Gala On this episode of the Video Archives podcast.
Don’t look for these guys in church! Quentin and Roger take a trip with the LAPD as our boys in blue blow off Steam in The Choirboys (1977). Directed by Robert Aldrich and based on the outrageous bestselling novel, this movie had issues surrounding its release. Roger and Quentin take a second look at the film, discussing Aldrich and his associates, the large-scale casting of the film, and the scenes that work.
Next up: The most intensive manhunt ever mounted. It began on the 1st of November. Its object – to find Hennessy (1975)—a gentle, peaceful man who has been pushed too far and carries in his right best pocket the power to destroy a nation. A suspense thriller based on one man’s revenge, Roger and Quentin sit on the edge of their seats as they cheer for Hennessy.
Roger Go, Hennessy, go! Run!
Gala Another Rod Steiger performance, we talk all about how the plan unfolds, the seamless documentary footage, and a surprising cameo who may just win Best Supporting Actress.
And last but not least, we travel to the sea in Amphibian Man (1961), also known as Человек-амфибия (Chelovek-amfibiya), a popular Russian fantasy film. In this fable based upon the novel by Alexander Beliaev, a pearl diver, discovers the secret behind the Amphibian Man and desires to exploit it. The only problem: the Amphibian Man has fallen in love with the pearl diver’s fiancé, and with each passing day their connection grows stronger. A poignant story of love and loss, Quentin and Roger discuss the history of this popular movie, the crazy science fiction inventions of the film, and the very cool Amphibian Man costume. I’m your girl, Gala Avary. And joining us now: here’s Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary.
Quentin Thank you very much, Gala.
Roger Thanks, Gala.
Quentin Welcome back to the Video Archives podcast. Kill the Bacalov.
And so we’re dealing with three fairly interesting movies, alright. In order for us to talk about in today’s episode, let’s start it off right away with a movie—it came out in December of 1977 by one of my favorite directors in almost every way you can be a favorite director if you’re a director, Robert Aldrich and his adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh’s book, The Choirboys.
TRAILER The Choirboys Sgt. Scuzzi’s vice squad. Maybe you read about me in a bestseller, The Choirboys, like 6 million other people. Absolutely crazy movie. Bloomguard? You get yourself hurt I’d bust you out. Whalen? The Choirboys. You’ll never see some of this stuff on television. Rated R. Now playing at a theater near you.
Gala Robert Aldrich’s outrageous film The Choirboys, with co-hit Hennessy, will be playing on spectacular 35mm film for two nights on Tuesday, March 7th, and Wednesday, March 8th: 7165 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, 90036. For more information, visit thenebev.com
The New Beverly Cinema. Always on film.
Quentin Now, I saw this in 77 when it came out. I saw it with my mom and her boyfriend at the time, Marco, who was a really fun guy. And so we saw the South Bay and it was one of those movies where I loved it in 77; I thought it was hysterical, I thought it was funny and I think most of the whole audience thought it was hysterical. People were just laughing their asses off. And my mom and Marco really liked it.
Now, up until this point in time, I had, you know, I was reading novelizations of books when they came out. And every once in a while you’d pick up a novelization, or what you thought was a novelization—it turns out the movie was based on a real book, and now they’ve just printed the book with the cover of the movie on it. And that was ever so good, alright, because… Oh, that’s actually different; that’s too different from the movie. I didn’t like that when that happened, so I tried to look out for that. The Choirboys was the first time that I liked the movie so much that I went out to buy the book because I figured there would just be more material in it.
Roger So you actually read the book?
Quentin So after I saw the movie, I went out and bought the book. But this is the only time I actually read the book because I like the movie so much.
Roger You wanted more raunchy behavior.
Quentin I just wanted more; I wanted more material.
Quentin And I love the book! Joseph Wambaugh became one of my favorite novelists from that point on. I read The Black Marble after that, I never read The New Centurions, even though I’ve always wanted—I’ve had it forever and I’ve always wanted to.
Roger Onion Field?
Quentin I never read those. I saw the movies; I saw the movie.
Roger Yeah, Onion Field was like one of the books that was in not just my home —
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah—a lot of people’s homes.
Roger But growing up it seemed like every one of my friends, their parents had a copy of the Onion Field.
Quentin And they talked about it a lot. But I remember talking with Bret Easton Ellis, we were talking about it, you know, we’re the same age, and we were talking about different novelists we grew up with and I started reading. And I mentioned I went through a Joseph Wambaugh phase, you know, as a young man, you know, like 13, 14, 15, 16… he goes, “Oh, yeah, me too. No, I absolutely did. Of course you did. Wambaugh was the man back then.”
So what is the movie that we’re talking about? Let me read the back of the box. Okay, so this, by the way, alright, is MCA Universal Tape. This is not from the archive—we didn’t have it at Archives—this is from the Eddie Brandt’s Collection. And this is one of those times where the back of the box actually does… not the worst job in the world of describing the contents of the movie.
[reading the box] “The raunchy, hilarious exploits of ten metropolitan policemen explode on screen in this fast-moving black comedy based on Joseph Wambaugh’s bestselling novel. James Woods, Charles Durning, Louis Gossett Jr, Perry King, Randy Quaid, and Burt Young lead a group of rank-and-file policemen from the Los Angeles Police Department who look for ways to cope with the pressures of the job. Dubbed “Choirboys” for their after-hour revelries, they meet for “choir practice”—periodic relaxation sessions at which the group gets drunk, chase women, play practical jokes, and reveals their innermost fears. Directed by Robert Aldrich, this outrageous comedy gives an eye-opening glimpse into the lives of the boys in blue who follow a simple gospel: Work hard, play harder.”
Color, 2 hours. Rated R. Okay, that’s actually not that great of a description of the movie, as per usual for these boxes —
Roger But it lays out a couple of important things —
Quentin It Does. It does lay it out.
Roger Important elements to know, which is the biggest bullet point for me that they actually nailed was that these guys are under so much stress that they have to blow off steam.
Quentin Yeah, that’s the idea. It is Joseph Wambaugh, he was a Los Angeles police officer, he’s taking a look at the patrolman’s life: the day in, day out life of a boy in blue.
Roger A beat cop.
Quentin A beat cop, an absolute beat cop in the car responding to calls.
You know, one of the things that’s interesting about the movie is it’s got a gargantuan cast. It has like 15 —
Roger An all-star cast, yeah.
Quentin 15 lead, interesting character actors of the time, and up and comers of the time. Now, it really only follows about six of them with any kind of depth whatsoever. You can tell a lot of footage was like shot and left on the cutting room floor by Louis Gossett Jr. But…
Quentin But it’s still a huge cast of characters, and then when the movie makes an attempt to follow a lot of them around. Like there’s different harrowing things that happen, there’s different black comedy things that happen, there’s different humor of grotesquerie that happens.
Roger There’s tragedies.
Quentin There’s tragedies that eventually end up happening and some tragedies that happened earlier on, they’re played for laughs, which are actually, though, the part of the movie that works the most. But the point being, though, of the film, is these guys deal with so much, their lives are, you know, like men in war, are heightened to such a degree that they have to do some blowing off of steam. And the blowing off of steam happens at what they call “choir practice,” which is usually just some drunken party where they act like just complete slobs, either that they have at somebody’s house, or they have in MacArthur Park. [laughs]
Roger Yeah, it’s like weirdly in MacArthur Park or maybe Westlake.
Quentin No, it’s absolutely, positively MacArthur Park.
Roger Is it MacArthur?
Quentin Yeah, it’s absolutely MacArthur Park. And so the fact that rather than having it at somebody’s apartment, they would just like take over the duck pond of MacArthur Park and—but that’s what they do and their cops, they are able to get away with it. They do crazy antics, and they have hookers that visit them and…
Roger They play pranks on each other.
Quentin And they play terrible, they play really funny pranks on each other. And it’s just, you know, it’s out of control mayhem. But that’s their way of blowing off steam, which frankly, isn’t too dissimilar as a filmmaker. It isn’t too dissimilar from the way a crew blows up steam at the end of a given week.
Roger Sure a movie crew.
Quentin You know, you finish, you know, you work all week long.
Roger It’s intense work.
Quentin It’s intense work, and especially if it’s on location.
Quentin You’re away from your home, you’re doing stuff. And then if it’s a five-day week or a six-day week, whatever that last day of the week is, usually the crew goes to some local bar and then we go, we take over the bar like a motorcycle gang, and just blow off steam and people hook up and they get drunk and…
Roger It all happens.
Quentin And it all goes down.
Quentin You know, and we’re all part of a little —
Roger And not too dissimilar.
Quentin We’re all part of a military unit, alright. So, well, what happens in the bar stays in the bar. We all know each other. Whatever. We all make fun of each other. We all will—there’ll be moments where I’ll pick on somebody else, just like these guys do. And it’s all coming from a same place, we’ve all worked really, really hard—they’re coming from a different place, obviously, there’s life and death involved, but there may be life and death involved in our work too. But the thing about it is we’re all working very, very hard towards one purpose and we don’t give ourselves a break when it comes to rolling film. So when we finally get to that done day…
Roger And movies, like you said, we are like a military operation when we make a movie. And especially if you’re fighting an away battle, it’s like you’re in the trenches with people and you’re in combat, and so you’re making these intense decisions in the heat of action, and then you don’t see each other again for maybe a year.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Roger Maybe five years.
Roger And then you see that person on the street or at a party or at somebody’s house or something and immediately there is that separation of time goes away because you were in combat together.
Quentin You were absolutely. You saw them every day. You saw them every day for a tense 3 months.
Roger Yeah, you had these intense, intense experiences together.
Quentin As you guys, you know, doing some syphilis act of moving —
Roger Yeah. Yeah… Sisyphus.
Speaker 3 Sisyphus act.
Roger Hopefully not a syphilis act, but ah… [laughs] because I’m sure that happens as well.
Quentin Moving a rock up a hill, they both apply.
Now, the thing about it is, having watched the film again recently, I think the movie was pretty terrible; I don’t really like it at all. As I said earlier on, there’s no director that I respect more than Robert Aldrich. I kind of respect everything about him: I respect him as a director, I respect some of the movies he made—I respect every movie he made, even if I don’t like them, I respect them because he’s a man who comes from a place of respect.
He was a true artist, and he was actually committed to two things that I think are very fascinating. One, he has easily the least egotistical possessory credit of all time. His movies never say, “a film by Robert Aldrich”, it was the name of his company: The Associates and Aldrich Present.
Quentin That was his credit. Sometimes the Aldrich Associates, but usually The Associates and Aldrich Present.
Roger I wonder how the DGA felt about that.
Quentin Yeah, he—well, he could do anything he wanted at DGA.
Roger Yeah, yeah.
Quentin He was the president of the DGA for—at some point in time.
Roger That’s how you do it, then, I guess.
Quentin But one of the things about it, though, is they asked him about that possessory credit, “Well, who are the associates? What is that? What does that mean? Who are the associates?”
Speaker 3 [acting as Aldrich] “Well, the associates are a bunch of people that I enjoy making motion pictures with.”
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Quentin They are his Associates.
Roger I am associated with them.
Quentin And it’s true. It’s like, you know, he has, like, two directors of photography. If he’s not working with this guy, he’s working with this one. Alright? And he has these couple of —
Quentin He has about like three different writers. And if he’s not working with one of these three, then it’s a script that doesn’t need them, alright. He has two cinematographers. He has two different editors. Robert Aldrich comes from the fine, fine, fine breed of director that is almost extinct nowadays, that he came to directing from being… a first assistant.
Roger Oh, yeah.
Quentin And he was the greatest first assistant director in the business. And then he came to directing on his own from being a first assistant. Now —
Roger So he’s organized.
Quentin Yeah. So, I mean, Walter Hill came from a career as an AD (assistant director). John Flynn came from a career as an AD. Josef von Sternberg came from a career as an AD. But none of them like the way Robert Aldrich did. And, by the way, he is the golden boy for it—and that’s why, how he became president of the Directors Guild, because he knows what a crew is; he knows what a crew does. He is coming from—as much of an artist as he is—he’s coming from a crew perspective. So he’s a guy who can understand the story.
Roger That’s super interesting because I notice a lot of his films are groups, like almost mobs of men, which is like you’re directing the background and the foreground—Longest Yard (1974) groups of people. It’s not like he’s comfortable directing, you know —
Quentin Oh, yeah, yeah!
Roger A small chamber piece.
Quentin Oh, no, no. I mean, like, Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen (1967)… He’s Robert Aldrich; he’s a director. Like, before he can even lead them on the mission, he has to direct an entire radio play where they become allies with each other, and they’re not allies at all.
Quentin You know, and when it’s working out—Oh, I love that John Cassavetes character. Like, I love that Guy! You know, he’s like, “Did you hear them out there? We won’t do this. We won’t do that. We won’t do this. We won’t do that.” He goes, “They’re a bunch of individuals! But now he’s got of talking as a unit!” [laughs]
Roger And before this he does Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977), which is also like a bunch of guys improving, basically, going wild and crazy. I mean controlled chaos. There’s something about an AD who only does movies about controlled chaos.
Quentin Yeah, ah-huh.
Roger Which is interesting.
Quentin Aldrich was never nominated for a Best Director award from the Academy. He was nominated once for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) from the DGA, but not from the Academy. However, many Aldrich associates have been nominated for their respective branches by the academy. So he takes care of his associates.
Quentin He puts them first in every way, shape and form, even when it comes to showing off their skill. You know, he always puts them first. Alright. I also dig the fact that, you know, that he is a man of chaos, and he is a man who, you know, who —
Roger Embraces it.
Quentin Well, he’s… The epitome of the macho masculine director or the guys in charge. Like when Burt Reynolds talked about him when he was making —
Roger The Longest Yard.
Quentin The Longest Yard. He was saying that, “Oh, there’s no other director that’s more perfect to do the Longest Yard than Robert Aldrich when he looks like a football coach or he looks like a warden, he looks like either one of them. He looks like both of them. He looks like he could be a football coach and a warden.” And like, that’s who you want to deal with, this football guy, cats out there. That’s who you want to deal with these rough ass actors playing killers. You know, you want a guy like that that just, like, demands respect—demands respect, the respect of a leader.
The one thing that Aldrich has is just complete confidence in his ability to command—command the set, command the crew, command what he’s going to do—that he doesn’t have to take care of himself. He doesn’t have to, “Oh, I don’t want to deal with that. That could be too much of a problem.” Where that is like most of the hired hands out there in Hollywood, he dives into those propellers. “No, no, no, no. Betty Davis and Joan Crawford together? Love it!”
Roger I’m in! I’m in! [laughs]
Quentin “That’s going to be interesting cinema. Every day is going to be exciting on that. I want to be—let me have part of that. Oh, hey! We just did it. We survived. Let’s do another one right away!”
Quentin And they signed immediately to do Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).
Quentin You know, and he wants to do it with Joan Crawford!
Quentin Not just Betty Davis, he wants to do it with both of them together.
Roger And he wants Joan Crawford as Joan Crawford in full form.
Quentin And he defended Joan Crawford against everybody to this day when they say that she came up with some bullshit reason why she didn’t want to do the movie. So they started shooting with her and they she dropped out and he goes, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. That’s not the way it works. You guys are just—this is just gossip, gossip, gossip. She was making the movie. She got sick. We got paid an insurance claim, alright. If we got paid an insurance claim and she was lying, that would be fraud. She would be in jail; we would all be in jail.”
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Quentin “Okay? She was sick. Boom. End of story.”
But the other thing about Robert Aldrich that’s terrific is he also exists in that other small little group of directors in America, of which there is very few, who once they had a smash hit took the money from that smash hit and didn’t just set up a deal to make a cool shingle for themselves. They bought a studio and started making movies.
Roger What studio did he buy?
Quentin Aldrich Studios.
Roger Wow. That’s it’s amazing to find a studio for sale with your name already attached to it. [laughs]
Quentin No, no. He put it in. Aldrich Studios was a soundstage. I can’t remember which one it was, I can’t remember it was a Desilu Soundstage or if—but he bought a soundstage and dubbed it Aldrich Studios.
Roger My favorite film of Aldrich is—and like, we’re really talking about a lot of Aldrich, but it’s Flight of the Phoenix (1965). To me, when I was a boy, Flight of the Phoenix was like the boys adventure movie that, like—I know you’re… I don’t know if you’re a big fan of the movie. I just love the film.
Quentin I don’t—look, I don’t love the movie he made, and there’s a reason why I don’t love the movie he made of it, but the story is so fucking great.
Roger Yeah, and Hardy Krüger is so good in it.
Quentin He’s wonderful in it. And like, we don’t want to reveal the big surprise that happens in the third act, but that’s as good a surprise as I’ve ever—of any movie I’ve ever seen when it comes to… You hear a piece of information that changes everything you’ve just watched.
Quentin That piece of information, alright, it’s just a blow away.
Roger And that movie does feel like somebody who’s culminated a life of experience making movies under pressure situations —
Quentin No, I agree with that.
Roger Because everything in that movie could be a parable for making movies.
