Thursday, July 02, 2009

'He Used to Be A Big Shot'

I dove headfirst into my comfort zone last weekend and I’m not the least bit ashamed.

I know I should get out more: meet people, visit museums, go to the opera, attend concerts, wrestle alligators, and parachute out of burning airplanes.

I live in New York, for God’s sake, there’s any number of things to do in this town, including alligator wrestling if you look hard enough. You can probably wrestle an alligator while diving out of a burning airplane if that tickles your fancy, though I don't know why it should.

But sometimes I don’t feel like doing anything social at all. Some nights, instead of expanding my world, I feel like drawing it in around me like a handmade quilt. Some nights I just feel like staying home and watching TV.

And that’s what I did the last week when Netflix sent me a DVD of old Jimmy Cagney movie I had never seen called “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.”

I didn't even know about this 1950 film until a few weeks ago, but it didn't matter. If you’ve got an old black and white gangster movie starring Jimmy Cagney, brother, you better save me a seat or you’ll be standing all night.

I could fill a whole Internet with praise for Cagney. Just look at the movies he's done: “The Roaring Twenties,” “Footlight Parade,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Public Enemy,” “White Heat,” “One, Two, Three,” oh, God, it’s an unbelievable body of work and there are plenty of others that I haven't mentioned.

I have a personal fondness for a film he did called “Shake Hands With the Devil,” because, in addition to be a good movie about “The Troubles” in Ireland, Cagney also plays a character named Lenihan—and he spells it the right way, too.

I also enjoy a lot of Cagney’s lesser films like “City for Conquest,” where he plays a boxer who fights so he can send his brother to music school—yeah, really; or “Each Dawn I Die,” where he’s a reporter framed for murder and sent to prison.

While these may be referred to as B-movies--Geezer Alert!--they're still better than most of the crap you see in theaters today.

I admit I was a bit nervous about “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” because I knew so little about it and was concerned it could be a dog.

But as soon as the credits started to roll, I knew I was in good hands. I saw the famous Warner Brothers logo, heard the stirring anthem that starts off so many great movies, and I was on my way.

There I was in my living room, my feet up the coffee table, a plastic tray on my lap and munching on a bag full of roasted peanuts. I cracked shells while Cagney cracked skulls and it was great.

At one point I actually sat there and savored my feeling of contentment: nowhere to go, no one to see, no phone calls to return, no emails to answer, no lame conversations with doltish nitwits whose brains couldn’t fill a peanut shell.

I wasn’t even guilt-tripping myself to get up off my ass and go see the outside world. No, the outside world could stay outside for all I cared. I was truly at peace.

Familiar Faces

The film had a great supporting cast, too, with the likes of Ward Bond, Barton MacLane, Helena Carter, and Barbara Peyton.

I used to tease my mother when she’d get excited and call out the names of these lesser known players because, well, I didn’t know them. Just to be a smart-ass I’d shout the names of obscure people in the cast and crew: Harvey Lipschitz! Agnes Diddlebopper! Phineas Grupa!

But now, thanks to watching all these flicks with my parents, I actually do know a lot of these people and I get just as worked up as my mom did.

As always with these old time movies, there is the second tier of actors whom you know and enjoy, but just can’t name. One of the supporting cast members, Luther Adler, looked familiar to me and a quick search on IMDB confirmed where I had seen him before.

It turns out that he had starred in an episode of The Untouchables in 1962 where he played a gangster—no, really?—who had a gun-toting henchman played by a tough-talking Leonard Nimoy, light years away from the Vulcan pinch and the pointy ears.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but the future science officer of the Enterprise doesn't live long and prosper on Elliot Ness' home planet. He is gunned down instead of beamed up and his blazing demise occurs in the background of a dramatic father and son confrontation. It’s like, “oh, yeah, by the way, this schmuck gets killed, too.” Most illogical.

Speaking of getting killed, a whole bunch of people manage to do that in “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” but you might have already picked that up from the title.

This is by no means Cagney’s best movie; the pacing is not always the best, the love scenes are a bit clunky, the story is told in an unnecessary series of flashbacks, and I actually think Cagney is a little too old for the part. But I'm not complaining.

Some people have called this a sequel of sorts to “White Heat,” but this character is a bit cooler than the Oedipal complexed Cody Jarrett. None of the "top of the world, Ma" stuff in this movie, though Cagney does severely clock a guy who makes the incredibly dense mistake of telling our hero he's crazy. Don't these guys ever learn?

One of my favorite scenes happens early on when Cagney blackmails a corrupt cop portrayed by Ward Bond. The cop becomes enraged at first but realizes the hoods have him over a barrel. The scene ends with Ward Bond looking defeated and whipped while Cagney stands behind him and smiles from ear-to-ear. With this much charisma, who needs dialog?

While doing a little research on this film, I learned that Barbara Peyton, Cagney’s co-star, saw her life spin out of control with drugs and alcohol, until she was literally selling herself on the Sunset Strip. She died in her parents’ home at the age of 39.

And, years later, it turns out that Phil Spector and Lana Clarkson were watching this film in Spector's chauffeured car on the way to his Alhambra mansion the night of her murder. Kiss tomorrow goodbye, indeed.

I’m glad I didn’t know any of these things when I sat down in front of the tube with my bag of peanuts. This knowledge hasn’t changed my opinion of the movie, though it is a bit disturbing.

Naturally, you don’t make a habit of hunkering down with the DVD player night after night. I know there are people to meet, places to see and things to do. But every so often, you have to retreat, regroup, and wrestle the alligators another day.


Anonymous said...

I just watched a 1930's black n white "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in which Cagney played "Bottom"....the character that turns into a donkey who the queen of the fairies falls in love with while under the spell Puck put on them both. It was a crap film but Cagney was the most interesting choice the director made.

~ Donna

Ps this weekend I plan to spend some quality time with the DVD player :)

Rob K said...

Hi, Donna:

I never seen that version of a "Midsummer," but you are right, Cagney is a most intriguing choice. I understand that after Puck says, "Lo, what fools these mortals be," he takes out a tommy gun and kills about 20 people.

Or so I've been told.

Enjoy your DVD quality time.

Calamity Jen said...

Like New York, Toronto has a ton of things to do. Festivals, galleries, gatherings, museums, parades, etc., etc. Still, I like nothing better than some quiet, low-key time at home. Nothing wrong with pampering yourself with comfort from time to time.

Rob K said...

Good point, Jen.

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