the birth of the blaxploitation movie, and the perspective is completely different. You can tell it’s made by white people, not Melvin Van Peebles or somebody, because even though it makes Jason sympathetic they thought they had to stop short of endorsing him, even as an anti-hero. So the cop that’s after him is a reasonable white man who doesn’t want to have to kill anybody. Then again the movie does spend more time with the young white beauty that obviously has a crush on him than with the black one. Of course they don’t get it on or anything, but there’s definitely implications of a heavy attraction there. (And I guess it was real because the white lady is Joanna Shimkus, later Poitier’s wife and mother of Sydney Poitier from DEATH PROOF.)

It’s not a bad movie but I think it’s kind of what baseball metaphorists call “a miss.” The poster and VHS cover say “He crowded a lifetime into 37 suspenseful hours!” and show him hauling ass with the case full of money, as if he’s gonna be running around the city having to go through hell to get out of this mess. It’s not that exciting. It’s really more of a relaxed tour through different safehouses and hoping he can get on a train or a boat or something before some dick betrays him. There’s not as much tension or momentum as there could be. The failed robbery part is pretty exciting though.

The director is Robert Alan Aurthur, who only directed this one movie but wrote a ton of them including FOR LOVE OF IVY, GRAND PRIX, ALL THAT JAZZ and an episode of Playhouse 90 that got him sued by Ray Bradbury. Also he was Bea Arthur’s first husband and gave her her name, although she refused the extra ‘u.’

The music is by Quincy Jones. It’s good but not real memorable, except to those of us who recognize it from this Ice-T song:

Actually now that I’m listening to it again I think it is pretty cool. Let’s go out just appreciating that in context from the score:

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, September 16th, 2010 at 11:34 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “The Lost Man”

  1. The set-up sounds great, I love the idea of organising a protest to distract the local law enforcment. Sounds like it wouldn’t hurt if it did get remade.

  2. Gonna have to find that Quincy Jones score. Sounds real nice.

  3. Sounds terrific–let’s see this on DVD.

    And speaking of heist movies, if I may steal this topic for a moment: I hope everybody enjoys THE TOWN this weekend and I sincerely look forward to hearing what the action maniacs and filmatists followers of Vern think of it. May the car chases and blazing shootouts deliver real old-school action. Amen.

  4. CC> Just checked the trailer out for The Town. Count me in for that brother.

  5. My problem with THE TOWN is that the damn heavy-handed trailer played in front of every film I saw this summer, so I feel like I’ve already sat through the film five times. Also, I’m not a fan of the script for GONE BABY GONE. The acting and filmatism was fine, but I think the plot was a joke.

  6. Never saw Gone Baby Gone. Just checked the trailer out for that one too. Gonna give it a go.

  7. Not related to this, but David Bordwell has a great blog post up about how to film a good action scene (comparing a Bond movie to a Jackie Chan movie):

    http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?p=10077

    If you folks are like me, I think you’ll appreciate Bordwell’s points on how (and how not) to make action clear and engaging. It makes some similar points to what Vern has talked about when discussing the incoherency of “post-action,” but includes still frames from the movies to support his thesis.

  8. meh. sorry vern, think I’ll pass on this one.

  9. Gotta agree with Jareth — GONE BABY GONE is filled with sharp performances and great filmmaking but the plot is just as contrived as it could possibly be and undermines the authenticity of everything else. Or maybe its just that after “The Wire” everything else seems cheesy and fake (doesn’t help that the cast includes Omar AND Beadie, even if she is doing a really fantastic job playing my mother-in-law).

  10. In defense of GONE BABY GONE, which I love wholeheartedly, it’s in the tradition of hard boiled private eye/detective fiction, which often has overly complex, credibility-straining plots. You just have to roll with it. It’s no more absurd than your average Chandler or Hammett novel, and much less absurd than something by Mickey Spillane. And (not that this excuses any improbabilities or cheesy elements you may have felt it had) they actually WAY toned down the ridiculousness that was in Lehane’s book, which amongst other things involved a hulking killcrazy gun nut named Bubba, a character who fakes a heart attack with cocaine, and about a hundred more murders than were in the film.

    I think GBG’s plot works as a satisfying detective yarn, and I especially appreciate the way the story forces Affleck’s character to make some serious moral decisions, and leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not he did the right thing. Which is one of the things noir does well.

  11. This will be a pain in the ass to find over here , I can already tell . It’s one of those movies I will not be able to find easily , like HIT! the Billy Dee Williams-Richard Pryor movie with that cool-as-hell poster of Williams holding a bazooka , that Vern reviewed some time ago. Damn I want to see that one ! And this one too ! I love Poitier obviously from his long career and for the legendary Tibbs , but I also love him in more contemporary stuff like Sneakers . He really was one of the better parts of that movie , already packed with excellent characters and good actors.

  12. Definitely look for HIT! harder than this one. I really think HIT! is an undiscovered gem. Somebody’s gonna put it on DVD eventually and take credit for finding it.

  13. Yeah, Lehane is an absurdly overrated writer. His books are so pulpy, with terrible prose. I’m not sure how the heck he got the reputation he did–guess he just adapts well to movies.

  14. I actually like Lehane’s prose a lot. And I like pulpy stuff. I just think he can go way overboard with his stories, taking them too far out into absurdity.

  15. Yeah , I was this close to actually order the HIT! VHS from the Internet , and I only order from the ‘net when it’s my last resort , but recently my VHS player started to eat and ruin some tapes , so now I’m even a little scared when I use the damn thing . So here I am , still crossing my fingers for a DVD release…and I hope it’s a DVD release because I don’t have a BluRay Player either !