Quentin Now, look, my problem—look a problem to me with Aldrich as he moved into the late sixties and into the well, especially into the seventies, but it reared its head in the sixties, too—and I think it’s one of the problems that sinks The Choirboys—is a corniness started developing in Aldrich’s movies that… It’s unfortunate that it’s there because it was never there in the fifties. In the fifties, his movies were so ahead of —
Roger Kiss Me Deadly (1955), I mean.
Quentin Yes, exactly. And that’s just one of them, you know. But Kiss Me Deadly, Attack (1956), World for Ransom (1954)—which is one of the great, like, shoestring, low budget movies of the fifties, it’s fantastic. Aldrich had a run of about six movies like nobody else did in the fifties, where he was, you know, for all intensive purposes, he was Scorsese in the seventies.
Quentin And then starting in the sixties he keeps holding on to some hammy dramatics. Not everybody, but there’s like hammy comedy and hammy dramatics that just pop their head in the films he does in the mid-Sixties going on. And, you know, like Don Siegel never came from the artistic place that Robert Aldrich did, he was able to transition himself into the seventies and not make sixties movies that just had a seventies veneer and part of the reason he was able to do that is because of his associates. He had people like Bruce Surtees and Lalo Schifrin dragging him kicking and screaming into a new decade of making cinema; and he had Dean Reisner as a script writer dragging him into a new era of making cinema; and he had Clint Eastwood dragging him into a new era of making cinema. Well, no, we’re not going to make movies like it’s 1962. We’re making movies like it’s 1972. And Aldrich didn’t have that. For the most part, his cinematographer, Joseph [Biroc], kept him—everything looks like it’s a Brady Bunch street scene, alright. Everything looks television. Everything looks lit for television.
Roger I mean, especially in The Choirboys.
Quentin Yeah, and, but that’s not even especially in The Choirboys, a lot of his seventies movies had that kind of feel, not every single one of them, but a lot of them do. And it’s very set bound. They shot everything on the Universal backlot or whatever backlot they ended up buying. And not only that, he has music by Duvall, the guy who actually does —
Roger [softly exhaling] The Brady Bunch.
Quentin You remember from the opening of The Brady Bunch. You know, he’s the guy —
Roger [mimicking Duvall composition]
Quentin That’s not Duvall. You’re doing Sanford and Son.
Roger Well, okay, that sounded more like Sanford and Son but in my mind I was doing an interstitial from Brady Bunch. [laughs]
Quentin No, it’s like, okay, Mike Brady goes to answer the door music: Da da da da da da da.
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Quentin [acting as Mike Brady] “Oh, hi, Sam. You coming to see Alice?”
[acting as Sam] “Sure are, Mr. Brady. I came to see Alice.”
Roger I put too much twang on my —
Quentin Yeah, you were like [cliche music noises]
And unfortunately, a lot of these aspects are in The Choirboys. It’s just, it’s really corny. Crazy, corny television—it’s very TV, it plays like a pilot.
Roger It’s also somewhat backwards in the way that things were backwards in some ways in the 1970s. I mean, it’s trying to walk a difficult line and be this kind of this comedy but at the same time, in trying to express what these cops are going through and how they have to let off steam, they’re exploding in ways that are almost reprehensible… from a modern perspective.
Quentin But no, but that’s the book. Alright. You know, that’s actually —
Roger But in a book you have greater subtext to understand.
Quentin Well, that would be Joseph Wambaugh’s argument. But the thing about, you know, the book is supposed to be: hey, look, these are these guys and this is a black comedy, black macabre grist for this entire story.
Roger Probably sourced from real cops.
Quentin I’m sure almost everything’s that’s in it is based somewhat—there’s somewhat of a truth to both each character and to each little incident.
Now, a decision was made at some point in the course of the film to just keep it about the hijinx, keep it about the funny stuff; keep it funny, keep it funny, keep it funny. And then that’s why there’s this jokey aspect to the movie. Now, the thing about it, though, is the book, while it has all this raunchy humor, there’s also a serious aspect running alongside of it as well. Aldrich shot about 4 hours and 20 minutes of footage for the movie. So when they made it a two-hour movie, they literally lost half the movie. Now, this was talked about —
Roger Oh my god.
Quentin This was talked about when the movie came out and Aldrich said—he downplayed it, he downplayed it a bit. You know, like, “Oh, I always shoot long.” And, you know, a lot of Aldrich movies are blown up to elephantine status that they didn’t quite deserve to be.
Roger Especially when you’re trying to capture a comedy, you’re trying to capture material, basically, right?
Quentin Yeah, well, I think it’s—no, but it’s more about this is dealing with a large canvas; he likes a large canvas. He wants to make an epic every fucking time out of the block, and he structures it as an epic. And sometimes he pulls it off and sometimes he doesn’t. He’s the king of the protracted opening credits, I mean, it’s an opening—for something like Frisco Kid (1979) the opening credits go on like 15 minutes into the movie.
Roger Yeah, I remember at the end of these opening credits, I turn to you, and I was like, I am exhausted already. [laughs]
Quentin His opening credits can be that way.
Roger It was like, da da da da da da or whatever. [laughs]
Quentin Yeah, it just—it never stopped. Yeah.
Roger I was like, oh, my God. I’m like… [laughs]
Quentin I know, I know.
Roger I need to chill out a little bit before we continue.
Quentin Let’s see every actor in this movie’s name in a single card credit, alright.
So I believe that he did just—I don’t believe that he was planning a four-hour movie or even a three-hour movie, and they cut out half his movie. I think, since it’s made up of so many different incidences, he just filmed them all and he went, “Whoa… Which characters stand out which ones don’t. And then I’ll emphasize that and I’ll juggle it the right way.” I’m sure knowing Aldrich the way I do that—and having never met the guy, but I feel like I know him—I’m sure he originally probably intended the movie to be two and a half hours, maybe 2 hours and 45 minutes, where you would have had the latitude to put it in like more of the drama stuff and whatever. Anyway, the film did not do well at the market research screenings and so it was just decided they only want comedy and they don’t want it when it gets too dark and where it gets too black comedy. So what you’re seeing is it’s a light version of it.
Roger It’s funny because some of the comedy in it, for example, James Woods, almost feels like, you know, like sitcom, like the way his delivery is almost like [over-the-top laughter], like it’s way over the top. And then you’ve got Charles Durning, who is like about to explode over the whole movie. And so it’s a strange collision of these two styles of performance coming together. And it feels odd.
Quentin But then you add everybody else to it, you know? Don Stroud.
Roger Sure. Don Stroud.
Quentin Perry King. Well, amongst the Choirboys themselves, it’s Don Stroud’s movie.
Quentin Alright. That was one of the things that I liked about it so much back then, cause I was a big Don Stroud fan, so to actually see him have a —
Roger To finally get Don Stroud lead performance.
Quentin Yeah! It’s like, yeah, you know, it’s like everybody had a big year. Louis Gossett Jr. Had a big role in the film and it got cut down to nothing. Alright. So it’s actually kind of cool that Don Stroud’s character, well, he’s so important to what happens in the film he needs to be, but that his character, you know, remains such a focus in such a big ensemble that got cut down.
Roger I got to tell you, when it starts off that whole Vietnam sequence, which was shot in like the Batman cave or something —
Quentin Bronson Canyon.
Roger Bronson Canyon here in Hollywood.
Quentin It starts the movie off terrible, alright.
Roger It’s just like I kind of quickly put my seatbelt on your couch, “Alright, better buckle in for this one.”
Quentin Yeah. Yeah.
Roger And then, you know, I started realizing that it’s about cops.
Quentin Here is the thing. They’re all kind of given a bum rush, but the casting of the choirboys is really, really, really well done. And the characters that actually get more of a three-dimensional treatment—well, I don’t know if Roscoe Rules gets a three-dimensional treatment, but he gets a lot of screen time, and Tim McIntire is really terrific as Roscoe Rules. I mean, you really—he’s the most reprehensible character, but he’s one of the funniest in the movies because when he’s on, shit happens.
Quentin And that’s an important character when you don’t have to like him, but when he’s on, stuff happens.
Roger Well, actually, like a lot of these movies, Dirty Dozen, Longest Yard, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, Flight of the Phoenix, all of the characters are distinct.
Quentin They’re all better movies than the one we’re talking about. [laughing]
Roger Well, it’s true. It’s true.
Roger But this shows his strength in that he’s got, like these groups of people, and yet all of them are distinctly identifiable.
Quentin And frankly, as bad as I do actually think the direction is, I think the direction is corny and I think —
Roger It’s flat. Just straightforward.
Quentin And it just plays like bad, bad television every like —
Roger They’re even doing those television transitions —
Roger They kind of squish wipe or whatever that’s called.
Quentin Yeah, these terrible television trends. Yeah, those are terrible. They look from 1967 on television, not even from a seventies television show, but Joseph Wambaugh’s book is really good. And so even when it’s badly done, there are some interesting compromis-itude things that you still see in it, that you still gleam in it.
Now one of the segments that actually does work, and it’s the one segment that works that you realize this is how old all the other vignettes are supposed to play at, is the woman who wants to jump off the building.
Quentin And Roscoe Rules and Randy Quaid go to talk her off. That scene is hysterical. That scene is so funny.
Roger That’s when I kind of —
Quentin It’s a black comedy scene in every way, shape and form. It’s fucked up what happens. But you laugh out loud and there’s not another scene that makes you laugh out loud the way that one does.
Roger That’s about is tonally perfect as to what the movie should be all the way through.
Quentin Yeah, almost every vignette needed to be at least half as good.
Roger And that’s when Ross/Tim McIntire, is it Tim McIntire who plays Roscoe?
Quentin Yeah, Tim McIntire/Roscoe.
Roger That’s when he is so funny in that scene.
Roger I mean, in fact, he’s giving lines that are like repeatable, memeable lines that are, like, I’ll be using for weeks.
Quentin Every line he fucking—every line that he says in the movie, alright, is very quotable.
Roger [as Roscoe] “I don’t got all day.”
Quentin Yeah. [laughs]
Roger “Why don’t you just jump.”
Quentin “Okay, you got your audience, you got everybody’s eyeballs looking at you.”
Roger “Hey, check this out. You want to see something?” [laughs]
Quentin “Why don’t we just wait and let this woman have a little time to think things out? While we wait for that—I’m not going to do that. I ain’t got time have for that.”
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Quentin That’s a really funny scene.
Roger I mean, it’s almost like a dark, like Police Academy or something.
Quentin Okay, but no—okay, but just understand, in 77, when I saw this, when I was —
Roger Yeah, there was no such —
Quentin I was like 15 or 16. I was hysterical. I thought the whole movie was a laugh riot. And I wasn’t alone, the audience was laughing their asses off.
So they make it a comedy and they cut it down to just comedy length for a comedy. And then Joseph Wambaugh sees the film, sues universal for $1,000,000.
Quentin And to get his name taken off the screenplay credit.
Quentin Okay, so now here is a situation where, okay, his problems with the script: One, he didn’t like the idea that MacArthur Park was filmed on a set and not actually at the real MacArthur Park. Which is strange. Oh, you’re going to have three problems…
Quentin Actually, that was actually a fairly good set. It was actually one of the better sets in the movie. I wouldn’t have known that that didn’t take place in MacArthur Park if I didn’t know any better.
His second issue was the revealing of the S&M situation of Perry Kings Officer Baxter.
Roger Mm hmm.
Quentin He thought it was sleazy, but it’s in the book. It’s in the book. Same stories in the book, alright. And three was the triumphant ending.
Roger Okay. I can’t imagine having any kind of basis for suing on any of these issues that he has.
Roger And I’ve heard that he won. Did he win?
Quentin He got his name taken off. He didn’t get $1,000,000. He got his name taken off and he effectively kicked the movie in the balls because this was all happened during the time of the movie’s release. So every critic, you know, wrote a review saying, “Okay, well, Joseph Wambaugh hates this movie and I hate it, too.”
Quentin So he effectively torpedoed its commercial chances. If you’ve read the book and seen the movie without hearing his point, you just naturally assume he has one.
Quentin Until you hear the three issues he’s talking about.
Roger Wait a minute, Wait a minute. That’s like a baseless lawsuit.
Quentin This is crazy, alright. You know, I mean, but he did like talk show appearances and it’s like, “Don’t go see this movie.”
Quentin You know.
Roger He went active.
Quentin Yeah, he went active. Now, I think he’s full of doo-doo because if he just didn’t like the movie that came out of it that would make sense; if he just thought it was just too juvenile that would make sense. But he’s taking a puritanical attack—line of attack—which doesn’t make sense when you write that book.
And so what I think the deal is, is I think Joseph Wambaugh wrote a poison pen letter to his former colleagues when he wrote the book. And now that he’s seen it dramatized less than sensitively…
Quentin And played for broad laughs, he has cold feet about the entire enterprise.
Roger He has to disown it.
Quentin And he’s distancing himself.
Quentin Where, you know, a book is one thing, but now it’s reaching a much larger audience. And I think he’s got cold feet, by the way he betrayed his former colleagues.
Roger Well, after this, he went and he bought back the rights to his other books.
Roger He got The Onion Field and then was more closely guarded. And yet, when James Woods is in The Onion Field (1979), so maybe there’s some fruit that came from making this film.
Quentin Well, yeah, well, he came in and auditioned for The Onion Field and went, “Look, I’m sorry, I was in The Choirboys.” I’m not gonna hold that against you.
Quentin Alright. You know, you’re an actor. You’re doing a job. Even the —
Roger And I don’t think you seriously take your name off it.
Quentin Even the happy ending. Even the happy ending—the triumphant ending that the movie gives. Okay, look, that’s arguable, alright? You can make a case that that’s, you know, shoehorned in there and it doesn’t belong, especially compared to the book.
Alright. Well, I will say two things when it comes to that. I will give you Aldrich’s response to that, and I will give you the audience’s response to that when I saw it at the theaters. Audience loved it. They applauded right at the applause moment. They totally did a big applause.
Roger The audience doesn’t know what’s on the cutting room floor.
Quentin They cued us up, the audience applaused. And they applaused during the wacky freeze frame.
Roger [laughs] The curtain call.
Quentin Yeah, of Charles Durning jumping up in the air.
Roger Oh, yeah, yeah.
Quentin Slapping Lou Gossett five, “No, give me five, man. Give me five.”
Roger That was a weird—and he’s like, he jumps up in the air.
Quentin Oh! He is like midair, alright? You know. Okay, so that worked as far as the audience was concerned and Aldrich goes, “Well, that’s just absolutely preposterous. Guy doesn’t understand how movies are made at all. Okay? Look at a movie that people like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. If that movie ended with Jack Nicholson’s lobotomy no one will go see that goddamn picture.” [laughs]
Roger Well, he’s right.
Quentin “No, you need the big in the ending… threw the thing out the window and runs off to freedom. And now we all left the theater. Hell, I’ll see that movie again.”
Roger I mean, ultimately, this is a labor comedy. You can’t, like, leave with the man winning in the end, even if it’s a Pyrrhic victory, you have to walk away.
Quentin Yeah. And he’s like, “And that’s well enough for him to end his book that way but that’s just not how movies are and that’s not how audiences react, and I think the point is still made.”
You know, where the book more or less ends is what seems like the ending of the movie, frankly, is Robert Webber squeezing the balls of Charles Durning’s characters Spermwhale Whalen. Alright.
Quentin Yeah, yeah. No!
Quentin Remember, he says, “Why? Why are you doing this to me?” “Because I got you by the balls!” Not literally. I’m using a line—your favorite line from the movie.
Roger Well, I was watching your hands as you were, like, squeezing.
Quentin That’s the way he does it in the movie!
Quentin Do you not remember?
Roger No, I remember it well, I’ve been dying to talk about Robert Webber and how great Robert Webber is in that final scene.
Quentin Okay, well, now’s the time. Alright? Because the thing about it is, look the movie goes on, and like I said, characters are good in it. But then an actor I’ve never liked, I never like it when he shows up in the movies because he’s always —
Roger He’s a parody of himself, usually.
Quentin Yes, exactly. He’s a parody of himself. He always plays the humorless prig. And this he’s playing the humorless prig, but he’s the most humorous character in the movie.
Roger For Aldrich, usually.
Quentin For Aldrich! Exactly, for Aldrich.
Roger He usually the same.
Quentin He’s usually plays one his stock characters.
Quentin & Roger He’s one of the associates!
Quentin Robert Webber is absolutely an Aldrich associate, and he shows up in this playing the fucking dick police captain. And from the moment he shows up with a press conference, he’s giving a performance, this high comic performance, that nobody else is touching.
Roger He understands the movie completely because he’s buddies with Aldrich. [laughs]
Quentin He gets—he’s what this fucking movie needed, especially if it’s going the comedy route and it needed a few more like this. Only Roscoe Rules is playing at this level.
Roger Yeah, yeah.
Quentin But I think after appearing in a thousand movies, Robert Webber knows he has, like, finally he has the good role.
Quentin He finally has the good role in one of these movies. And he is so fucking funny.
Roger We were in tears watching his delivery.
Quentin And what’s supposed to, what’s supposed to be the dramatic high point of the film when Robert Webber is —
Roger The all is lost moment.
Quentin Yeah, is busting the balls of this like 20-year veteran of —
Roger Charles Durning.
