“Wrong is right?”
“Yes! With Sean Connery.”
“Don’t know him.”
At Café Pi, my friend Eric, who happened to be a great chess player, but a pacifist at heart, told me about a movie by Richard Brooks called Wrong Is Right. He said it was the only one ever made about the ex-James Bond ladies. I had never heard of the film. Why is that? It’s been bothering me. The film must have been available at La Boîte Noire (a local alternative video shop), but unfortunately in 2017, Netflix came along and killed that business and everything that came with it
La Boîte Noire went from one street corner near my place to another and finally ended up on Mont-Royal Avenue, just west of St-Denis. The building it now occupied used to be a grocery store whose owners were arrested for selling cocaine in the basement. (I bought my first shirts on St-Catherine, at a small shop called Le Château. One day, a grocery store at the corner of St-Denis and Rachel became Le Château Recently, the branch closed, replaced again by a grocery store. It’s called progress, I hear).
Stepping Back in Time
When I signed up at La Boîte Noire, I got a low-cost catalogue of films classified by titles, directors, and actors. The whole thing was a bible-sized jackhammer to unearth my past as a cinephile. I rented old movies; some I found at random from the shelves and others from memory. I even came across Ultraman—a Japanese TV series.
In short, Ultraman was a man in a Wizard of Oz-like costume who walks between models of buildings to fight another man in a monster costume. Sort of like the single-cell version of the Transformers or WWF for children under 5 in extreme day care.
I revisited many of the fetish movies of my generation on videocassette such as Harold and Maude, Carrie, Blow Up and Easy Rider. Unfortunately, Looking for Mr. Goodbar was only available on DVD, supposedly due to a rights battle. For Wrong Is Right, I had to go down into La Boîte Noire’s cave—the basement.
The Google Effect
A half-truth. There are some good B movies down there, but that doesn’t really sum it up. I discovered the works of Hitchcock and Chaplin.
In short, Wrong is Right is the last film of Richard Brooks. He directed it in 1982 when he was 70 years old. This was five years after his commercially successful film In Search of Mr. Goodbar, a fetish film based on 1970’s feminism starring Jill Clayburgh. In fact, several of his films give women a major role in the development of the plot.
Going back, I ask for an explanation about how films are placed.
“The classic filmmakers are downstairs, » answers an attendant. “The most popular ones are upstairs.”
Upstairs are Mel Brooks, James Brooks, Albert Brooks and Peter Brook. No need to reformat the slack system, mind you. Progress, always.
Richard Brooks (1912-1992), son of Russian emigrants, made 18 films in 30 years. The list of actors who worked with him is impressive. I discovered that his films questioned proper moral conduct in singular or borderline conditions.
In Elmer Gantry, which was shot in 1960, Burt Lancaster portrays an alcoholic pastor (at the same time, Richard Burton plays a defrocked priest). This madman of God (Lancaster) meets a Joan of Arc preacher played by Jean Simmons, (who later marries Brooks). An impossible love grows between the characters–a dance between good and evil, altruism and material worries, faith, and pride.
The Professionals (1966), stars Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, Robert Ryan and Claudia Cardinale (born Claude Joséphine Rose Cardin). A group of mercenaries are hired to find the kidnapped wife of a rich American. But she has orchestrated her own kidnapping and the money is not enough to convince the mercenaries to continue their quest.
In Cold Blood (1967), a true crime fiction based on the work of Truman Capote, stars Robert Blake, (who in real life, in 2001, was suspected in the murder of his wife). A horrific scene occurs at the end of the film when the character played by Blake; with his biker child face, stands at the bottom of the stairs leading to the scaffold, and says, « I don’t even know who to apologize to. »
I loved Bite the Bullet (1975), which stared Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, and James Coburn. An ex-hooker competes in a horse race over several days in an attempt to free her trapped lover. The final scene is a lesson of mutual needs and friendship for people desiring money and wanting to be first in everything.
And of course, Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), starring Diane Keaton, as a young schoolteacher who decides to live alone and find lovers while experimenting with drugs. A marginal conjugation of love. (Richard Gere gets his first role in it. Can you replace him?)
In short, Brooks’ films were intelligent, and socially engaged, without any McCarthyism bias, or Emily Post etiquette. But that still doesn’t explain Brooks’ five-year gap from the limelight after his mega hit.
Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch
Oh yes, the movie Wrong Is Right! With Sean Connery. Conclusion: it’s a turnip.
Using advanced technology, the CIA deceives a pro-American sheikh who has a habit of meditating in the desert. A device is used to make him believe that the voice of Allah has ordered him to provide nuclear weapons to a notorious Arab terrorist. By monitoring and manipulating the operation, the Americans will be able to declare war, invade the country and exploit its oil resources; while at the same time, getting rid of a terrorist (for a similar American recipe, see 24 Chrono, Homeland, or the plan rejected by J.F. Kennedy to justify an attack on Cuba).
As I watched the movie, I realized that Brooks had a hard time raising money. Somewhat predictable in the early 1980s. But he did his best.
Progress. Always progress.
In memory of François Poitras, ex-owner of the Boîte Noire.