Posts Tagged ‘William Friedkin’


Sorcerer (1977)

D.  William Friedkin

Starring:  Roy Scheider

It was the Summer of 1977 and a movie came out that changed my life and the life of so may others.  That movie was Star Wars.  Lucas’ prequels have somewhat tarnished the legacy of the original trilogy but I will always love those movies for what they meant to me as a young child, getting to see all of them with my Dad who loved cinema as much as I do.  God only knows what JJ Abrams has up his bloody sleeve for the recently announced sequel trilogy but I do I’ll be there to see them.

But I’m not here to talk about that venerable franchise.  I’m here to bring to light a movie that came out about a month later, a movie that drowned under the massive tidal wave created by audiences flocking to the theater to see the beloved space opera time and time again.  This film was ignored by audiences, dismissed by critics, and quickly faded into obscurity.

The film was a remake of the French classic Wages of Fear, itself based on a novel.  Directed by William Friedkin, the thriller was set in the jungles of  South America.  It told the tale of 4 desperate men, exiles of a sort, hiding out and waiting for a chance to elevate their positions, to reclaim some aspect of their former lives.  The men volunteer to transport old dynamite, precious but highly volatile cargo, over two hundred miles through treacherous terrain.  The dynamite is necessary to extinguish an oil field fire but it can only arrive by truck and is highly unstable. It’s a high-risk proposition with a hefty reward.  It’s a near suicide mission.  It’s their last hope.

The film starred Roy Scheider who had previously worked with the director on The French Connection.  He was fresh off the success of Jaws but he was miles away in character from his heroic Chief Brody.  All of the players were on point.  Each man is on the journey for a reason.  Each desperate for reward.  Each knows they may not survive.  Each of them do not care because they have nothing else, no other choice.  They’d rather die by fire than waste away in exile.

The film was brilliantly filmed.  Friedkin made excellent use of his shooting locales.  He conveyed the squalor of the village in which the men have taken refuge.  He showed the danger in the jungle through which the men travel.  There is a set piece on a bridge, a perilous trek as a truck creeps across old wooden planks.  There is more tension in these ten minutes, I think, than in any other movie I’ve ever seen.

The film featured the first soundtrack by German electronic band Tangerine Dream.  It launched their careers and they went on to create some of the most memorable film music of all time.  The score fits the film perfectly.  One would not work without the other.

The film was spectacular.   But nobody knew it.  It was gone as quickly and as quietly as it arrived.  The dismal box office caused the studio and the director to part ways.  But Friedkin always believed in the film.  He never stopped believing.

The film popped up on cable from time to time and was finally released to the home video market in 1990 on VHS and Laserdisc.  Eight years later, it would appear on DVD.  It was a truly terrible product, copied over poorly from the laserdisc in the wrong aspect ration.  There were not many options by which to see the film.

Friedkin eventually sued the studios over the rights to the films as they were making no positive steps to release it on the new popular Blu-ray format.  The case was eventually dropped and Friedkin was given control over a fully restored theatrical and Blu-ray release.  And finally, 37 years later, it has arrived in the best possible format.  It is available to you.  It is waiting.

If you’ve already seen the film, I’m preaching to the choir.  If you haven’t, you don’t know what you’re missing.

But you should probably find out.



Back in 1984, the brothers Joel & Ethan Coen introduced themselves to the world with a dirty, little slice of Southern gothic noir called Blood Simple.  And while they’ve since served up such tasty gems as Miller’s Crossing, Fargo & No Country For Old Men, their first film in the eyes of many of the fans remains the best.  I’d be hard pressed to argue that point.

The movie features the debut performance of future Oscar winner Frances McDormand as a Texas bar owner’s wife who is having an affair with a well-meaning if easily duped local.  Dan Hedaya plays the abusive husband who is wise to his dearly beloved’s wandering ways.  He hires a private eye (played to often hilarious perfection by M. Emmet Walsh) to get enough dirt on her to protect his interests from a future divorce.   Backstabbing, blackmail and betrayal soon follow.  People die.  Often.  It’s a perfect little movie done on a low-budget by people who probably weren’t sure if they’d ever get a chance to make another flick.   The brothers put everything they had into it and squeezed every last bit of talent out of their cast.  If you’ve never seen it, remedy that situation sooner rather than later.

The Coen Brothers classic is probably going to be easy for you to track down as it’s widely available on DVD and Blu-ray.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the latest film from director William Friedkin, Killer Joe.  Saddled with an unnecessary NC-17 rating by the ever-myopic MPAA, most major theater chains will refuse to carry it.  So if you live in a smaller town that only has a Cinemark, you’re probably shit out of luck.  But if you’re fortunate enough to have an ‘art house’ theater that carriers all that Oscar bait come December, there’s a good chance you might actually have a chance to see this wonderful and darkly comic flick.

He’ll kill you…with a smile!

Like it’s cinematic cousin Blood Simple, Killer Joe is a country-fried Texas set noir populated by bad people doing terrible things to equally bad people and making poor decisions with dire circumstances.  The titular ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper is played with almost charming menace by Matthew McConaughey as a Dallas police detective with a side business in murder for hire.  He’s approached by a family of bumbling idiots and petty criminals to eliminate their matriarch whose life insurance policy promises to pay out $50,000.  None of them are particularly fond of her and that money can go a long way towards remedying some of their woes.

Not smart people

Being the losers they are, they don’t have the scratch to cover Joe’s fee.  Fortunately, the daughter has caught the eye of the stone cold killer.  The family offers her up (like chum to a shark) as a retainer on their future earnings from the insurance and set them up on what might be the most awkward and disturbing first date in the history of cinema.  There’s another dinner scene that closes out the movie in shocking fashion and I promise that you’ll never look at fried chicken the same way again.

No thank you!

Perhaps inspired by McConaughey’s award worthy performance, the rest of the cast delivers the goods as well.  Emile Hirsch plays the son who hatches the plot to get out of some debts owed a local drug boss.  Thomas Haden Church once more calls forth his inner-Lowell as the clueless, spineless father.  Gina Gershon channels pure white trash as an evil, duplicitous step-mom, and Juno Temple is the Lolitaesque object of Joe’s affections whose future propels the plot to its grim conclusion.

Some flicks are worth putting in some effort to find.  This is such a film.  I hope you get the chance to see it on the big screen, but if you don’t there’s always DVD/Blu-ray.  And you can eat dinner while you’re watching it.  Just not chicken.  Trust me.