Quentin Charles Durning, who’s like the conscience of the movie. But it’s like, you know, “If you don’t rat out all these bastards… I want the names every last one of them. You can just kiss that pension of yours goodbye!”
“Well, why are you messing with me?”
“Because I got you by the balls and I’m squeezing.”
And the effectiveness of this scene is somewhat tempered because we’re kind of on Robert Webber’s side. [laughing]
Quentin Because he’s so hysterical in this character. He is so funny that at a certain point, my allegiance moved —
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Quentin From poor, pathetic Judas, Charles Durning to the guy squeezing his balls. [laughs]
Roger Yeah. I want to see that guy’s movie.
Quentin And he makes the comedy sequence at the end work, not Lou Gossett and Charles Durning. “Because that’s where you’re getting me” is so funny because we’re just we’re just on his side.
Roger Well, that’s just it, that’s what you go to the movie for is to see them do that to ‘The Man’.
Quentin Yeah. I mean —
Roger And he’s playing the man.
Quentin Yeah. It’s like—he’s like a Dean Wormer character, but he’s funnier than Dean Wormer.
Roger Way funnier.
Quentin He is hysterical. If Dean Wormer were the comic High point of Animal House.
Roger Yeah, yeah. He’s great. I have a Franklin Brauner review.
Quentin Excellent. Let’s hear it.
Roger Of The Choirboys.
“The LAPD is out of control in 1977s Choirboys. These cops—all one-time choirboys who had the benefits of the church traumatized out of them in Vietnam—think they have it rough busting hookers and hustlers, so they spend their nights doing what choirboys do to blow off steam: gay bash, lynch and self-flagellate in BDSM dens. Well, these bozos should try being a film reviewer because it’s one tough gig as well, especially when the film I’m watching feels like it was re-edited into a different movie altogether by the vice president of marketing at the studio. But maybe that’s why I let myself care about these powder kegs who we’ve foolishly granted with lethal force. It’s not their fault that they eventually explode. Hell, getting talked down by dickheads like their deputy Chief Riggs, played with soaring brilliance by Aldrich regular Robert Webber, would make any man eventually explode and walk off the job, as I did back in 1986 with the Winnipeg City Press.” [group applause] It’s an old one.
Quentin Okay, now we have a very special moment in Video Archive’s podcast history, as we’ve just heard, the Franklin Brauner review. And now we’re going to hear the William Markle Review of The Choirboys.
Roger His stateside superior one might say. [laughs]
Quentin Written in January 6th of 1978. “The Choirboys is director Robert Aldrich’s latest lusty version of The Dirty Dozen, transferring the way men who live under pressure blow up their frustrations on each other, as well as the world, from the battlefield to the streets. In between Dozens and Choirboys, the same plot ploy worked gloriously well in a prison setting. Aldrich has created a raunchy, painfully and predictably ugly, grotesquely humorous, supremely memorable production that ranks as one of the best films of 1977.
It’s a genuine pity that the choirboys had been cut down to a supposedly more commercial 119 minutes, while pieces of pretentious tedium like John Cassavetes Opening Night seem to run awry and forever at 144 minutes because many of the characters in Aldrich’s films are not given as much footage as they deserve. This saddens me as even the most unattractive of them, Roscoe Rules, is somewhat of an adorable asshole and I wouldn’t mind spending another couple of hours with him and his buddies. At full length I suspect one might be witness to a crude but totally compelling epic.
Quentin Having not read the popular novel by Joseph Wambaugh, whose hand wringing over Aldrich and screenwriters supposedly mishandling of his creation, all I can say is that I was richly entertained by the marvelously manic members of The Choirboys. There isn’t a film on screen today with a consistently high caliber set of performances that runs throughout The Choirboys. From Charles Durning as Spermwhale Whalen, a fat foul, but hardly foolish old timer; to James Woods as Harold Bloomguard, literally a square peg in a round hole; to Robert Webber as Deputy Chief Riggs, who reeks of pomposity; to Burt Young as Sgt. Dominic Scuzzi, an oafish vice cop who realizes that vice is the spice of life; to Tim McIntire sneeringly superb as Roscoe Rules, a sour ball whose liquid center has turned to stone. The acting is so achingly good that one wishes that they all could be given awards, much like the prizes given to the Seven Dwarfs.
The look of the film, photographed by Joseph Crowley, is seemingly proper. The editing and the episodic handling are natural ways to handle the adventures of many characters over the space of many days and the film has a logbook entry quality to it. To me, The Choirboys are simply a bunch of dirtier Harry’s unafraid to live because tomorrow they might have to die in the line of duty. I wouldn’t want to be a policeman, but it’s nice to know that beneath the badge they’re as human or as screwed up as presidents or even film reviewers.”
Roger That is freaking crazy that he gave it an A+. I mean, I’ve never heard him give such a glowing, raving review.
Quentin You’ve never heard an A+, given from Markle. [laughs]
Roger Never. Never. This is his kind of film.
Quentin Yes, same kind of film. He really likes it, you know. You know, and he’s actually saying the things—it’s actually some of the things that we don’t like about it at all; we don’t like the episodic structure, we don’t like the look of it, it looks like bad television. You know, but he dug it all. He thought it was funny.
Oh, okay. And we’re back and we’re joined by Gala wearing her Avary hoodie.
Gala Yes, it’s my Avary… Argonaut? Astronaut? What did you call earlier?
Roger Well, I said Cosmo-not.
Gala Oh, cosmonaut.
Quentin Da dum dum tss!
Roger Yeah, exactly.
Quentin Cosmo… not. [laughs]
Roger But it was kind of like, it’s sort of —
Gala Because it looks like my NASA shirt.
Roger It’s sort of a NASA—she has a NASA shirt, and I was like, Oh, well, you should have, like, an Avary… Shirt.
Quentin Wow! A visual inside joke on radio.
Quentin That’s so fantastic. Alright. You have to be a member of the Avary family to get the humor… And it’s visual!
Roger But you don’t have to be a member of the Avary family to get the shirt. You can go to Avary.com and link to our merch site.
Quentin To get your Cosma-not shirt.
Roger Cosmo… not.
Gala Okay, I’m going to get this out of the way. The Choirboys I think it’s, like, technically made well, but I just don’t like this movie. I’m just going to be honest. I don’t think it hit well. I don’t think I’m the right person to be watching it alone in my house. Like, I think if I’m watching with a group of guys…
Roger It’s funnier in a theater full of people in the 1970s is what you’re saying.
Gala Well, that’s the same way I feel about like National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). Like all the Vacation movies. Like when I watch those by myself I don’t find them funny and then when I watch them with about like 10 to 15 teenage guys I think they’re hilarious.
Roger Are you watching these Vacation movies of 10 to 15 teenage guys? What the hell.
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Gala That sounds really out of context!
Quentin And who exactly are 13 of these 12 to 15 teenage guys? So they’re younger than you?
Gala No, no, no! I saw the movie; I saw the National Lampoon movie —
Roger Gala’s teenage harem.
Gala Wait! No, no—don’t say that that’s terrible.
Roger Sorry. Sorry.
Gala No, I saw the movie when I was at the Pepperdine Film Camp.
Roger Okay, yeah, yeah.
Gala When I was 17.
Roger You were actually, yes.
Gala I was 17.
Roger She has a legit um…
Quentin I think there’s Gala’s interns…
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Roger Well, there is that. There is that.
Gala So I think the movie is good. I don’t think it hits well. I don’t think it’s funny. I don’t think the funny parts are, like, what makes a good, but the lady jumping off the roof is the fun part.
Gala Let’s just get that clear.
Quentin And by the way, I take her seriously as a character! I like that woman.
Gala Oh, I like her sweater.
Quentin I like that actress, I like that woman in playing the character, alright.
Roger Her performance is really good. Her little, like, look that she gives —
Quentin Yeah, I related to her. I didn’t relate to her as an extra, I didn’t relate to her as a prop; I related to her as a human being who was alive for a while.
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Gala But the thing I don’t find—like I don’t find it funny, like, that they’re goading her on. I find it how she jumps is funny.
Quentin Well, no, the shot of her leaping—her leaping off the building it’s funny for how realistic it looks.
Gala But then all of a sudden she’s doing those flips —
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Gala And it’s just like flipping, flipping, flip—that part was like the hilarious part to me.
Quentin No, a real woman—a real stunt woman—jumped off a building.
Gala Yeah. And that’s why it’s good cause it’s a real stunt woman doing it.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Gala I think also maybe one of the problems is that, like, my introduction to the movie and to all the guys is one of these, like, choirboy parties —
Gala Where it’s like, that girl is like—she’s really upset and she’s so over the top upset.
Quentin No Balls Hadley.
Gala Yeah, she’s like over-the-top upset, but then she —
Roger With reason.
Gala With a little bit of reason, but it’s like she’s over the top and that’s the comedy of it. But then she goes into the room, and then he’s like, creepily —
Quentin Oh, ho-ho, hold on. Now, okay. Ho, hold on! Now, okay! That’s the only other part that works!
Quentin That’s the only other part.
Roger You just picked the other funny scene.
Quentin You literally picked the only other good shot in the whole fucking movie!
Roger In fact, I’m glad you’re bringing it up cause I had forgotten it.
Quentin [pounding hand on desk] We needed to about it! Yeah, yeah I said too much shit about Robert Aldrich’s I cannot not give him that scene.
Gala Okay, let’s set up the scene for the people at home in case they haven’t seen it.
Roger Okay. Go for it.
Gala Okay. So she’s been in the pool. She gets pantsed, she’s really pissed off about it. She goes into the room; she’s going to get change; she wants to go home. Her friends like, “Okay, okay, whatever. Like, you’re kind of being a party pooper. Let me go tell the guys we’re going to leave. We’re all cops. Like, calm down.”
Quentin That was very—you sounded like the girl! “Hey, we’re all cops. Calm down!”
“Do you know what the fuck Spermwhale Whalen did?”
“Oh, so what? It’s Spermwhale! He’s yanked my pants off before, too.”
“Well, I’m fucking sick of this shit.”
Gala So, she gets undressed and she’s putting on her robe, and she sits down on this glass table. And as she sits down the glass table with no underwear on —
Roger The Bluto or the Flounder character from Animal House (1978) as a cop comes in.
Gala But he’s, like, crawling under the floor, like, panting.
Quentin Okay, okay, okay, okay.
Gala Here, now Quentin can take over from here.
Roger This is where Quinn takes over.
Quentin Okay. Cause the whole thing is like, you know, this one guy—it’s this guy named Chuck Sacci, if you remember Thank God It’s Friday (1978) he’s the garbage man that gets sent on the wrong computer date. He’s just big, chubby looking guy, but he’s also he has a face like a five-year-old boy at the same time.
Quentin That’s part of—the fact that he’s doing it as opposed to, say, Spermwhale or anybody else actually makes it work to some degree.
Roger Randy Quaid might have been able to get away with it.
Quentin I don’t know.
Roger But he’s better. His five-year-old face makes it work.
Quentin It’s the five-year-old face and the fat body that really kind of makes it work. But the thing is, he’s got a crush on No Balls Hadley, which played in the movie by Barbara Rhoades, who was a—I always liked her a lot on television in the early seventies… Late sixties, early seventies. So it was one of her last times, I think, she shows up in something.
So he’s got a crush on her and so his partner is like, “Well, get going. Get a, get a look at her. She’s, you know, whatever.” So she’s naked except for a robe and she’s sitting on a glass table and she’s drying her hair—so because she’s drying her hair with a towel, she can’t hear. And so Chuck Sacci just… He crawls up on all fours into the room then he sees her on the table, sees what’s going on, he lies on his back —
Roger And inches under. [laughs]
Quentin And shimmies—and it’s the shimmy that’s hysterical—shimmies under the table.
Roger This little glass coffee table thing.
Quentin Yeah. And the thing that’s also just really, really funny about it is he’s really, really big, he’s got a big, big body, and the table isn’t very big. But it’s just big enough if he wiggles the right kind of way that he can fit right square underneath the table.
Okay. Now, you don’t have to like that scene. However, the thing about it is that is one of the parts that I remember absolutely in the movie theater. And just the eye level shot, the eye level shot where he gets on his back and starts shimmering in—and he still has a long way to go, and like, she’s gonna —
Roger Across the room.
Quentin Yeah. It’s like she’s going to turn around and see it, she’s going to hear it, alright. But to watch it all play out in this big master… The audience was dying.
Roger Yeah, it’s a very funny scene.
Quentin I mean, it’s the reason I’m sure Universal released the fucking film in the first place.
Roger Yeah, it’s an Animal House scene.
Quentin It’s an Animal House scene before Animal House—Animal House would come out later that year. But it would be one of the key scenes in Animal House if it was in Animal House; if Flounder did that in Animal House, it would be one of the key scenes.
Roger But also for a movie that is shot very much like television—you know, master, single, single, and, you know, it seems very simple—suddenly in this scene, Aldrich starts doing cinema. That close up of his mouth, like a fish suckering onto the glass of an aquarium underneath her, it’s a crazy shot. That’s a crazy ass shot.
Gala Okay. The scene for me, I find it goes on too long, it’s uncomfortable, but —
Roger It’s definitely uncomfortable.
Quentin Well, if it was filled with laughter in the room, it might not be so long.
Gala The part of it that’s good, though, is when she finally realizes and she’s trying to break the table that he’s under.
Gala That was the good part in my opinion.
Quentin Okay. Okay. If she actually took that lamp and it actually crashed through the table, I mean, it would fuck him up for life.
Quentin I mean the damage it would have done to his face is shocking.
Quentin And now I know what’s going to happen, but I saw the movie twice at the theaters, I mean, theater jumped out of their seat when the lamp hits the table.
Roger Yeah, I thought it was going to break through.
Quentin Roger jumped off the couch, going, “Oh, my god!”
Roger I thought she was going to kill him.
Quentin Yeah. [laughs]
Gala And then she gets out the golf club and she’s, like, trying to smash the table, and it won’t smash.
Roger Yeah, it’s like Perspex or something.
Gala I think that’s where the comedy works for me in that scene. And I actually like some of the serious moments in this movie. And, like, I wish there were a little bit more of them to tie it all together. Like I found I find it touching when he does let go the gay kid that’s been arrested.
Quentin Yeah, me too.
Gala Like that’s a touching moment and it does wrap back around in a fulfilling—in a fulfilling and shocking way.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Gala I was shocked when that… I don’t know if I can say it right now.
Quentin Nah, don’t say it. Don’t say it.
Gala Yeah, but I was shocked when that happened.
Quentin But it’s the big dramatic lynchpin that the whole film is building towards, and did you think that worked?
Roger Well, what doesn’t work about it is that, unless I missed it, we never get to see Scuzzi’s, Burt Young’s, reaction to it happening.
Quentin Okay, we’ll forget about that for a second. Do you think the sequence itself works?
Roger I mean —
Quentin I mean, I hear what you’re saying, but forget about that.
Roger I find it staged a little clumsy, too clumsily, to be honest and it feels a little clumsy and forced as it happens. And it’s all meant to tie into his Vietnam flashback.
Quentin Yeah. you’re talking about the Don Stroud character.
Roger Don Stroud character, which we possibly have forgotten about since the first moments of the movie, and that wasn’t really the strongest moment. Like, I think, a more effective opening Vietnam scene where we really feel viscerally the kind of trauma that he’s under, and then maybe if we had kind of been reminded a little bit leading up to that —
Roger Peppered a little bit with the understanding that he has a hair trigger and that he can quickly lose it.
Gala He’s claustrophobic.
Roger Like, I mean, growing up in the 1970s, one of my mother’s boyfriends was this guy who had been to Vietnam. And he would every now and then snap.
Quentin Mm hmm.
Roger Something might happen and he would snap. And he would think, even though you’re like, in Hermosa Beach in a house having dinner, he would think, you know, I’m in Vietnam and he would say things like, “The Chinese are coming over the hill!” and I’m like, “What the fuck is going on?” I’m like a little kid [laughs].
And so, if that had been reinforced a little bit leading up to that moment, then when that moment would have happened, I think I might have felt it a little bit more. As it happened, I was reminding myself of it in that moment, “Oh, that’s what’s happening right now.” And then it was just frankly staged a little clumsily.
Quentin You know, I think I agree with everything you said. I think it worked a little bit more for me because I think I still like the literary idea of having all points meet.
Quentin I do also think that Don Stroud goes a long way to selling it. Because I like because I like Don Stroud’s character and I like the fact that his character was all leading to, like, the climactic point of the movie.
Roger If it works at all…
Quentin It’s because of Don Stroud.
Roger It’s because of Don Stroud. Absolutely. Can we also just say for a moment, like, how good Burt Young is in this? And I usually actively don’t like Burt Young. It’s not that I mind, or I shouldn’t say that —
Quentin Well, I don’t like his laugh in there, which they think is hysterical.
Roger Oh, that little [high pitched laugh]. That little laugh thing he does.
Quentin But I like his character a lot.
Roger I like his character. I like that there was this kind of—that they showed this kind of cop.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Roger And that he was, of all of them, kind of the one who had the most clear ethical compass.
