So I do this column very occasionally, and it’s where I talk about movies as my compulsion. Most movies are a pleasure to me, but some are sort of a torture. Still, it’s a rare day when I don’t finish watching a movie, no matter how arduous. For some people, torture can be a secret pleasure. I don’t think I’ve written about many movies that I don’t have at least a tiny bit of affection for, whether or not I’m embarrassed to admit it.
Now this movie I actually hate, but I’ve long been fascinated by how awful and ugly it is, and nobody anywhere ever mentions it, so that’s what I’m here for, I guess. Understand that Lee Marvin is probably my favorite old-school movie star. There was none other who was remotely like him. A movie hero who started his career as a reliable heavy — who else could you compare him to? Humphrey Bogart, maybe. Maybe. But Bogart, once he became a leading man, cut more of a romantic figure. The fascination to me with Lee Marvin, I think, is that he was halfway a villain even when he was the hero. He maintained a fearsome presence throughout all of his roles, regardless of the relative decency of each of his characters. It’s because of that tension, I think, that he was eminently watchable in every single movie he made.
But what happens when the movie around him is horrendously unwatchable?
DOG DAY was made at the tail end of Lee Marvin’s phenomenal career — all that was left after this was THE DIRTY DOZEN: THE NEXT MISSION and then DELTA FORCE — and as such it’s pretty much the opposite of a dignified capstone. It’s the first time onscreen that his trademark gray hair made him look weary and aging. I blame the French. Maybe they just plain didn’t know what to do with a screen actor so quintessentially American.
DOG DAY – or CANICULE, as it’s less appealingly known in its native tongue – is a French production, from a French director, with a largely French supporting cast. CANICULE means “heat wave” in French, and maybe HEAT WAVE could have been a more fitting name. (“Canicule” is kind of an unattractive word, isn’t it? Looks like the name of a fungal growth under a fingernail or something.) DOG DAY as a title is more likely meant to recall DOG DAY AFTERNOON, which does have gunplay in common but is a far more progressive movie. DOG DAY as a movie is kind of a step back for everyone.
It’s hard to find much background information on this movie, since no one anywhere remembers it fondly. (There’s certainly no mention of it in Marvin’s biography.) It starts out with a fairly straightforward set-up, as Lee Marvin and his associate/girlfriend Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, if we must) rob a bank and go on the lam. The girlfriend doesn’t make it, but Marvin keeps going, ending up at a farmhouse that contains the kind of authentically disturbing characters that make the heavies in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE look like THE FIRST WIVES’ CLUB. The least upsetting of them is David Bennent (the baby-man from THE TIN DRUM), the most upsetting is– well, it’s a toss-up. To put it kindly, Tina Louise aside, no one in this part of movie was cast for their physical beauty, and the dingy, clumsy filmmaking does them no favors.
The film revels in ugliness, and I mean ugly in a conceptual sense – the child played by David Bennent is involved in a creepy orgy, a suicide is played for laughs, and there is actually a character (played by an African actor named Joseph Momo) who these bastard filmmakers had the gall to name “Doudou Cadillac.” Make no mistake: They’re calling a black guy “Doo-Doo.” Really, it’s horrendous. But the movie is like a hideous wreck in which a loved one is entombed – the memory is impossible to erase.
For more MOVIES OF THE DAMNED, scroll away…!
PRIVATE SCHOOL (1983)
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Tags: Bernadette Lafont, David Bennent, France, Francis Lai, Jean Carmet, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Joseph Momo, Juliet Mills, Lee Marvin, Miou-Miou, Movies Of The Damned, Poop, The 1980s, Tina Louise, Yves Boisset