remembering the overlooked and underrated

A Fistful of Slush; or, James Coburn Running through a Meadow

In Motion Pictures, Places on December 27, 2010 at 3:35 am

There’s a blizzard outside. Yesterday was Christmas. I was here, by myself, in Brooklyn. It was a day of movies and beer and pajamas. It was a good day. All that was missing was snow. So when I woke up this morning to see it snow through the window, I was ecstatic. Immediately I made grand plans to stomp around in it, to bundle myself up in heavy coat and scarf and embark on an arctic expedition. I would make my way through the cold, deserted streets of Red Hook, across the slick freeway to the neighborhood called Cobble Hill, where I would huff and puff up the sidewalk until I reached a coffee house. With any luck, I’d sit inside for a couple hours, sipping coffee and reading. I saw some kids playing outside. That’s what I wanted to be doing.

So I got bundled up, hurried down the four flights of stairs singing, stepped outside with my arms stretched wide — and WHACK! the cold wind bitch-slapped me right across the face. Faces peered from curtained windows, searching for the woman who had cried so shrilly. They looked more than a little disappointed (and maybe a bit disgusted) when they realized I was the only one on the street.

I didn’t get very far. Fortunately, the coffee bar a couple blocks over was open. I hid inside and sipped coffee. The coffee made me brave and I made faces at the gusts of snow. Across the street some birds huddled on a building.

Now it’s hours later and the snow has piled up to an impressive height. Apparently I am in the midst of an official blizzard. My parents and brother, who were driving here to visit me, are stranded somewhere in Pennsylvania for the night. I can sympathize: when I moved here in August, I got stranded in Pennsylvania for a night, too. Clearly no Campbell can make the journey without at least one night’s stay in the Keystone State.

So let’s take a peek outside:

Yep. None too pleasant.

But for the local TV news stations this is a godsend. Never is local news so important as in bad weather. The graphics team springs to action, creating important-looking logos and captions. Non-news anchors are thrown into the field to interview people stranded at airports, on freeways, or who are too stupid stubborn not to go out. I feel sorry for these reporters. They endure the very conditions the public is told to avoid, and are required to smile while doing it. Why? Is it their desire to be on television? Is it their work ethic? Are they supposed to feel discomfort so that we better appreciate our own? I suppose I should be grateful. I would have no idea that it is dangerous outside, unfit for man or beast (I’ve always wanted to say that), if I couldn’t see a news reporter standing in the unforgiving wind and snow, suffering for all those on their sofas and in their beds. Perhaps this unnecessary field reporting is a way to prove that local news is willing to take risks for me. It certainly makes me feel even better about the hot toddy I’m drinking — and about having a home.  The only thing that could make me feel any fuzzier about having four walls and a roof over me (let’s not forget the bed and TV and laptop) would be images of the homeless during the blizzard. Unfortunately, local news seems unwilling to show me such images. In fact, the reporters seem reluctant to mention anything about people huddling in alleys or in doorways. Maybe that doesn’t happen here in New York City. Maybe the worst I get to see is guys from Jersey pushing cars down off ramps.

Okay, I admit I only watched coverage on a couple channels. I did try, though. I watched as long as I could. But one can only take so much meteorologist banter and fake smiling and big hats. The waves of nausea became too strong. When confronted with schmaltz, stupidity, and impending snowblindness, there is only one solution.

Sergio Leone.

Oh, I was tempted to pass the blizzard with The Man with No Name. Instead, I’m spending time with James Coburn and Rod Steiger. Have you seen A Fistful of Dynamite? It also goes by the name Duck, You Sucker. It was made in 1971, well after Leone’s trilogy with Eastwood. It’s basic plot is simple: Rod Steiger, playing a Mexican bandit, meets up with Coburn, an Irishman with a talent for demolition, and persuades him to help him rob a bank. There’s a revolution backdrop to the story (Pancho Villa gets mentioned  few times), but the movie is essentially about these two tough guys who are betrayed by others and how it brings them closer together in friendship. Sweet and heartwarming, right? Well, along with the bloody violence and spectacular dynamite explosions, you also get to see James Coburn frolicking in a meadow. Now, before you even ask, let me assure you, all frolicking in Duck, You Sucker is in slow motion. Take a look:

Now, lest you get the wrong impression, this movie isn’t that good. It’s easily one of the weakest of Leone’s films. But I didn’t put this movie in because I wanted to hear Coburn’s questionable Irish accent or hear the F-word thrown around awkwardly. I wanted to see rough, dry landscape. I wanted to hear a weird, more-than-slightly annoying score by Ennio Morricone. I wanted to see Coburn’s startlingly big smile and white teeth and hear his deep, one-of-a-kind laugh. This movie should be a temporary reprieve from the storm. Unfortunately, it’s tedious. Its sludge-like pace is excruciating. The parts that are good are terrific, but then there’s all that meandering, as if Leone doesn’t have any idea where he wants this film to go. (Although I shouldn’t criticize too much for meandering, considering how much of it I’m doing in this blog post.)

So the movie is over. Here I am again. Outside it doesn’t look any better.

And that’s it. I have no clever wrap-up. This was an excuse to share some images that struck me today. The blizzard continues. The snow is piling up on the windows. Some of the cars on the street are almost completely buried. Will the kids be playing tomorrow? Maybe they’ll dig tunnels. Maybe they’ll use dynamite. I hope so. I’d love an excuse to open the window and yell, “Duck, you suckers!” Hell, maybe I’ll do it anyway.

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  1. Note: Yelling “Duck you suckers!” out your window at 3:30 in the morning is not advisable. Should you duplicate this action, be prepared to turn all your lights off quickly and pretend not to be home when your neighbors come knocking.

  2. ok, seriously. you have no idea. duck, you sucker is one of my dad’s ALL TIME FAVORITES. the music still occasionally gets stuck in my head. one year for christmas my uncle got him a bootleg copy b/c that was all that was available in the 90s. he still treasures it.
    ps I miss you!

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