Quentin Well, I will say that the last thing in support of the film that I have is the double team of Don Stroud and Perry King together, because: one, they do look like cops.
Quentin They look like hot, sexy —
Roger Especially like Don Stroud.
Quentin Swinging dick cops, alright. But even Perry King has got that, you know, when a cop is handsome, he’s handsome like Perry King.
Roger Well, he looks like an L.A. cop. [laughs]
Quentin Yeah, yeah, he definitely looks like an L.A. cop. And, yeah, I don’t think Perry King is that—doesn’t really set my world on fire. But actually, the two of the times that I actually really liked him in movies—I like him well enough in Lords of Flatbush (1974), I like him well enough in Mandingo (1975)—but the two times he’s really good is in the TV movie Foster and Laurie (1975) with him and Dorian Harewood where he plays a cop and then this with Don Stroud because in both cases he actually has a chemistry with the other actor, and they look right. I could have almost watched a whole movie of Don Stroud and Perry King, you know, doing and busting kind of shit.
Roger Yeah, totally.
Quentin Easily I could have watched that movie.
Roger Yeah, yeah.
Gala Before I wrap it up, I just have to say I hate the end credits sequence.
Quentin Oh, yeah—ah-huh.
Gala I actually hate it.
Quentin Of them all laughing?
Gala Of them all laughing but it’s like Jason from The One Armed Executioner (1981) laughing, I wish was his laugh instead.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Gala But I just—I hate that. I actually kind of like the opening credits sequence a little bit. It’s kind of weird, though, that it’s like the Germanic font, even though it’s like a Vietnam War movie, but I know it’s more like a church font, but it’s not my—not my kind of movie.
Okay, So I actually rented this on iTunes, and the transfer is like, really soft and really beautiful, so I just have to say that.
Quentin Oh, wow.
Gala But I picked up a MCA Home Video, just like Quentin’s, from Eddie Brandt’s—I didn’t pick up mine from Eddie Brandt’s—I picked up an MCA Home Video for $10 flat.
Hennessy Trailer This is the sound of a walking time bomb fashioned from explosives, fuse, detonator, flesh and blood. He is determined to commit the most awesome assassination of our time. [sound of explosion] Rod Steiger is Hennessy, the most dangerous man alive. Lee Remick is the woman who loves him. Hennessy, a fictional story so frighteningly authentic it was banned throughout the United Kingdom. Hennessy from American International. Rated PG. Parental guidance suggested.
Gala Rod Steiger stars in Hennessy which, along with co-hit The Choirboys, will be playing on a breathtaking 35mm film for two nights on Tuesday, March 7th and Wednesday, March 8th: 7165 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, 90036. For more information visit thenewbev.com The New Beverly Cinema. Always on film.
Quentin And we’re back and we’re here to talk about the second film on our show, which is the 1975 British thriller Hennessy, starring our boy, Rod Steiger.
Roger Right after [Innocents with] Dirty Hands (1975).
Quentin Yeah! Lee Remick and one of my favorite British actors, Richard Johnson, who interestingly enough, wrote the story that the film is based on. And the special guest star appearance by Trevor Howard. Let me get right into it and just read the box.
This is a Thorn EMI Video. However, by this point, thorn EMI weren’t calling themselves Thorn EMI, they were calling themselves HBO Cannon Video. This is not a Video Archives tape, this is from my own collection, I think I just bought it somewhere along the line. But if you were going to find this at Video Archives, you would probably find it under the British section under H.
Roger That’s exactly where we would have put it.
Quentin No one would ever find it there, alright. All the British films just were sucked into a hole, never to rent, alright. [laughs]
Roger But when people wanted a British film and they would go there, you know, you’d find movies that were like cool movies that were British films. And this would be—this is a very distinctly British film.
Quentin Oh, it absolutely is. But it was like, you know —
Roger Captures the flavor of Ireland.
Quentin But every once in a while you would take some of these films that were buried in the British section released from the seventies and put them in drama and then all of a sudden they’d rent for the first time. [laughs]
Quentin Okay, so I’m going to read the back of the box.
“Rod Steiger, Lee Remick and Trevor Howard, star in this taunt cat and mouse espionage thriller centered on a plot to bring England to its knees. Hennessy, Steiger, is an Irish demolitions expert whose wife and daughter are accidentally killed by British troops. Mad with guilt, he sets out to destroy the royal family and the entire English government by blowing up parliament. Soon, Hennessy is being hunted by both Scotland Yard and the IRA who fear he will irreparably hurt their cause. While the clocks ticked down, he comes increasingly closer to realizing his devastating goal. Climaxed by brilliant intercutting of actual newsreel footage, Hennessy is a chilling tale of vengeance that will keep you on the edge of your seat from its first jolting scene to its last explosive moment.” Color. Running time 103 minutes.
That more or less tells the story, but not so well, frankly, to tell you the truth. The whole idea of the film is Rod Steiger plays a demolition expert living in Belfast named Hennessy. And, you know, his job is to blow up factories that are ready to be demolished and, you know, just a regular demolitions guy. Now, early on, you see the IRA come to him and try to get him—his brother, who’s like the main bigwig in the IRA—try to get him to use his services to help their cause.
Roger But he is completely nonpartizan.
Quentin He’s completely. “No, no, no. That’s not my thing. I don’t believe in violence. I’m not your guy. Just forget it. Forget it. Forget it. Forget it.” A riot in Belfast breaks out amongst a bunch of young people and some of the British soldiers. And in the melee, an accident happens where a British soldier gets hit by a rock or a brick or something and as he falls to the ground his machine gun goes off and he ends up wiping out —
Roger It’s a fog of war moment… kind of.
Quentin Yeah, yeah. Yeah, he ends up like, you know, shooting a whole shitload of the protesters.
Roger Almost without knowing it, he’s been hit in the face with a brick, and so as he falls, he’s just squeezing the gun trigger it with blood in his eyes and just firing randomly, maybe not even knowing he’s firing.
Quentin Yeah. No, it’s completely, you know, it’s completely set up, you know, a la Rage (1972) as an accident that just happened.
Roger In fact, the similarities to Rage, you know, almost don’t end there.
Quentin No, this almost feels like Rage Part II, alright. You know, just what Rod Steiger instead of George C. Scott but like those guys are almost interchangeable to some degree.
Roger They’re both emotionally on the same arc.
Quentin Yeah. Trying to get home from school, or I think they’re going shopping or something, is Hennessy’s wife and child, played by a four-year-old Patsy Kensit.
Roger Yeah, it was incredible to see her.
Quentin Yeah. And they’re shot dead. And Hennessy gets there and sees his dead wife and beautiful little girl just lying there dead in the Belfast street.
Roger Along with about six other people who’ve been shot and killed. It’s been an accidental massacre.
Quentin Absolutely. Yeah, exactly.
Roger That has become a giant political because of the life for a life policy of the IRA at the time.
Quentin Yeah, it’s a—it’s an accidental Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971).
Quentin So when this happens Hennessy just completely drops out of sight. No one knows where he is. What he’s doing is he just disappears, goes to London, and he’s got one plan: he’s going to get a bunch of explosives, maneuver himself into the house of parliament on the opening day of parliament, where like the Queen and the entire royal family is there, and he will be in the room and he will blow up the Queen, the entire royal family and pretty much all of the politicians who are sitting around him.
Roger And I have to say he has a brilliant plan. It plays out like a How To.
Quentin That’s exactly what it plays out like. I mean, it’s really kind of wild because it is, again, similar to Rage when it comes to like a How To if I’m going to break down this plan, how do I do it? But this is even more detailed.
Quentin Now, when I just described that whole scenario that might sound farfetched. In Hennessy, it doesn’t come across as that farfetched.
Roger What I thought was going to be kind of crazy, his plan ends up being somewhat brilliant.
Quentin It is kind of a brilliant plan. It is.
Roger And it allows for these twists and turns and reversals that were frankly, frankly, had blown my—that like that Die Hard (1988) reversal.
Quentin And by the way, they don’t tell you his plan. I mean, you know, he’s going to try to blow up the Queen, but you don’t know how he intends to accomplish this and so the whole thing of the movie is watching step by step, “Oh, oh! So, that’s what he’s doing. Okay. Now, how in the hell is he going to get over?”
Roger Yeah, everything that seems impossible —
Quentin “Oh, wait a minute. Okay, why the hell is he concentrating on this guy? Oh, I get it now.” Alright, that just seems to keep happening until he maneuvers himself until he’s like… right by the Queen.
Roger He’s in parliament and everyone in government is there. He’s not just blowing up the Queen, he’s blowing up the entire government.
Roger He’s taking out England.
Quentin Yeah, he’s taking out England. Okay. Now he’s got two factors that are after him. One is a cop played by Richard Johnson.
Roger Inspector Hollis.
Quentin Inspector Hollis, who I said also came up with the story and by the way, the screenplay, the very good screenplay was written by John Gay, who would later go on to write Gandhi (1982).
He also wrote that movie Enigma (1982) that I always liked with Martin Sheen and Sam Neill, I believe. But the thing is, so Richard Johnson is a Scotland Yard inspector whose specialty is busting the IRA, and he has a hatred for the IRA because they killed a bunch of his men, and they know him, and he knows them. And so, he’s got his own thing.
Roger Oh, he’s like a British Dirty Harry —
Roger Or violent Bad Lieutenant.
Quentin Yeah, yeah. He has kind of a—he’s not quite a bad lieutenant, you know, but he is not that great of a lieutenant.
Roger He’s not far away from becoming a bad lieutenant eventually.
Quentin No, he will be a bad lieutenant in time.
Roger Down the road.
Quentin Maybe after this movie or after the events of this movie he will be a bad lieutenant. But, you know, his job is to bring down the IRA, he has a personal vendetta against them. And they hate him, and he hates them, you know. And so, he puts two and two together and realizes this nutter Hennessey is out there and he’s got to track him down and stop him. And so, he’s always like two steps behind Hennessey—wherever Hennessey is, he gets there too late. But he’s, you know, he’s getting closer, he’s getting closer, and he’s getting closer. Meanwhile, the IRA. have put two and two together and realize what Hennessy is doing.
Roger They’re like, “Holy shit, he’s going to bring down heat on to us.”
Roger “He’s going to mess up our whole thing.”
Quentin Yeah, it’s like 1974 so they’re sort of like, you know, there actually is a sympathy for the IRA in a lot of circles, but they go up and blow up the entire royal family and all the politicians in Britain then, like, the entire world will come down on the IRA, and we can’t let that happen. So now they’ve sent a hit team led by Hennessy’s brother to not just stop Hennessey but kill him before he can do this. None of this matters to Hennessey. [laughs]
Roger At all.
Quentin At all. He’s just going about his plan, and he’s staying one step ahead of them. And whenever they almost catch him, he gets out of it in exciting ways. We had a lot of fun watching this movie. Again, we’re big Rod Steiger fans here. Any movie Rod Steiger is the lead on I’m, you know, is —
Roger Dirty Hands, the movie he did right after this is —
Quentin Yeah, is absolutely worth a watch.
Quentin This is wonderful. However, a lot of people like Rod Steiger because they like his big emoting and they like, you know, his —
Roger “They are skin illustrations!”
Quentin Yeah, they like —
Roger They love that.
Quentin They like it. They like him, you know, acting it at nine or ten a lot. Okay. Well, and he’s an actor that can go there like George C. Scott. He can go there, he can do that, but that’s not all he’s about and this movie is a good example of that.
He is a simmering fire on the inside. Absolutely, positively on the inside it. He never has any big, huge chewing the scenery scenes. But this just shows how strong an actor is, how strong a lead he is, how strong a character actor as he is, that he keeps it all imploded inside of himself and he carries it through, and you are with Hennessy every step of the way.
Roger It should also be said how brave of an actor he is, because, you know, here he is playing Hennessy, a distinctly Irish character in 1974, 1975, making a movie about the IRA and not just any movie, a very large statement about the IRA.
Roger And he’s come on in and he’s playing this kind of everyman character, an Irish everyman character, and that’s really brave for an American actor to go do that, to make that statement. I’m going to go make that statement.
Quentin Well, he’s so good in the movie but there is an aspect because we like Rod Steiger intense. Now he’s intense through this whole movie but it’s, like I said, it’s imploded.
Quentin So you could actually be wondering, “Wow. Are we wasting Rod Steiger in this?” Now, the answer I would say would be no. Part of his plan to get into, I guess, the House of Commons is to kidnap a member of Parliament.
Roger And masquerade.
Quentin And masquerade as him.
Quentin And he does this. And when he does the whole masquerade, he shaves his head, he puts on—he creates a completely whole new look and face for himself and that’s where the Rod Steiger we know kind of comes in. It’s not like he starts acting all big then either, but he literally turns himself into another person.
Roger He’s also going from a very believable and very understated Irish accent and then having that character practicing doing English because he’s playing now a different character, he’s playing an Englishman.
Quentin But also the look is so amazing, you can’t take your eyes off it because he looks like Stalin.
Roger Like Stalin or Louis C.K. [laughs]
Quentin Yeah. He looks so much like Louis C.K. it’s not even funny. But okay, well, he looks like Louis C.K. in closeups.
Quentin But in all the wide shots, he looks like Stalin or —
Roger Lenin, yeah.
Quentin A pudgy, not Stalin—I didn’t mean Stalin. I meant Lenin. I meant Lenin. I meant Lenin. He looks like Lenin, or he looks like a pudgy Ivan the Terrible (1944) from the Eisenstein film.
Roger Totally. [laughs]
Quentin But it’s such a fucking specific look, alright, and he pulls it off so great.
Roger That moment where he’s kind of tied up the actual politician guy in his house, and then he’s visited by the cop.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Roger And we’re given this kind of Die Hard moment.
Quentin It’s absolutely —
Roger Hans Gruber/McClane moment where they’re together.
Quentin It absolutely is a Die Hard moment. Richard Johnson shows up, alright, at the politician’s house looking for Hennessy but he’s never met the politician.
Roger But he looks enough like him at this point.
Quentin But he knows him from the TV and stuff, but he’s never met him. And he meets Rod Steiger and he thinks he’s the politician.
Roger And Rod Steiger is like, “Showtime is on. Showtime’s on.”
Quentin While the politician is tied up in a chair, gagged in the other room—that scene is awesome, man.
Roger And the fact that he then gets them to give him a police escort.
Quentin Yeah, yeah. Oh! I forgot about that.
Roger Like, he actually manipulates the situation so well, he’s so clever in his plan —
Quentin We can’t say any more about his plan now.
Roger You’re right. You’re right. And maybe we are even giving too much away. And maybe this show in particular needs—because of the way the events unfold—maybe people should, you know, have a little bit of a warning and go out and do your homework.
Quentin I don’t think we should say anymore because, again, part of the fun of the movie is discovering what Hennessy’s plan is as it goes on.
Roger In talking about Hennessy, I just want to like, be upfront and let everybody know that I don’t know anything about the IRA. [laughs] I am not equipped to understand the decades and decades and hundreds of thousands and thousands of years probably that these two islands have been having—and that it’s a religious thing. I don’t know anything about it. What I’ve learned from Ireland, I’ve learned from the movies. I was backpacking through Europe in 1987 and I kissed the Blarney Stone at Castle Blarney. I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that anymore, but I highly advise you to do it because you might end up with a podcast afterwards. [laughs] And so that’s like the limit of what I know. And so, watching this movie and watching how it unfolds and watching how his character goes from an everyman pacifist—I don’t know if he’s a pacifist—but he’s a nonviolent, ordinary, everyday working —
Quentin He does say, “I don’t believe in violence.”
Roger Yeah, he’s a working man when suddenly faced with…
Quentin Unspeakable tragedy.
Roger Unspeakable tragedy, the worst thing that can happen to a man is to lose his family. So I guess what I’m getting at is the emotions that come out of him and the tactic that he takes is hard for me to wrap my head around. And at the same time, it’s not hard for me to wrap my head around. I can understand it from afar and from a distance without really fully understanding the intricate details of that entire conflict, which is, you know, Catholic/Protestant. I’m with him.
Roger The weird thing about this is, you know, I’m with him. He’s like, just how I was with George C. Scott feeling rage. His loss is so great that he wants to destroy it all. He wants to bring it all down and he is going to blow up fucking England, basically.
Quentin And the fact that he’s so methodical about it, you can’t help but admire him, alright.
Roger You absolutely admire him. You absolutely admire him. And then when suddenly you realize that the IRA, who should be for him and supporting—he’s doing exactly what they should do—, now they want to stop him and —
Quentin For political reasons.
Roger Well, and I even look at it as more than political reasons: it’s money.
Quentin No, it is money.
Roger It’s business.
Quentin No, no, no.
Roger It’s bullshit and that’s why he’s doing what he’s doing, it’s because you guys aren’t doing bullshit. All you’re doing is continuing this conflict —
Quentin This hamster on a wheel.
Roger This never-ending conflict. And you want it to stop? I demolish things. And the first thing he’s seen demolishing is industry.
Quentin Yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Roger The industry of old.
Quentin Well said.
Roger He’s taking down smokestacks. He’s wiping out the industry of old and I think they’re putting in condominiums.
Quentin Yeah, ah-huh.