  16. ODD MAN OUT is fantastic, same director as THE THIRD MAN, but quite a few folks reckon it’s better. No zither, though, sorry.

  17. Dan — I can totally dig an operatic, convoluted plot, and silly as it is I like the interesting questions GBG’s twisted narrative raises. I did feel, however, that the plot is undermined somewhat by the film’s commitment to authenticity and realism everywhere besides the plot. As I said, its pretty clear that Affleck’s been watching “The Wire” — not a bad thing, but bringing that kind of realism alongside a plot like this simultaneously undermines both the appeal of authenticity and the joys of a pulpy plot for me.

    Which isn’t to say I hated the film; actually I really enjoyed it. It did kinda lose me as the twists became increasingly ludicrous, however, and as fascinating as I found the final moral dillema, it never quite won me back. The depth of the performances and the directing (especially Amy Ryan’s character, who as I said feels legitimately like people who could have come my own life) really got to me, and next to that level of detail and richness the plot seems kind of cheap and gaudy. On the other hand, I don’t know if the final moral dilemma would have seemed so potent had the situation Affleck’s character creates not not seemed so dire and believable, so I guess there’s that. Maybe they could have toned down the whole conspiracy angle plot a little and I’d have gone for it.

  18. Whats with you guys on GBG anyway?

    I thought it was a good little drama with a good cast, good performances. God knows a Ben Affleck-directed enterprise in 2007 wasn’t exactly warm on my radar at the time, but I guess he won me over.

    Personally what sticks with me is the morality, the hero’s decision and actions are what you would have found and expected in a 40s/50s movie, but what almost every else in that movie (and the audience’s kneejerk response I assume) is what you would have find in a movie produced in recent decades.

    Also, the ending shot of Casey Affleck is pretty good no?

  19. Also for that matter, interesting how Affleck went from actor who won an Oscar for writing to Hollywood “big star” who picked so many bad worthless movies (most which flopped) that it even put into question any artistic value he have had in the first place. Remember that FAMILY GUY sketch?

    Nevermind the J-Lo affair which quite frankly might be one of the few times when the public cheered a nasty break-up because it was so obnoxiously over-reported by the media.

    So his acting career cratered and had no real respect left, think Mickey Rourke without a face done by a cobbler*. And the guy is making his comeback as a director, with his second movie on track to be the #1 movie this weekend.

    Not bad Ben, not bad. And without having to beg your buddy Matt for a job.

    *=thanks Venture Bros.

  20. RRA: That FAMILY GUY sketch was mild compared to what the SOUTH PARK guys have done to him on two occasions.

    I think he’s earned some goodwill after GONE BABY GONE, but I’ll still be watching any of his films, especially one he performs in, with major reservations. Mr. Subtlety has pretty much described my feelings about GBG better than I could. It might sound harsh, but the genre Affleck has chosen to work in comes with some high expectations, and I’m not going to let him off easy because his previous work with Kevin Smith or Jennifer Lopez or whatever was so dire. When he makes a film that can stand alongside Altman’s LONG GOODBYE or even THE WIRE I’ll be sure to credit him. So far, however, he’s fallen way short.

  21. “When he makes a film that can stand alongside Altman’s LONG GOODBYE or even THE WIRE I’ll be sure to credit him.”

    Jareth – You know that with this suddenly acute pecular high standard of yours, a good many movies Vern has liked on this here web sight would be disqualified. Surely TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. is an awesome movie, but I can’t put it above or equal to THE WIRE. With your gold baromere, should I write Mr. Friedkin a letter and tell him to fuck off?

    For that matter, your logic is akin to if I didn’t bothering with most contemporary actioneers because they aint as good as DIE HARD or ALIENS or whatever. I mean give me a goddamn break Jareth, you’re smarter and more sophisticated than such IMDB-levels of nonsensical bullshit.

    But hey everybody (even me) fucks occasionally. Its what makes us human.

  22. I suspect ol’ “Hurricane Billy” has enough letters of that nature already

  23. “Mr Friedkin? Another ‘Fuck off’ letter for you.”

    “*sigh* Toss it in the pile.”

  24. Thing is, what movies would Friedkin get “fuck off” letters for?

    I guess the unfunny comedy DEAL OF THE CENTURY and that evil baby-eating tree picture THE GUARDIAN (I aint making that shit up), and maybe the actually decent CRUISING from angry gays mad at a movie which even in 1980 was outdated with the politics.

    Still only movie to my knowledge where Al Pacino gets rope hogtied naked on a bed, though I haven’t seen SCENT OF A WOMAN yet.

    Never saw JADE either, but I remember people hating that one. RAMPAGE does sound interesting, but it never got released on DVD in America. Boo.

    Otherwise his last 3 movies have been at the least decent and interesting, even if RULES OF ENGAGEMENT is wildly manipulative and silly at its worst. BUG was pretty awesome though.

  25. I do love me some CRUISING. Not only is it a pretty great little filmatic snapshot of a particularly insular culture at a particular time and place (yes, those are real gay clubs, no, those are not actors) it also works as a genuinely gripping and chilling detective story with a completely awesome and fairly unique ending. And, as an added bonus, its completely fucking insane and filled with some of the greatest WTF moments of any film (watch in awe as the cops open a door in the police station, behind which is a giant black guy wearing a jock strap and a cowboy hat, who walks through the door and bitchslaps Al Pacino and then walks out).

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