' ' Cinema Romantico: The Classic Movie Broadcaster of Record Has Spoken

Friday, October 21, 2022

The Classic Movie Broadcaster of Record Has Spoken

Roger Ebert’s Great Movie series provided my introduction to classic film, but Turner Classic Movies is where I developed and refined my classic film taste. It’s where I was truly able to delve into the deeper backgrounds of the oeuvres of Bacall and Bogey and Harlow, and Mitchum and Woodward too. It’s where I saw “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “From Here to Eternity,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Stromboli,” and “The Misfits.” It’s where I watched basically every Elvis movie I’ve seen, including “Viva Las Vegas,” which I distinctly recall because when I saw “The Lady Loves Me” scene I vividly remember thinking: “That. That’s everything I want from a movie.” Seeing “The Heiress” on TCM was almost as good as my best movie theater experiences; even though I had recorded Olivia de Havilland’s acting master class to my DVR, I couldn’t make myself pause it to walk 15 feet to go to the bathroom! Yes, that bastion of venerable cinema has introduced me to so much that I consider foundational, that when something else foundational for me appears on its schedule, I don’t feel validated, just elated, like the cinematic clergy have raided my personal canon. That happened in 2016 when (in)explicably “Ice Pirates” (1984) was broadcast on The House that Robert Osborne built, demonstrating that a classic could also be a cult classic even if that cult was just me and my childhood friends watching it while devouring Planters Cheez Balls. That, though, was nothing compared to this weekend, when scrolling through the cable menu I realized TCM was premiering a movie for which I still have my ticket stub, “Ronin,” my dearly beloved “Ronin.” Alas, because Xfinity axed TCM from our cable plan in 2019, I was forced to imagine Ben Mankiewicz’s intro instead.

Mankiewicz Voice: “1998 thriller ‘Ronin’ was the penultimate film of director John Frankenheimer, who died four years later at the age of 72 from a stroke due to complications from spinal surgery. ‘Ronin’ borrows its name from a Japanese term for masterless samurai seeking alternative employment with no lords to serve. In this case, these drifting warriors are ex-Cold War spies and military operatives, brought to life by an international cast including the likes of Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno, and summoned to Paris by a mysterious Irish woman, played by Natascha McElhone, to retrieve a case. Having previously helmed the 1966 Formula One drama ‘Grand Prix’ as well as 1975’s sequel to ‘The French Connection,’ Frankenheimer stages several hair-raising car chase scenes, notably without the use of CGI or greenscreen, even if by his own admission, ‘Ronin’ was predominantly a movie about people. Though the final screenwriting credits proved controversial, with David Mamet hired for a rewrite but opting for a pseudonym alongside original writer J.D. Zeik, the humanity of the characters is demonstrated less by plot than acting, countless small moments of behavior and mannerisms speaking volumes, such as the riveting opening sequence in which DeNiro’s Sam stakes out the bistro where the ronin first meet. The contents of the case, meanwhile, mark one of cinema’s most memorable MacGuffins, a term coined by Angus McPhail and made famous by Alfred Hitchcock, a device that is the reason but irrelevant in and of itself. That irrelevance in conjunction with two alternate endings that were filmed by Frankenheimer but not used, only work in retrospect to underline a movie that is all about dramatically rendering the process, uninterested in the result. Though rest assured the movie’s effect is substantial. Here then, from 1998, ‘Ronin.’”

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