Roger And so they’re talking about repopulating an area, you know, probably part to do with the whole conflict between the people there.
Quentin They don’t express this directly. They don’t, like, “Oh, this will bring the whole world on us. Well, we’ve we just got their hearts and minds, and now we’ll lose them.” But you’re right. The money aspect of it is the IRA was pretty much being kept afloat by Irish Americans sending donations.
Roger They just want to keep it going.
Quentin Alright? And like —
Roger It’s just business at this point.
Quentin And if they just blow-up England and the Queen all that will stop—the entire spigot will stop.
Now, it was really interesting when I was telling Roger about the movie before we watched it—I mean, like the day before I think we watched it—I was talking to him about it, and I was kind of describing it.
Roger Like, you’ve been kind of… Threatening this movie for a long time. Seeing that beautiful box on the on your coffee table for weeks now.
Quentin Yeah, because it’s another one of the like, cool, intense Rod Steiger lead performances, you know, and we all of a sudden got a Rod Steiger theme going on here and we were happy with it. So when I told you about the story, I remember you saying, “Wow, that sounds really good, except since I know he’s not going to blow up the Queen. I’m already disappointed.” [laughs]
Roger Yes. I mean, to be clear: I don’t want to blow up the Queen. I never would.
Roger I am like Rod Steiger at the beginning of this movie: and anti-violent man.
Quentin No, no, yeah, no.
Roger Having said that…
Quentin No, it’s like, why watch the Day of the Jackal (1973) because I know he’s not going to kill de Gaulle, alright, because de Gaulle lived.
Roger Frankly, the thing that you did brilliantly, Inglorious Basterds (2009), was to actually fucking kill Hitler. [laughs]
Quentin Well… I rewrote the book when it came to that. Sorry, Hennessy. Sorry, Day of the Jackal. Alright. [laughs] I went where no man had gone before. Alright. Actually, there was a movie that went before that.
Roger I’m sure. I’m sure that there’s been a few.
Quentin No, not a few, but there was one during Hitler’s time called Hitler Dead or Alive (1942), directed by a guy named Nick Grendel [Grinde]. Which is really —
Roger Nick Grendel?
Quentin Yeah, which is really good.
Roger A name after my own heart.
Quentin Ward Bond is in it. It’s really good. It’s a good movie. We could watch it sometime.
Roger I’d love to.
Quentin Hitler: dead or alive?
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Roger Dead, please.
Quentin And I understand that kind of thinking. So we haven’t even mentioned the director yet. And it’s Don Sharp, alright. Who I think his most—I mean, he’s done a lot of stuff. He did Bear Island (1979) with Donald Sutherland, that Alistair McLean story. But what I really remember him doing, and it was really popular when it came out, was his Robert Powell remake of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1978).
Quentin And that was really popular when that came out; that did really good. And but Don Sharp is a good a journeyman British action director.
What they do in Hennessy that’s really, really neat is—you know, it’s all about the first day of parliament when everybody’s there—they take footage, alright, from that first day of parliament, and they very cleverly start working little by little Rod Steiger into the footage.
Roger Yeah. Seamlessly the way this movie, the way it’s shot —
Quentin So completely seamlessly that I do not think that they just bought… maybe once they get inside the House of Commons, but the whole progression where, like, you know, the coach from Buckingham Palace brings the Queen up and all the people lined on the street, that does not look like they bought footage from the BBC and then edited around cleverly in the movie. That looks like the crew that shot Hennessy shot that footage.
Roger It sure does look like that. Whether it was or whether it wasn’t this —
Quentin I’m betting it is.
Roger The DP, Ernest Stewart, matched everything and the movie is seamless.
Quentin Like matching never happens that good. It just never happens that good. It’s not—it’s just I’ve seen too many movies try to do this and you can always see the seams.
Roger Yeah, there’s a grain difference. There’s a color timing difference.
Quentin It’s shot with the exact same film stock. It’s shot with the exact same camera. The gaffers are the same gaffers, they are using the exact same light sources that the entire movie has been using.
Roger Well, could they have started with the documentary footage then reverse engineered the look of the movie after —
Quentin They could have.
Roger They must of.
Quentin They could have done that any time. The first day of parliament could have happened during pre-production and they shot it. It could have happened two weeks after principal photography is over. It could have happened right smack dab in the middle. It’s just I’ve seen this kind of thing before, it’s never as seamless as this. Now, once they get into the House of Commons, that might not be our crew shooting. I am betting, though.
Roger For sure, not.
Quentin Yeah, but even though even that…
Roger Well, because wasn’t —
Quentin It just looks a little fuzzier.
Roger The disclaimer at the very beginning of the movie, though, says that, you know, that footage was shot or documentary footage or I can’t remember the exact wording but —
Quentin Well, it says that the Queen is not part of this.
Roger The Queen was not part of this. This footage was not intended for that.
Quentin However. Okay, however…
Roger The procession maybe.
Quentin The procession leading up to there that would—anybody can shoot that.
Roger For sure.
Quentin You just have to be on the sidewalk.
Roger Well, but in 1974, 1975, for sure that in those days they would have been using 35mm also.
Roger To shoot the—just the state would have been using.
Quentin I don’t, I don’t think. That I think BBC would be shooting 16[mm]. Of course, they would be shooting 16[mm], it’s only playing on television. If they were shooting a short to be played in theaters, maybe 35mm. But no, that would normally be 16[mm], you know, for a news thing, you know. But anyway, it’s funny to say it’s kind of thrilling when our fictional characters actually enter into the real world and there’s no give—they just kind of, they just go together.
Roger You know, I was absolutely convinced that I was going to be unsatisfied with the ending of the film based on like, I know what’s going to happen. It’s like watching Valkyrie it’s…
Quentin Mm-hmm, yeah.
Roger It’s going to be unsuccessful. We know that historically. To my disbelief, even though what I knew didn’t happen—didn’t happen—the movie still found a way to satisfy me. I am completely satisfied with the ending of the movie. It was as good as blowing up the Queen… Or as satisfying in a movie.
Roger As a as a big event like that.
Quentin It’s crazy how satisfying it is in the climax. It’s fun. It’s just fun.
Quentin It’s just fun. F-U-N, it’s fun.
Roger And it’s weird because justice has been sort of, you know, our cup guy who we’re kind of rooting for. But I find myself rooting for Rod Steiger.
Quentin Okay, I’m rooting for him but not to stop Rod Steiger I want him to keep getting there like a day late and a dollar short or a pound short. Alright. But one of the things that was really great was we’re watching the movie when Hennessy was escaping these guys who were chasing after him and Roger’s, like, so into the movie by this point, almost like “Go, Hennessey, go! Go, Hennessey, go!” [laughs]
Roger Jump the fence! Watch out for the IRA! Look out for that fucking cop!
Roger He’s like a frickin monster coming after you. And he plays it like one! He’s like this hulking, mean guy who’s breaking all the rules. And, like —
Quentin Which, by the way, okay, Richard Johnson is playing a complete character for him. He never plays a guy like this. He’s always suave and debonair and he’s not some like, you know, hunched over, you know —
Roger Like cigarette smoking, angry…
Quentin Dirty suit wearing guy…
Roger Is sick of the rules, you know, this IRA thing. “If you could just let me at them!” And he’s got a personal beef with these guys.
Quentin It’s a very offbeat role for him.
Roger And he’s playing like a New York cop.
Quentin Yeah, he is playing it like—yeah, he’s playing it like Gene Hackman.
Roger Yeah, he’s totally like —
Quentin He’s like a British Gene Hackman from French Connection.
Roger Yeah, that’s exactly.
Quentin But it’s not… just this methodical story leading up to this and that and to a big explosive ending. There’s an incredibly suspenseful sequence right smack dab in the middle of the movie where Hennessy’s one contact in London is the wife of his best friend who worked for the IRA and died.
Roger Was killed in some kind of operation killed.
Quentin Killed in some sort of, you know, IRA escapade.
Roger And it may have even been the one with the cop.
Quentin Yeah. Yeah, I think it was now that you bring it up, I think it was. And Lee Remick doing a pretty decent Irish accent, if you ask me. Alright. Now, I think after this movie it’s like pretty, you know, it’s only a couple movies later she’s doing The Omen (1976).
Roger Yeah. She must have been living in England or something.
Quentin Yeah. Yeah, you’re right—yeah, because it’s like she did The Medusa Touch (1978) around that time.
Roger Yeah, there’s all these British movies she’s doing right as —
Quentin Right, right around that time.
So he’s staying with her and she’s covering him. And like, you know, they’re, you know, they’re good friends. And they might have been more than friends, but who knows. But the situation is the IRA gets in touch with her. And they’re like:
“Look, we don’t want to kill him. We don’t want to kill him.”
Roger “Why would we want to do it?”
Quentin “He’s my brother. He’s my brother!” Because this is his brother coming after him. “We’re just going to take him back. We’re just going to take him home. We’re just going to take him home.” So he calls and says, okay, I’m coming over. She goes, Yeah, come on over. And so, like, the IRA guys are —
Roger Waiting for them.
Quentin Are all there and there’s like three or four of them. You know, they’re all they’re all camped out. There’s guys outside, there’s guys in the apartment, you know, about four or five people, and they’re waiting for him to show up and he starts showing up. And we know they’re going to execute him. They’re going to kill him right then and there, as —
Roger Yeah, they’ve been given the orders by the top guy back in Ireland. He’s like, “Get rid of him.”
Roger “Kill him”. He’s too much of a liability.
Quentin And his brother even was like, “Well, okay, you’re for your brother or you’re for Ireland, you know?” [laughs]
Roger Yeah. And which is, again, a comment on the IRA and this whole mentality.
Roger You know, which is who are you? You know, what is more important to you? The cause or personal issues? And they have to choose that cause.
Quentin They have to come to the cause.
Roger You see those other guys looking at them like, “Hey, what are you going to say?”
Roger In that moment they’re gonna —
Quentin Well, because they’ve given their life to the cause and so much so that, okay, even if they did blow up the Queen and everything… Maybe that might change things in Ireland, but then they’d be out of business.
Quentin Their life is the cause.
Roger And Steiger knows this.
Roger His character knows absolutely what these guys are all about.
Quentin When all these hitmen, these IRA hitmen are camped out there, and Hennessy comes walking into the trap, and we know poor Lee Remick has been duped, she doesn’t know what’s going on, it’s one of the most suspenseful scenes I’ve seen, like in a bit.
Quentin It was so suspenseful. It was so exciting. It was a really terrific sequence right smack dab in the middle of the movie.
Roger Yeah. And then they hit you hard.
Quentin And then what happens is a fantastic action scene.
Roger I mean —
Quentin I mean, fantastic.
Roger And devastating at the same time. It’s gnarly. And, you know, suffice it to say, it just makes you realize that Hennessy is a man alone, and his cause is not the IRA cause.
Roger He is completely separate from all of them.
Quentin He’s like, you know, his world was destroyed and he’s going to blow up the world. And I will say one thing before we go to our break. I think a case could be made… That Queen Elizabeth might be eligible for best supporting actress. That’s all I’m gonna say.
Quentin That’s all I’m going to say. But it is a pretty fucking great moment she has in the movie. I will say that.
Roger I actually do have one thing to say about Hennessy and his kind of awareness of the IRA. When they come to him and, you know, he arrives in England, they get sent a couple of IRA goons to, you know, kind of meet with him and, “Oh, come on, Hennessy, we’re here to take you back.”
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Roger And so they get him —
Quentin Patrick Stewart being one of them.
Roger And Patrick Stewart is one of them with hair.
Quentin No, not much. [laughs] He still had the bald plate.
Roger With more than normal.
Quentin Well, more than Picard.
Roger It was actually kind of cool seeing him playing a young punk.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And he looked like Duvall.
Roger Yeah, actually, totally looked like Duvall. When they pull a gun on him just to hold a gun on him, he fucking goes after them and wrestles them immediately—shoots the guy. I was a little surprised he didn’t kill the other guy.
Quentin Yeah, ah-huh.
Roger But he knows—the thing is, Hennessy knows right away what they’re about.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Roger He knows enough about them. It’s why he does—he’s not with them.
Roger He knows more than I know. Like, if the IRA guys came to me and they’re like, “Hey, come on, Roger. We’ve got to take you back to Ireland. Like, this is bullshit, what you’re doing.”
Quentin Mm hmm.
Roger I’d probably end up going with them, and I’d be dead.
Roger Rod Steiger, on the other hand, knows to, like, you know —
Quentin Okay —
Roger Act now.
Quentin Well, okay. I think there’s a little ambiguity in the film as far as—but in a good way—whereas I think at that point in time —
Roger It’s still accidental?
Quentin They could have taken him back to Dublin. I don’t think those guys are necessarily there to execute him.
Roger Hadn’t the edict been given already?
Quentin A sort of edict had been given, but it becomes solid after he kills those guys.
Roger After that guy is killed.
Quentin They go, “Well, they pull a —” They pulled a gun on him to keep him calm! They weren’t trying to execute him, or they would have shot him then and there.
Quentin And his first response is to shoot them. [laughs]
Roger Wrestle the gun, shoot the guy dead.
Quentin Yeah. [laughs]
Roger And we’re back with Gala.
Gala Hey, Dad. Hey, Quentin.
Gala Okay, so I always forget Rod… Rod Steiger.
Gala Rod Steiger’s nationality. Every time I watch a movie, I just totally fall into his performance. Like with Dirty Hands, I actually thought, because I watched the French version, I thought he was French. [laughing] And with this I totally thought that he was Irish.
Quentin Yeah, well, when you watched Duck, You Sucker! (1971) you thought he was Mexican? [laughs]
Gala Yeah. Yeah, I did.
Roger He plays a pretty good Mexican…
Roger He plays a pretty good Irishman. He plays a pretty good French man.
Quentin He’s a great theater actor. He could play all these roles.
Roger Steiger. Steiger.
Roger Okay, Rod can do it all.
Quentin Yes, he can.
Gala Yeah. Rod Steiger: amazing. The way the gun goes off, as you guys described, is so brilliant because it’s like, who is at fault now for the death? The person who like throws the brick is partially responsible. Also, it’s like both the Irish and the Brits are responsible for his family’s death, and it’s such a good way to set it up because —
Quentin Oh, I hadn’t thought about that. Not that he necessarily knows that, but I guess maybe he does later, but yeah, you’re right.
Roger Yeah, because he’s against the conflict.
Quentin No, no, no, you’re right. The brick thrower is just as responsible as the soldier, yeah.
Gala Yeah, and because the soldier does it mean to do it. The brick thrower doesn’t want the soldier’s gun to go off, but—so it’s just like it’s a wonderful thing because, like, who is to blame and who is Rod Steiger to go after?
Roger And I think another guy —
Quentin Okay, I’m expecting—I’m waiting for Gala to have the conspiracy, “No, that British guy meant to shoot all those guys, man. I don’t buy that bullshit. Don’t be so naive, Quentin. Obviously, that was planned from the very beginning to wipe out those guys. I bet that kid throwing that brick was a fucking… Brick!”
Roger A plant!
Gala They waited until she walked out of the orthopedic doctor’s office to throw the brick. No, I’m not going to go that crazy today.
Quentin It’s just like Rage, okay? “No, the pilots. Hey, look at those guys down there, man. Let’s try out our nerve gas. Yeah, good idea.”
Gala I like how this is my accent that Quentin has given me, like, the surfer bro. I’m glad that’s who I am.
Quentin “Hey! I look at those two dudes out there.” [laughs]
Roger I think you’re doing me in the eighties.
Quentin I’m doing you as your daughter.
Quentin “Hey, man.”
Gala It’s really funny, because—so I don’t know if everyone knows this, I don’t know if we talked about it before, but I mean, Quentin and Roger do, obviously—but after we record, we always watch a movie. And this movie had The Train Killer (1982) vibes to me.
Quentin It does! Oh, my God. Exactly, it does.
Gala Yeah, and I loved The Train Killer, I can’t stop thinking about that movie.
Quentin That’s a movie we watched based on a real-life story about a guy bombing trains in Hungary after World War I, and it starred Michael Sarrazin.
Quentin And it was a really good film.
Gala It’s a really good movie. And this like Hennessy and the Train Killer kind of—and I guess Rage, it’s like a Venn diagram —
Quentin Yeah, it kind of is.
Gala Like they all kind of in overlap with each other.
Quentin I think The Train Killer is a little less sympathetic than Steiger and Scott.
Roger A little bit more of a sociopath.
Gala No he’d be the sociopath part of this Venn Diagram.
Quentin Strangely enough, though, the movies start to —
Roger They do kind of pair, they pair up —
Roger They cluster together.
Quentin No, but the movie starts kind of like, if not rooting for him, not describing a story about the Unabomber.
Gala Yeah, exactly. But I just had to point out because I love that movie.
Patrick Stewart playing a thug. Hilarious to me growing up with Picard and then all of a sudden just seeing him—like he’s a Shakespearian —
Roger I wanted more. I wanted more.
Gala Yeah, I wanted more Patrick.
Quentin I wish he was in it longer.
Roger I wish there was more Patrick Stewart.
Quentin Yeah, me too.
Roger In general.
