I just finished uploading my latest post when I read the news that Arthur Penn passed away at the age of 88. I'd like to share a few thoughts on this most individualistic director:
Penn will forever be linked with his 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, the film that changed the look of gangster films as well as introducing contemporary Hollywood cinema to sudden, brutal violence. Who can forget when Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) shoots a man hanging on to the rear of his getaway car after a bank robbery? Filmed from inside the car, Barrow fires through the window directly into the man's face; this was clearly a shocking scene that had not been seen in American films to that date.
The final shootout when Texas Rangers fire hundreds of bullets into the two title characters is another horrible scene, yet the beauty of Penn's direction (along with Dede Allen's brilliant editing) lifts this scene above the normal killing of bad guys as depicted in most movies. We see in separate shots Bonnie and Clyde moving toward each other as though to embrace and show their love for each other. The sequence ends as we fade to black - chilling.
For me, Penn would never quite match this intensity again, though I believe his Night Moves (1975) is another highlight in his career. A brooding, film-noirish detective story with a wildly complex plot about smuggled goods that was more concerned with the frustrations of its characters, the film displayed a bitter edge that Penn often brought to his finest work. This is a film that takes you on a journey where you share many of the same emotions of the main characters who worry about the paths that had been taken by America.
Penn never took the easy way out, as evidenced by these two films as well as others - Little Big Man was not the usual "the white man has been brutal to the Indians" story; rather it dealt in great degree with the brotherhood of the Indian and how they dealt with their outside troubles. Penn, in his best films, always challenged us to look at these characters - gangsters, detectives, Indians -in a new light and constantly challenged us - the audience, to see things things anew. We could be entertained by an Arthur Penn film, but often, we came away confronted with our own faults (especially true with a film such as Four Friends (1981)) This may not be what everyone wanted from a movie, but Penn went there in an honest fashion.
Here is part four of my list of favorite movie quotes - not the "Here's looking at you, kid" type of lines that everyone knows by heart, but great lines that deserve to be better known.
"I always felt a little hurt when our swallows deserted us in the winter for capitalist countries. Now I know why. We have the high ideal, but they have the climate." Ninotchka (Greta Garbo) – Ninotchka (1939)
"You impress me as a man who needs a new suit of clothes or a love affair. But he doesn’t know which." Mae Doyle D’Amato (Barbara Stanwyck) to Earl Pfieffer (Robert Ryan) – Clash by Night (1952)
“I always say the law was meant to be interpreted in a lenient manner. And that’s what I try to do. Sometimes I lean to one side of it and sometimes I lean to the other.” Hud (Paul Newman) to his father (Melvyn Douglas) – Hud (1963)
I reserve the right to be ignorant. That’s the Western way of life.” Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) to Fiedler (Oskar Werner) – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)
“Are you an assassin?” – Col. Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando) “I’m a soldier.” - Capt. Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) “You’re neither. You’re an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill.” - Apocalypse Now (1979)
“Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.” Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) to Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) – Godfather lll (1980)
"I don't wanna badmouth the kid, but he's a horrible, dishonest, immoral louse. And I say that with all due respect." Danny Rose (Woody Allen) - Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
“I’ll tell you something, kiddo. You couldn’t find big time if you had a road map.” Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) to Vince Lauria (Tom Cruise) - The Color of Money (1986)
“Son, in 35 years of religious studies, I’ve come up with only two hard and incontrovertible facts. There is a God and I’m not him.” Father Cavanaugh (Robert Prosky) to Rudy (Sean Astin) – Rudy (1993)
"Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the City of the Angels, and you haven't got any wings." Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) to an anonymous suspect being interrogated. - L.A. Confidential (1997)