Gala And then my favorite part of the movie, actually, is when we see Lee Remick for the first time.
Gala Because the moment that Rod Steiger walks in and Lee Remick is in her shop and she’s actually telling this woman, “This outfit’s not for you, like, don’t even bother trying it on.” And Rod Steiger walks in, you just kind of standing there and then she, like, sees him and when they connect, it told me everything I needed to know.
Gala It didn’t tell me like they were in love or anything, but they had like this deep connection that went back to like when they were kids or like teens or something, and that like she would be the one person that he could go to, and it was a wonderful moment.
Quentin No, I mean, it’s almost as if the relationship that he had with her and her husband is similar to the relationship that James Coburn had in Duck, You Sucker! with that other Irish guy and his girlfriend.
Roger Yeah, for sure.
Quentin Where they’re like a threesome that do everything together.
Roger You said it when you mentioned that she’s all about the truth. Like, probably with her husband she had been living a lie because he’s not telling her what he’s doing and what’s going on. And so, then he’s dead —
Quentin No. She has a great line about.
Gala No! She does, yeah. “You Irish men, you’re either on your knees praying or on your knees firing a gun.”
Roger And so she’s there —
Gala Such a good line.
Quentin “You don’t need to know. It’s better you don’t know. How many times did my husband tell me that? How many times did I hear that from my husband? And he’s dead right now.”
Roger So she’s now living a life in England of truth.
Roger Where even she’s telling her customer, this won’t look good on you. She’s telling the truth to her own detriment. And that practically occurs in the moment with them where she believes them. And then when she realizes they’ve lied to me, she again tries to go after truth.
Quentin Well, said Avary.
Gala Woo! We did it!
Roger To her, again, to her ultimate detriment.
Quentin Yeah, well said Avary—it’s really, really well said.
Gala And also, she’s the one person that recognizes what Rod Steiger is doing because when he’s in the kitchen, he comes down for the first time and she looks at him like when they first are sitting down, she said, “You sound just like my husband.”
Gala In that moment she realizes, like, something’s wrong.
Roger He’s hiding things from her.
Gala He’s hiding something.
Roger He’s lying to her. A lie of omission, that’s still a lie.
Gala And he’s going to go out and he sounds arms just like my husband. It’s a great line.
Quentin But also there is this just neat aspect about the fact that Lee Remick isn’t just cool and nice in the movie, she’s down.
Quentin She is going to, you know, she goes, “Well, I don’t know—you’re going to stay here. Okay, that’s settled. Here we go.” Boom. Alright. You know, she is there to take care of him. She’s there to help him and to, you know, even though she doesn’t know exactly what’s going on, she is a ride or die bitch.
Gala Yes, she is ride or die.
Gala Richard Johnson, as the inspector is, like, so unexpectedly intense. I was, like, not—I love it because it’s, like, so aggressive and the way that he plays it is just so… I just I love it. And it really balances well because Rod Steiger in this performance is giving like an incredibly sensitive performance.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s well said.
Gala And it’s, like, he’s sensitive at the beginning when he says, “I’m not down with violence,” but then he’s somehow still sensitive throughout the movie, even when he’s planning to blow up the Queen.
Roger He never even physically mourns. He’s not there for the funeral services that are for his wife, child and the other people who were killed. He never actually outwardly, other than standing there on the street surrounded by British army and his dead family on the ground, other than that moment where he’s not even with them at first —
Gala He, like, runs up and grabs.
Roger He can’t even approach them at first, it’s so horrible for him. That’s the only moment we actually see him grieve after that he’s moving forward to exact his…
Roger I want to call it vengeance, but I’m not even sure it’s vengeance —
Quentin It’s not that —
Roger His completion of the conflict, his resolution of this conflict, that he is going to personally bring an end to.
Quentin Yeah, revenge and vengeance is too puny, too puny.
Roger He is going to demolish it the way he demolishes old buildings.
Quentin Mm hmm.
Gala Also, his transformation into the other character.
Gala It’s like Mission: Impossible level, like, transformation.
Roger It was great.
Gala It is so good. Like when he’s, like, changing his contacts and how he’s, like, listened to how the guy talks, that’s an amazing performance. And also, it’s strangely believable —
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Gala Even to me as a viewer watching it when I see the two actors’ side by side, like the guy in the chair who’s being like —
Gala And when he transforms, I’m like, okay, I would believe that.
Quentin Well, when he pulls it off, like I said, when he pulls it off, that’s when you realize why Rod Steiger is playing this role.
Gala Yeah, exactly. So I actually bought this on DVD, but the day I went to go watch it, it actually became free on Amazon Prime.
Quentin Oh, wow.
Gala So I watched it for free on Amazon Prime. And I also happened to pick up a VHS tape of it. It is the same box that you have, not as good —
Quentin It pretty much has Richard Johnson on the cover. [laughs]
Gala I know! Richard Johnson —
Roger I love the kind of line art quality of that.
Gala It’s also comic book style.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Gala I got mine for $13.95.
Quentin A bargain at twice the price.
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Gala Honestly, I agree.
THE AMPHIBIAN MAN
Quentin Okay. And we’re back for our third and final movie of the episode. And this is a little classic—literally a classic—a classic gem.
Roger This is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in recent memory.
Roger And quite honestly, I think the version we saw was… It was either two-tone or black and white on tape. It was a rough transcript.
Quentin Yeah, it looked like a two-color transfer. Yeah, but that’s almost why it looks so good, though, at the same time.
Roger Yeah, well, I happened to walk past Gala as she was watching the film.
Quentin Mm hmm.
Roger And I quickly averted my eyes because of how clear and beautiful…
Quentin Oh, really? It was? As opposed to our Sinister Cinema copy.
Roger Yeah, and colorful and—so I’m going to watch this movie again probably many times over the course of my life.
Quentin Okay, well, here’s the deal. I actually love our version of it, but I am dying of curiosity—this is one that I’m dying of curiosity to see a Blu-ray version of or a full color DVD of, that would be really cool. But I find it hard to believe I’m going to like it drastically better than our… Sepia tone version.
So the movie that we’re showing today is from 1961. It’s the USSR, Russian classic science fiction film, The Amphibian Man (1961). Some of you, if you’re Russian, you’ve heard of The Amphibian Man, and if you’re not Russian, maybe you haven’t heard of it. As an American, I heard about it because basically it was a staple for years on local television. Basically, what happened was they made the movie Amphibian Man, and I guess in 61, and American International Pictures bought it, but they didn’t release it theatrically. Instead, they put out a black and white version as part of their TV package.
Quentin And AIPTV, their TV movie packages were very, very popular. So they sold them all over the  states, just in different local markets.
Roger Like a 16mm…
Quentin Yeah, you get, like, you buy eight titles, or twelve titles and you get the 60mm prints.
Roger So you saw this on the KTLA or KCOP?
Quentin Actually at Channel 9; channel 9 is who owned Amphibian Man. And KCAL Channel 9 is who owned Amphibian Man in Los Angeles in the early—late sixties, early seventies.
So for a period there from mid-sixties the, you know, sixties—the sixties—and into the early seventies, Amphibian Man was actually in rotation quite a lot on local television because of the AIP packages were very popular. So you could see Amphibian Man quite a bit like on Saturday or Sundays in the afternoon. But when all those movie avenues started drying up at some point in the seventies and the eighties, at least the way they were, Amphibian Man disappeared and it never showed up on television again. And in America, it never popped up on any videocassettes and this was back before there was like a collectible market for people trying to turn this stuff over. So Amphibian Man just always remained one of these things that I saw when I was six. Well, watched what my father, you know, on local television. Time goes on, I grow up, I go to Russia, I meet other Russian filmmakers.
Roger You become a spy, you come back and start becoming a film director.
Quentin Yes, exactly.
Quentin Just as, you know, a bogus line, you know?
Quentin Money laundering scheme. Alright. So the thing about it is, from time to time—one of my things that I would do when I’m many other countries is I don’t just bring up like their most famous movies by their most famous artistic directors or who the West has deemed their most worthy artistic directors because they’re sick of hearing Americans talk about that…
Roger They don’t want to hear you talk about Eisenstein and Pudovkin.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Roger And whoever else.
Quentin So the thing is, I would always bring up their genre cinema, and usually I was an expert to some degree of at least the genre cinema that made it to the western shores. I started bringing up two different filmmakers. Amphibian Man, have you ever seen Amphibian Man? And they go, “Of course I’ve seen Amphibian Man. You know about amphibian Man?” Well, yes, it was, you know, popular for a period of time on local television. “Oh, wow. Well, Quentin, just so you know, to ask a Russian, have you ever seen Amphibian Man… It would be like asking an American, have you ever seen The Wizard of Oz?”
Quentin “Of course, we’ve seen Amphibian Man, we’ve all seen Amphibian Man. It’s one of the most popular Russian movies of all time. I mean, the entire country has seen the movie. The entire country knows about the film.” Anyway. So we’re watching the sinister cinema video of…
Roger Which looks like a box that I drew for you. [laughs]
Quentin Yes. Yeah, exactly. Okay, so Sinister Cinema doesn’t have specially designed boxes for their specially designed movies, they just have their one Sinister Cinema sleeve that it is sitting, resting very comfortably in. But the idea of the story of Amphibian Man, there’s this kind of villainous character that is trying to corner the market on the pearl diving.
Roger He’s cornering the pearl diving market.
Quentin He’s cornering the pearl diving market. And he’s a very dynamic villain and he’s very sexy, he’s good looking.
Roger And handsome.
Quentin Yeah, he looks like a Russian Paul Newman. And not only that, he looks like Russian Paul Newman in The Outrage (1964), alright? So he looks like when Paul Newman is trying to play a rascally character.
Quentin So he owns this boat, and he has all these pearl divers that are practically like slaves, but they’re not quite, alright. And they’re in—okay, so also, it looks obvious that the film was filmed in Cuba. Now, is it exactly supposed to be taking place in Cuba? I don’t know. It could be Cuba. It could be some fictionalized Latin American country. But it’s definitely Cuba they shot it in.
Roger It’s like a Johnny Quest country that might take place in Johnny Quest. It’s like a Latin American country—everybody has sombreros.
Quentin Yes, but it’s for sure shot in Cuba.
Roger For sure.
Quentin For sure.
Roger Like we can see streets of Cuba, of streets of —
Quentin What looks like to me streets of Cuba. Yeah, yeah.
Roger The cars that are still driving around Havana.
Quentin The cars themselves, yeah, but back then they were still kind of newish.
Roger Yeah. And they drive outside of the city, and you see, you know, plantations and sugarcane and stuff.
Quentin And like you said, everybody’s always wearing sombreros.
Quentin He’s trying to corner the market on these pearl divers. Meanwhile, he’s also in love with the daughter of this one Indian guy who owns a boat—one of the boats he uses. And the daughter wants to have nothing to do with him, but he’s wanted her forever, and so there’s all that tension going on.
Roger It’s like his first mate or something.
Quentin Yeah, well, I can’t tell if —
Roger He’s like the captain who runs the boat —
Quentin Yeah, you’re right.
Roger Or the guy who’s, like, kind of in charge of running the boat and they’ve got all these crew people.
Quentin Yeah, it’s almost like, yeah, like the guy’s right-hand man—his overseer, alright, is her father.
Roger Cause the guy looks like a pirate.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Roger And then our villain guy dresses like he’s, like, going to a club in the 1980s.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Roger He’s got, like, a suit on.
Quentin Well, when he’s not dressed like a pirate, alright.
Roger Yeah, Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. [laughs]
Quentin But the thing is that it’s been reported that there’s a devil fish in the ocean and some of the divers have actually seen this devil fish and they’re scared of it, and they won’t go in the water when there’s the devil fishes around. And the daughter that the bad guy loves is in the ocean, and she is attacked by a shark. And then this devil fish shows up and it’s not a devil fish, actually it’s Amphibian Man. And Amphibian Man fights the shark, kills the shark and chases it away and then ends up saving the woman. But now only the bad guy, pirate guy—who’s trying to corner the market on pearls, alright—he’s the only one who actually sees that Amphibian Man is the one who saved the woman. And so he takes credit for saving the woman because he wants to get in good with her. But also, he realizes, “Oh, hey, that’s not a devil fish. That’s a man. That’s a man down there with gills. That’s a man that can breathe underwater.”
Roger The ultimate pearl diver.
Quentin “Well, I’m going to find that man. I’m going to make him my slave, alright?”
Quentin “And he’s going to be finding pearls for me 24/7 and I’m going to be the richest man in the world! Haha!” And then that is, that’s the set-up of the story.
Roger He’s the ultimate villain against communism, if you think of it.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Roger Like you’ve got all these people who are being oppressed and repressed and having to, like, you know, work and, and they’re finding pearls for this rich dick head.
Quentin So, so he finds the seventh wonder of the world: the man that can breathe under water.
“I shall make you my slave! And he shall toil under my chains as he makes me richer and richer and richer.”
Ah, now it turns out what happened was Amphibian Man is the son of the truly great, almost like this Captain Nemo like figure in in this Cuban country that has a lair either underground or in the water, or whatever, that is bigger and more ostentatious than any Bond villain lair. It looks like a spaceship that he lives on.
Roger Yeah. It’s like suddenly Wes Anderson designed his home, and he’s got this crazy house with, like, that amazing, I don’t know, diving bell elevator?
Quentin Oh, yeah, the diving bell tower elevator is amazing—it is fantastic.
Roger And it goes up to this Lautner style amazing house.
Quentin Yeah, and it’s all built inside of the cliffs of, you know, an underwater cliff.
Roger It looks like Ken Adam showed up to do sets.
Quentin Yeah, it does.
Roger And in fact, in fact, I have to say, the production design and the costumes in this movie were simply outstanding.
Quentin They were outstanding.
Roger They were unreal how good they were.
Quentin And the whole deal of Amphibian Man is he was a normal boy that something happened to him somewhere along the way, I can’t remember exactly the whole story, but somehow his lung got collapsed and he wasn’t able to get the right side of the lung or a human lung, so he got the gills from a shark.
Quentin And put it in Amphibian Man and just like, “Well, I don’t know if it’s going to work. Let’s just see. The boy is dead anyway, so let’s just see.” Well, not only does it work, it works amazing and he’s created a whole new type of person that doesn’t exist before. And now he’s caught up in a megalomaniac idea of, I’m going to create a master race of these amphibian boys.
Roger A republic.
Quentin Yeah, a republic.
Roger An underwater republic.
Quentin An underwater republic. And I’m going to rule the deep blue sea.
Roger I like what he tells the reporter guy, the reporter character, what’s going on and what he’s done. He’s like, “Well, what you’ve done is simply a miracle and a medical thing and being able to get somebody to breathe underwater, but this idea of republic for me…”
Quentin It’s kind of crazy!
Roger It’s kind of a crazy idea.
Quentin You’re kind of burying your lead about the whole miracle thing you did with this cockamamie idea of conquering the sea with your zombie army.
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Quentin But, you know, the thing about it is Amphibian Man is a real man; he’s a young boy. He’s about like 19 years old.
Roger Like a super handsome young boy. Once he takes off that amazing, like —
Quentin Yeah, we got like—the Amphibian Man costume is part of the reason why it works so well. And like, they show it a lot and the film doesn’t even need as good a production design as it has because the Amphibian Man costume is so fantastic.
Roger Yeah, it is. It really is.
Quentin Especially with that Quicksilver helmet that he has, which you were like, “is that helmet or is that his head?”
Roger When it first begins, because as it begins, we’re meant to believe this could be a Creature of the Black Lagoon type situation with all these divers and everything.
Quentin And you can’t quite tell it at first.
Roger And you can’t tell at first. You don’t know what you’re looking at and then you start seeing—and by the way, the way that they shoot all the underwater stuff is incredibly well done.
Roger It’s absolutely striking and beautiful.
Quentin Look, the film is justly a classic. It’s a beautiful little fairy tale of a movie. There’s a gentleness about the whole film. There’s a gentleness about the imagery, while still being remarkable it’s also remarkably gentle. But also it has that—not seeing it in full color, I’m prepared to like my Sinister Cinema version slightly better, but I don’t know if that will be the case, but I’m prepared for it to be the case for the simple fact that the almost two-tone color in it, of the sepia quality of it, gave it the look of hand-painted lobby cards.
Roger Yeah, it really did.
Quentin No, no, this lobby card was painted by hand. Someone with a watercolor boom, boom, boom, painted it, painted all these drawings up and then they did another one. And then they did another one. And then they did another one. This looks like if there was such a thing as taking watercolors and painting the frame by hand… if such a thing could exist, you would believe then Amphibian Man did it.
Roger Well, the film survives, whatever… I was going to call it degradation but it’s not that.
Quentin I wouldn’t use that negative term for it.
Roger I didn’t mean it to be negative.
Quentin I know you didn’t, I know.
Roger But what I mean more is, like, its transformation into this delivery format.
Quentin This is not how it was shown in the theater in Moscow.
Roger Right. It does not suffer at all, weirdly, at least because I was just as, like, transfixed and engaged in the movie. And part of it is —
Quentin And not only does it not suffer, it seems to highlight the film’s own virtues to some degree.
Roger Well, at one point, like and it wasn’t even very far in the movie, it was 5-10 minutes in the movie, you turn to me and I kind of turn to you and you said, “This is so classically shot.”
Roger It is so well, like the images—like one image that follows the next, that connects to the next, that connects to the next—everything links and there’s no extraneous stuff that’s just shot and put in. It’s as if everything is visual information that’s telling a story and the shots exist for a reason. It’s beautifully done.
Quentin You know, there is —
Roger Framed very well.
Quentin There is a bad —
Roger Staged really well.
Quentin There is a bad point to having a state sponsored film division, and there’s good points about it.
Quentin Okay. The bad points is, you know, it’s not auteur driven. There’s not all these wild little oddball movies that just kind of exist outside of the commercial of playing outside of the studio plane. The good part is there is no such thing as a low budget, left-handed, no one gives a shit kind of movie. That’s MosFilms using everything to the best of their ability, and with their greatest technicians and with the greatest history of Soviet filmmaking behind them, throwing all their weight behind something like Amphibian Man in a way that they would not handle a science-fiction story like this in 1961 in America. I mean, you have to go to Forbidden Planet (1956) to find them trying to take a movie this seriously and Amphibian Man just whacks it.
Roger Yeah, absolutely.
Quentin Forbidden Planet is juvenile by comparison to Amphibian Man, and Amphibian Man is juvenile. It’s meant to be a —
Roger It’s an adventure.
Quentin It’s meant to be a children’s fairy tale.
Roger Yeah, children’s adventure.
Quentin But it’s a beautiful children’s fairy tale. But the Soviet filmmaking in it, the Dutch angle shots.
Roger Yeah, the constant Dutch angle.
Quentin The constant Dutch angle shots, the constant, you know, looking for the most punchy frame.
Quentin Alright. And then that frame is orchestrated perfectly, they tell the entire story inside of a frame.
Roger And then actors who know how to command the space within the frame, like they know how to position themselves and how to play to the camera properly.
Quentin Yeah, no, the actors know how to act as if they’re on, you know, a political campaign poster. They put their chest out in just the right way and, you know, they take the dastardly pose, or they take the heroic pose. And it’s not corny the way they do it.
Roger Not at all. You know, I should mention Mosfilm on YouTube has all of their movies available to watch. I’m not sure if Amphibian Man is where you saw that, but one of the nice things about Mosfilm being who they are is that they’ve released everything. So if you want to go see, you know, the two-and-a-half-hour War and Peace (1966-1967) or whatever…
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah. Two and a half hours?
Roger No, I’m sorry. I was—
Quentin Four hours.
Roger I was actually thinking of —
Quentin Oh, Waterloo (1970).
Roger Yeah, Waterloo.
Roger Or the —
Quentin Rod Steiger one.
Roger Yeah, the four and a half hour, you know, War and Peace.
Quentin Yeah. Sergei Bondarchuk.
Roger Yeah, you can get it all at the Mosfilm YouTube channel, which is —
Quentin Well, that sounds like an awesome channel.
Roger It’s an excellent channel.
Quentin It’s sounds like an excellent channel.
Roger They do it up.
Quentin But also, I mean, Russia’s known for its editing and —
Roger Oh! The pacing of this movie.
Quentin It’s there right from the very beginning. You can tell that these are not just random shots that they put together and then they went around to finding a rhythm in the editing room. No, these shots were all shot to create this edited sequence.
Roger It’s like they had Joe Dante there. [laughs]
Roger I mean, quite literally, somebody who’s like, “We need this, we need this, we need —” everything works perfectly.
Quentin Now, I was just a little boy, and I wasn’t following the whole story, so I don’t know exactly what the deal is, but when I watched it when I was a little boy I thought Amphibian Man died at the end. But I’m watching this here and he definitely does not die at the end. And I could even imagine how I could see that last scene when he comes out of the water and he’s talking to the girl —
Roger Like a tragic ending.
Quentin Yeah, I could see actually me thinking that that was him dying.
Quentin But I don’t remember them all frolicking around and everything was fine. I remember—I thought that in the version that Channel 9 used to show during the daytime that he died at the end. So I’m kind of curious if anyone else remembers that version or if I was wrong.
And we’re back and we’re joined by Gala Giggles Avary.
Gala Hello, I’m —
Roger Amphibian girl.
Gala I am the Amphibian Man. So, Amphibian Man, a.k.a. Человек-амфибия (Chelovek-amfibiya)—I’m learning Russian right now so.
Gala Chelovek—Chel… ah, I’m going to say it so wrong. I’m going to have someone contacting me and saying, “Oh, like you got to say it right.” But Chelovek-amfibiya… I watched the Russian version, the Russian language, you guys watched a dub, right?
Quentin Yeah, we watched literally the version that they showed on Channel 9.
Gala But it’s on YouTube and there are two versions on YouTube. There is the Russian—like Russian language with no subtitles and that has 2.8 million views on YouTube—and the —
Roger Because every year Russians watch that during the holidays.
Quentin On YouTube.
Roger On YouTube. [laughs]
Gala And then someone—I wish I had the channel name written down—very graciously re-uploaded it. It has way less, I think like 10,000 views, but they have translated it via the YouTube subtitles for you with like actually really good English subtitles.
Quentin Oh, wow.
Gala I’m really thankful for that person.
Quentin So that’s the version you watched.
Gala That’s the version I watched. And it’s in full beautiful, full color.
Quentin Does he die at the end?
Gala Okay, so no. But it feels like a death.
Quentin Oh, okay. Okay. So I wasn’t completely wrong as a little kid to think that.
Gala You know, you’re not wrong to think that because, and I’ll get into that, because honestly, I love Amphibian Man.
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Gala I’m thinking about it. I just, I —
Quentin This is the opposite of The Choirboys.
Gala This is the opposite of The Choirboys!
Quentin In every way it can be! [laughs]
Gala Actually, it is the opposite because this is like a movie, this is my kind of movie.
Roger This is totally Gala’s kind of—as we were watching it, I’m like, okay, I know Gala is going to love this.
Gala Science Fiction.
Roger Gala’s going to be in love with that Amphibian Man.
Gala I am, I love Amphibian Man. I mean, it’s like it’s science fiction, it’s romance. Okay. So it’s based on a novel originally by Alexander Belyaev.
Gala Alexander Belyaev. And apparently in the book there’s like this huge portion of the book all about the dolphins, because they show one dolphin at the very, very end. But apparently there’s like, this whole thing about him and the Dolphins and like, how the dolphins are like his army and stuff like that.
Quentin Well, that makes sense.
Gala I know. And I thought it was cool, but they didn’t obviously have any of that really in the movie. I love the lead girl.
Speaker 3 Yeah.
Gala Anastasiya Vertinskaya.
Roger Yeah, that kind of Bjork looking…
Gala She looks like Janet Munro in Darby O’gill (1959).
Roger Yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah, you’re right. And I love Janet Munro.
Gala I love Janet Munro in Darby O’gill and the Little People. This movie, it’s just it’s so fun. Okay, the shark guy, I don’t want to call him Shark Man. Fishman?
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Gala Amphibian Man, he’s, like, wearing that cool, like —
Roger Shimmering outfit.
Gala You guys says how cool it is but, like, describe it. It’s like that shimmering—It’s like scales. Like he’s wearing this shark fin.
Quentin It’s the kind of outfit that like Submariner eventually adopted in the seventies, you know? He had a scaly kind of cape.
Roger It’s a superhero outfit that works and he’s got that kind of mercury helmet or…
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Gala And he has that actual shark fin on his head and like the shark fin, like, again on his back or the shark… yeah, that’s a fin. Yeah, that’s what they call it.
Roger Yeah, and then kind of like goggles.
Gala Yeah, he has the goggles. And my favorite part of this movie, though, is all the underwater shots.
Quentin Oh, yeah.
Gala Because they’re so effortlessly done. Amphibian Man is actually down there, like, swimming around and, like, effortlessly swimming around.
Quentin Yeah, no, there’s a genuine poetry to —
Gala It’s gorgeous.
Quentin To the underwater scenes. And there’s something even kind of cool about the fact that they didn’t have the greatest cameras in the world, so it’s not like it’s crystal clear. So it doesn’t have that look that everything has now and they shoot underwater. You’re still, you still got to film through the shit. You still got to film through the dirt, you still got to film through the bubbles. You still got to film through all that but they get it.
Gala And some of my favorite moments are actually when Anastasiya Vertinskaya is underwater with him, like for the first time when she falls underwater and she’s kind of being attacked by the shark and she just falls the bottom, and she’s so angelic under the water. And it’s really cool thinking like, these are actually two actors that are acting and finding a romantic connection underwater.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Gala Like, that’s really tough. And then when he has all those dream sequences and, like, he closes his eyes and then all of a sudden it glitters on the screen.
Roger Yeah, something that only film can do with that kind of the lap dissolves over each other.
Gala And it glitters on the screen, he closes his eyes, and then he sees them swimming together under the water as if she was Amphibian Lady.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Gala And it’s, like, really romantic.
Quentin It is. No.
Gala I mean it sounds funny but, okay, look: it’s not my fantasy. Okay, but it’s really sweet.
Quentin No, no, no.
Roger I find it a lot more romantic than Shape of Water (2017).
Gala Yeah, I agree. And also, I love, like, when after he saves her, how he’s sitting on the anchor and is like, “Hey, how are you? I was worried about you.” And she starts screaming and it’s just so casual.
Quentin But I also love him on the anchor! He looks at her and says , “Hey!”
Gala “Hey, how are ya?”
Quentin “Are you okay?”
Quentin And he’s like on an anchor.
Gala As if it’s like a normal thing. Okay, so his dad, who they—because his dad lives on like this giant cliffside rock in this, like, really modern, cool house. And they’re keep like —
Quentin You keep thinking they catch him in a spaceship every time you see the inside of his house.
Gala Yeah, exactly. And the old man keeps on calling him God. And I like I love that God’s son is the devil fish.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Gala Like, this poetic thing. And all of the cool technology that they implement in the doctor’s house. They have the man shaped door.
Quentin Yeah, yeah. The man ship door.
Roger That is like a map with like a lagoon or something and the lagoon itself is the shape of him.
Roger It struck me when I saw it also.
Quentin No, you immediately —
Roger I immediately.
Quentin “Go back, I want to see that door again.”
Roger [laughing] Yeah.
Gala And that cool ball elevator.
Quentin Oh, yeah! The diving bell elevator? Yeah. No, the diving bell elevator is amazing.
Quentin And it’s like it’s done a stop-motion and it’s great stop-motion.
Gala It’s so great.
Roger It’s a wonderful miniature.
Gala One thing that you guys might not have seen because of the transfer is that when they changed from scene to scene, more towards the later, like, the end of the movie, I’m not sure if they do it so much in the beginning, but it fades to red.
Quentin Oh wow.
Gala And like every time they come out of a sequence, it’s like a red fade to the next one.
Quentin Oh, wow.
Gala And it was really interesting.
Roger That’s interesting, I wonder why.
Gala Yeah. And I was trying to figure out, like, why? And like I only started noticing it towards the end of the movie because I started picking up on it. But I wonder, like, why that was. But, I don’t know, I thought it was really cool.
Roger You know what I was struck by watching the movie technically is I started getting Soy Cuba (1964) feelings.
Quentin Oh, yeah, ah-huh.
Roger I am Cuba. In that the crew on that film felt like, you know, “What do you want to do? Anything is possible.”
“Well, I want the camera to, you know, go through the crowd, then go into the pool, then come out of the pool and do this and that.”
“Oo-kay.” And the crews there did it.
Roger And I felt that same kind of energy, that can do energy, on this film. Energetic in a way that I’m not used to seeing in, you know, American monster exploitation movies of the same period.
Quentin You cannot —
Roger They’re not really comparable.
Quentin They are not comparable to the Soviet science fiction classics because they’re just dealing on a just a different level.
Gala One of my favorite sequences in the movie is the first time that he, after he sees her and saves her, that he says, “I have to go and find her again” because the Amphibian Man can only survive out of water for so long. And so, he braves it and he escapes from his father’s house and he’s like running through the city. And he’s trying —
Quentin Oh, that’s one of my favorite parts in it, too.
Gala And he wants to see her smile.
Roger That’s actually when it felt the most like Soy Cuba to me.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Roger You know, with all that kind of jazz music going on.
Quentin Yeah! And it’s cool wandering around, alright, getting all dirtier and dirtier as it goes on but it’s like a full-on white suit. Yeah.
Roger And cars going at every, you know, tangent.
Quentin And they’re hanging about a fountain and everything.
Gala Yeah, and that’s best part is the fountain.
Quentin He’s so lovely in the fountain sequence because he’s just, you know, he knows he needs water and then he sees a fountain, so he jumps in the water, but he doesn’t know the —
Gala The social norms.
Quentin He doesn’t know the social norms.
Roger He doesn’t know that you’re not supposed to do that.
Quentin You’re not supposed to jump in the fountain, you know.
Gala And they’re all like laughing at him. And it could have been a moment where all of a sudden he could have felt really embarrassed about himself, but instead he doesn’t.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Gala Instead he actually helps this child.
Roger No, he laughs with everybody and —
Quentin He never gets that they’re laughing at him and it’s—you don’t want him to. And it’s sweet that he doesn’t.
Gala And then he, like, saves a child from like the fish man. Like, I think he’s trying to steal a fish, like a salted fish or something from the fish man. Not from the Amphibian Man but from the man selling fish.
Group Fishmonger. [laughs]
Gala Which, by the way, one thing I love in this movie is that all the villains are the fishermen.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Quentin Well, a movie called Amphibian Man, fishermen seems like a good choice for the villain.
Gala But even the fishmonger, even the fishmonger, the guy selling the fish is the villain. And I love how the fish man starts handing out the—he like, pushes the fishmonger into the fountain and then starts handing out the fish.
Quentin “Fish! Fish are for free.”
Roger “Everyone can have a fish. Just go get more in the ocean.”
Gala Yeah, he says like, “Why are you not giving these? There are so many more where these came from.” And it’s this whole idea of like hand to mouth. So I found that one a very touching moment. And I just love also that he finds the water truck to escape from them and he actually climbs inside the water truck.
Quentin Oh! That’s so awesome. That’s so clever.
Gala And you know what was great? That happened in a wide shot where he was really far away, and he as he vanished into it and we still understood exactly what was happening.
Quentin And we still got it. We still got.
Gala The joke worked really well visually from a distance.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah. And we laughed, “Ha-ha! See what he did? He’s in the water truck, yeah.”
Roger “Go Amphibian Man!”
Gala Now, Quentin brought up —
Quentin We didn’t say it as much as, “Go Hennessey, go!” alright.
Quentin But it was “Go Amphibian Man.”
Quentin Not, “Go Hennessey, go! Go Hennessey, go!”
Gala Quentin brings up at the end that when he saw it as a child that he thought that Amphibian Man had died and even though Amphibian Man now requires water to live, and so he has to leave his one true love and go live in the ocean, it feels like a death when Amphibian Man separates from her.
Roger It’s a loss still.
Gala It’s a loss.
Quentin Okay. That’s not that’s not the ending that we have.
Gala What’s the ending that you guys have?
Quentin Okay, the ending we have is…
Roger They kind of left together.
Quentin They arrive and he’s like, “Oh, at last I found you. Oh, it’s great. Now we can be together. Yes, we can be. We can all be together.” And then it cuts to a montage of them swimming around together and like, well, how is she able to swim around with the Amphibian Man?
Gala Wait, wait. Do you guys have that whole prison sequence, though? Like where they go to prison —
Quentin & Roger Prison sequence?
Quentin That sounds awesome.
Roger Well, how come I’ve—Quentin?!
Gala Wait, wait! Let me backtrack, let me backtrack, let me backtrack. Okay, so she marries the evil guy.
Quentin Oh, no—that we know.
Quentin She marries Paul Newman.
Gala Amphibian Man tries to break her out.
Quentin Yes, yes. Okay, I remember that. Yeah.
Gala Okay, Amphibian Man’s—okay, then he kind of fails but then her dad stabs her husband. Amphibian Man is able to escape but then the police go, and they arrest Amphibian Man and Amphibian Man’s father —
Quentin For the murder!
Gala For the murder.
Quentin That, yeah.
Gala And then they go to prison. And they’re in prison. And the jailers keep Amphibian Man in that giant tank of water.
Quentin Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Roger That’s right.
Quentin No, you’re just telling the movie now. Okay?
Gala Yes, but I’m saying —
Roger But I did comment on, “Oh, this jail has a tank for in case they catch an Amphibian Man.”
Gala But when they put Amphibian Man in the tank when he gets out, his dad is like, “I’m so sorry, because now you can only breathe water.”
Gala And so now you can’t live on land and Amphibian Man starts dying when they’re driving.
Quentin & Roger Ohh!
Gala And then they take him to the ocean, and they put his gills back in and then they’re like, “Breathe, Amphibian Man, breathe.” And then he comes back to life and then he, like, says goodbye to them.
Quentin Oh, well, that’s not how it ends on the…
Gala I need to rewatched to like double check that I wasn’t misunderstanding.
Quentin No, no, no, no. You’re obviously right. Alright. No, you just described to us the whole movie.
Roger And no because we watched TV version which may have been altered for television.
Quentin Shorter. Yeah, shorter and everything, but the thing is—but no, they gave it a happy ending.
Gala Well, okay, I was going to say the reason why for me it’s so bittersweet and nice is because Amphibian Man through the entire movie knows that the journalist is in love with the main girl —
Gala Because they’re childhood friends.
Quentin I hated the fucking journalist.
Gala I don’t like him either, but Amphibian Man is like a rock-solid dude.
Roger I generally —
Gala And he like identifies —
Quentin No, actually. Okay. They actually have a lot of the dub version where he’s like, “Well, what about this guy?”
And she goes, “Yeah, well, what about him?”
“Well, he’s boyfriend, obviously, so when is he not around?” Alright.
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Gala Is that when they’re at the dance?
Quentin Yeah, he’s trying to get—yeah, exactly. He’s like, “when can I see you again?”
Gala That’s so funny, because in the subtitle version, the —
Quentin Well, he’s obviously your boyfriend. So —
Gala No, he says—no, in the subtitled version, it said like, “Oh, I see how he smiles at you. I’ll come find you when you’re alone.”
Quentin Okay, no-no. In the English version —
Gala I love this.
Quentin Yeah, in the English version he’s like, “Okay, so what about that guy?” She goes, “Well, what do you have to worry about him for?” “Well, he’s obviously your boyfriend, so when is he not around so we can see each other?”
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Quentin Okay, now let me ask you a question: okay, is there an Amphibian Man song that they play again and again and again? Or is it just the —
Gala There is.
Quentin Well, there’s that some piece of music, that [imitates music notes]
Gala No, but there is like the one with the woman singing.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Gala Yeah, yeah. They do play that; they play it I think several times but then —
Quentin Okay, okay. They don’t in the American version.
Gala They played it at least once. So there’s like one really long sequence and then —
Quentin Is she’s singing about Amphibian Man?
Gala Yeah, she’s singing about Amphibian Man.
Quentin Okay. Okay. Okay. So the only song sequence is that one song sequence that we see, and it’s in Russian, so we don’t know what they’re singing.
Gala I can’t wait till Josh puts in the Amphibian Man song. Like, right here, like, right now. Like, let’s sing it.
Roger Let’s all listen to it for a moment.
[Amphibian Man song plays briefly]
Gala The account where you can find Amphibian Man with English subtitles is called: varnahelloyall. All one word, that’s: V-A-R-N-A-H-E-L-L-O-Y-A-L-L.
I wanted to shout out this account because she’s the one who did the translation and subtitles, and I really appreciated having them because we all know how much of a disaster auto generated English subtitles can be during a movie like my Sonny and Jed (1972) fiasco.
I actually picked up a VHS of it from Ano-fibian. It’s a Russian PAL tape because just the beautiful poster of Anastasiya Vertinskaya in blue was just too beautiful to pass up.
Quentin Oh, that sounds awesome.
Roger Is that on the box art?
Gala It is on the box art. For $50.
Roger Worth every ruble.
Gala To me, it is.
Quentin Cool, I’d have the poster for 50.
Quentin Okay! And we’re back.
Roger Hey, let’s give out some awards.
Quentin Great idea. Great idea. So we’ll start with Gala. Best film.
Gala Oh, best film. Oh, God. Why do you have to do this to be Quentin? Why?! Well, I know it’s not The Choirboys. You know, I’m going to give it to the Amphibian Man, because even though I love Hennessy and I love Rod Steiger, he can still win best actor in my heart. But the Amphibian Man was like a really nice surprise. I kind of thought I was going to go in and just see, like, a murky monster movie and instead I found a really touching love story.
Roger Yeah, listen, I love Hennessy, but I’m going to say that Amphibian Man is for all audiences and based on almost that alone, and that it excels at doing so, I’m going to throw my eggs into the Amphibian Man basket.
Quentin Well, if we’re talking about Hennessy versus Amphibian Man, okay.
Roger I think that is what we’re talking about.
Gala Sorry, Choirboys, you’re out.
Quentin I think Amphibian Man is definitely the timeless classic —
Quentin Of the bunch, but simply because it has been so well-represented. If I was with a bunch of heathens, alright, that don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, then I might be choosing Amphibian Man just to shove it up their—down their throats. But since that’s not the case, and I respect where you guys are coming from Amphibian Man, I’m going to make a stand for wonderful journeyman filmmaking done at expert level… in the case of Hennessey.
Roger And that’s what it is. Yeah. And you know what? There is —
Gala No one here is going to complain that Hennessey is getting a vote.
Roger Hennessey and how it stuck with us and how it stayed with us, and how it’s almost festered within us earlier and since we’ve watched it, it’s been —
Quentin No, no. Hennessey has grown exponentially from the time that we’ve seen it.
Gala And also, I think they’re both movies you can watch over and over and over again and still have a really good time.
Quentin I think that’s definitely the case for the Amphibian Man. If you’re a kid, probably going to see Amphibian Man as many times as you’ve seen Frozen (2013) or whatever.
Quentin Dare I say best actor?
Gala Only because you want to hear me say his name: Rod Steiger.
Roger Yeah. it’s Rod Steiger.
Quentin It’s Rod Steiger.
Roger I mean —
Gala Our man Rod.
Roger When Rod Steiger is on, you know, one of our episodes, it’s very likely —
Quentin It’s his to lose.
Quentin It’s his to lose.
Gala What can you do against the great?
Quentin Right on. Okay!
Roger How about supporting actor? Is there a supporting actor? Because I have one.
Quentin Well, yes, there is the supporting actor.
Roger Because to me, I’m going to Choirboy.
Quentin Oh yeah! I know! I got —
Roger It’s Robert Webber, baby!
Quentin It’s Robert Webber.
Roger “I got you by the balls!”
Quentin “Cause I got-chu by the balls.”
Roger “And I’m squeezing!”
Quentin “And I’m squeezing.” Well, if you got everything, what do you need? “Because I got you by the balls and I’m squeezing!”
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Roger If only Rod Steiger had been there to deliver that.
Quentin He wouldn’t have done it as good as Robert Webber.
Roger You’re right. You’re right. And that’s why —
Quentin “A 30-year career is the I finally got the good line. And I finally, I’m everybody’s limp dick. And now here I am. And I’ve got the squeezing your balls line and I’m squeezing Charles Durning fucking ball! Those are big balls to squeeze.”
Roger Yeah, I haven’t liked him as much since, I mean, maybe S.O.B. (1981) was the other movie that he’s in that I really loved him in.
Quentin And he’s also, he’s disgusting in S.O.B.
Roger Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s kind of a very similar vein.
Quentin Yeah. [laughs]
Gala I don’t have his name, but I like the husband, the evil husband, the pearl diver, in the Amphibian Man.
Quentin The Paul Newman guy?
Quentin He would be absolutely—if it wasn’t for the true late career greatness of Aldrich’s vet… Bob Webber.
Quentin And also just the thought of watching an actor that I can’t stand be terrific, and to actually have that moment, the Paul Newman guy from Amphibian Man would get it.
Gala Whatever his name is: Paul Newman guy.
Quentin Okay. Best actress.
Gala I can’t remember her name.
Roger Lee Remick.
Gala Yeah. There you go.
Gala Lee Remick.
Quentin Both of you pick Lee Remick.
Gala Yes. Okay, even though I could pick Anastasiya Vertinskaya because I think she’s really beautiful and in Russian her voice is, like, really—like, it’s a little bird singing to me. Lee Remick brings a really touching character.
Quentin I’m going to go with, what’s your last name, Anastasiya…
Gala Her name is Anastasiya Vertinskaya.
Quentin Vertinskaya. I’m going to go with Anastasiya Vertinskaya. I think she’s beautiful in the film. She’s so kind of perfect in the movie it’s one of those things that I’m going to remember her forever, but I’ll always remember her for playing this character.
Quentin Now, the thing about—but I did like Lee Remick in it; I liked her Irish accent because it didn’t seem like she didn’t work it to death, alright, but it was just functional but in an acting pro kind of way.
Roger Yeah. She sold it.
Quentin Yeah, she sold it. And even though her whole—the whole downness of her whole character I thought was really kind of interesting for her.
Roger Mm hmm.
Quentin But, you know, that’s also one of those things where it’s like… I kind of think that’s the character, I think you guys were responding to the character more than her performance.
Roger You’re right. Yeah, you’re right. You’re right.
Quentin But she’s fine in it.
Gala I’m responding to how well she sells her character.
Quentin Okay. Okay, I’ll go for that for that. I’ll definitely go for that; I’ll go for that. Okay, so —
Gala How about supporting actress?
Roger Because there is only one in my mind.
Gala No balls?
Quentin Okay, to me…
Roger Go ahead and say it.
Quentin I think Queen Elizabeth.
Roger Yes, that’s the one. House of Windsor.
Quentin & Roger [laughs]
Gala For the best reaction shot of all time.
Gala It’s not an animal reaction shot, it’s the Queen reaction shot.
Quentin Yeah, the Queen reaction shot wins her best supporting actress. And, you know, and the thing about it is I’m not even trying to be funny by saying that, it’s a testament to the movie that they make the Queen a character; she becomes a character by the final part of the film. She’s an actual character.
Gala And the editing on that is so good because that reaction shot is actually what sells the gag in Hennessy.
Quentin It sells the whole damn thing and they’re selling the whole thing, but when they do that then it’s just locked and sold.
Quentin Lock, stock and barrel.
Gala I’ll go—yeah, I’ll go with the Queen.
Roger Oh, I am choosing Elizabeth II as well.
Gala God rest her soul.
Roger May she rest in peace.
Roger My Queen, as a servant of the crown —
Gala Yes, as the two servants of the crown of the table here.
Roger Okay, so this is actually tough for me.
Quentin Yeah, this is tough.
Roger Because I think Hennessy has done with such a deft hand, but I’m compelled to give it to Vladimir Chebotaryov and Gennadi Kazansky.
Gala Gennadi Kazansky and Vladimir Chebotaryov.
Roger Look at you like whipping out those… But the fact of the matter is these directors captured in every single shot a beautiful frame and dynamic movement. There was only one clumsy moment of stage lines that seemed—it was just one moment where I was like, “Wow, I’ve been watching somebody who’s really at command.” And then suddenly there were all these stage lines getting crossed and it felt clumsy, just the briefest of moments. So it’s one of these two was off point that day.
Quentin I’m going to go with Don Sharp because I think the success of the film really kind of sits in his lap.
Roger It does.
Quentin As opposed to the entire apparatus of Soviet filmmaking.
Roger Behind him.
Quentin Behind him.
Roger Yeah, in fact one might say that he has the government against him.
Quentin Yeah! [laughing]
Roger Making his movie.
Gala That’s so funny.
Quentin One could say that. One could say that. One could definitely say that.
Roger So you’ve got a government backed movie and kind of an anti-government movie.
Quentin Not again—but I always have to preface it—not that Hennessy is going to be a movie like Amphibian Man that for a billion people is a seminal classic that will live on for their lives and their children’s lives and their children’s lives, which is what amphibian man is.
Quentin What Amphibian Man means in Russia cannot be overestimated.
Gala Yeah. I’m going to go with Don Sharp for Hennessy also because the movie relies also on, like, the tightening of the rope and just… I don’t know, I think he nails it.
Gala Like, without his directorial stamp and fingerprint on it, I don’t think it would have succeeded as a movie.
Quentin Even the idea that one of the most suspenseful sequences is when the IRA has set a trap for him in the middle of the movie. Now, we know the traps can’t work because they’ve got to get him to Buckingham Palace, and it was still one of the most suspenseful scenes that we’ve seen in a long time.
Gala Oh god, now I’m thinking about Rod Steiger putting on like his makeup and his hair and doing the whole Mission Impossible thing. I’m getting like goosebumps from it again.
Quentin And then when after it was all over, that was when Roger, “Go Hennessy, go! Go Hennessy, go!”
Roger Go, go Hennessy.
Quentin Okay, here’s the hardest one: editing.
Quentin Because they both rely on editing.
Roger Yeah, yeah.
Gala I think it has to be Hennessy just because those reaction shots are edited in so well into the footage and, like, the documentary style of it is just it’s—I think it’s edited so well.
Quentin Nevertheless, Amphibian Man is cut from the cloth of Soviet film editing, it’s one of the reasons why it works.
Quentin Every montage is set in place.
Roger Yeah. One could say no one understands editing or montage better than the Soviets, better than Pudovkin, who probably was teaching these guys at school.
Quentin Yeah, exactly. [laughing] I still go with Hennessy.
Quentin I just had to make a case, alright.
Gala Hen-nes-sy! Hen-nes-sy!
Quentin But I have to make the case, you know, because that’s a case worth making.
Gala That is a good case, but Hen-nes-sy.
Quentin Hen-nes-sy. But Roger, you haven’t chosen yet for editing.
Roger Okay, So.
Roger You know what? Amphibian Man has such elegant, crafted pacing and it feels as though all of the shots are like panels out of a Tailspin Tommy comic—comic strip.
Quentin Yeah. And you made the point: not a comic book, a comic strip.
Roger It specifically looked like a comic strip to me. And like, you know —
Quentin Modesty Blaise comic strip where they tell a long story over the course of four months.
Roger Exactly. And the kind of pacing where it just felt like every single shot was a frame that was linked like a chain—boom, boom, boom—and you just watching this great story unfold. They’re like pages that you’re turning.
Roger And I was evenly turning pages as I was watching it. Now, having said that, Hennessy has a harder job.
Roger Because it has to tighten the rope to the end. You know, at the end, in a much more difficult way and in a much more—it has to be much more stressful.
Quentin Yeah, in fact, if Amphibian Man has a problem is that it doesn’t get tighter as it gets to its third act.
Roger At the end, yeah.
Roger But Hennessy, on the other hand, is just incredibly deft.
Quentin Yeah, yeah.
Roger And plus, it’s interweaving actual footage, you know, real footage with their shot footage. It’s just elegant.
Okay, so the award goes to Erik Boyd-Perkins, the editor of Hennessy.
Gala What about Art Direction?
Quentin Oh, that’s gotta be Amphibian Man.
Roger Yeah, that’s for sure Amphibian Man and I actually even wrote down it’s… Vsevolod Ulitko —
Quentin It’s definitely not The Choirboys.
Gala And Tamara Vasilkovskaya.
Roger Costume. I mean, I also—I have to go with Amphibian Man on costumes —
Roger Not just because of Amphibian Man. The clothes that the Paul Newman guy wears —
Quentin Yeah, he’s great.
Gala Also the dresses that the girl was wearing.
Roger And that crazy red —
Quentin Oh! The red bathrobe.
Roger The red bathrobe the bad guy wears.
Quentin That Paul Newman wears.
Roger I want that. [laughs]
Quentin Oh, no. That bathrobe, that’s like a Franco Guerrero bathroom, alright, black and red.
Gala Did we already do cinematography?
Quentin No, we didn’t actually.
Roger No we did not.
Quentin I think that would probably go to Amphibian Man, too.
Roger Well, except that the DP of Hennessy, Ernest Steward —
Quentin Oh, yeah.
Roger Did such an amazing job matching—and you have to think about, like, he’s got to match everything so that by the end of the movie, it’s going to seamlessly cut together with their found footage—and so that is… I mean, I’m going back and forth on this.
Quentin You’re making a great case and I’m ready to give it to him for that case alone. However, the Amphibian Man photography is so good that it can be shown in complete color. It can be shown —
Roger 16mm black and white.
Quentin In 16mm, 2% color and… practically sepia, alright. And it can be shown in black and white on television.
Quentin And it survives all versions.
Roger Yeah, I’ll go with that. You just convinced me. I mean, that is the absolute truth of it, is that —
Quentin And it’s mystical in every version.
Roger It survives and it was so powerful watching it visually. And you’re right, we were watching.
Gala And also the underwater sequences are beautiful.
Quentin Yeah, I agree.
Roger Well, there’s that one shot where you were looking down toward the bottom of the ocean and we see Amphibian Man way down low and then suddenly he swims upward —
Quentin Oh, yeah! Well, that’s a true Submariner shot, yeah.
Roger Oh, it was incredible. It was just such a beautiful shot and how close he came to the camera as he lifted up, it was like an airplane, like zooming past; it was great. So, yeah, the underwater photography was beautiful.
Quentin Okay, well, I think that wraps it up for us. I’m Quentin Tarantino.
Gala I’m Gala Avary.
Roger And I’m Roger Avary.
Quentin And we’re saying goodbye for another exciting episode of the Video Archives Podcast. Be kind. Rewind.
Gala Bye-bye, see you next time.
Roger Do svidaniya.
Music Exit We are officers and brothers, every race and creed. And we stand beside each other in every…
Gala The Video Archives podcast is hosted by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary and produced by Josh Richmond and Gala Avary. Our engineer is Devin Tory Bryant, and our executive producers are Colin Anderson and Natalie Mooallem. Find out more about the show by heading to videoarchivespodcast.com. You can also find us on Twitter @VideoArchives and on Instagram @videoarchivespod.