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Sewer-based films

The first half had B-movie immortality written all over it before descending into utter camp trashiness

Kanal: Subterranean homesick blues
Kanal: Subterranean homesick blues

Having spent 14 months in quarantine, the sudden reintroduction to the outside world left me feeling nostalgic for cramped spaces. For those having similar difficulty reacclimating, this week’s viewings selections are all sewer-based. Talk about sanit(ar)y reclamation!


Kanal (1957)

It’s day 56 of the 63 day Warsaw Uprising, the dust in the air refusing to settle as Poland’s ill-fated attempt to liberate the capital city from German rule staggers to an end. (Even more than they feared Nazis, Poles worried Russains would seize power and install a communist government.) With nowhere to turn, a company of resistance fighters take to the city’s sewers as a means of escape. Touch of Evil opens with the most celebrated long take in movie history (3 minutes 16 seconds), but did you know that an almost equally intricate long shot opens Andrzej Wajda’s Kanal — his second film, released one year earlier — and runs a minute longer? The shot introduces all of the major players, all marching to their doom. In what may be a first, audience expectations are significantly throttled by a narrator who fatalistically frames “the heroes of this tragedy in the last hours of their lives.” (How does an anti-war film end happily?) Somewhere around the 45-minute mark, we enter the sewer and don’t come up for air until it’s over. Tension builds to a defiant curtain shot that stands as a slap in the face to the futile practice of pledging blind military allegiance. Available on the Criterion Collection.


The Honeymooners: The Man From Space (1955)

No survey of sewers, even a skimpy one, would be complete without recognizing the Sultan of Cesspools, the Duke of Drainage, and Earle of Culverts: Edward L. Norton (Art Carney). The Honeymooners are so ingrained in my cultural psyche that it’s impossible to watch an episode without having my lips move along with the dialogue. This was a rich one: it’s rare enough to step outside the Kramden’s kitchen, let alone to have the budgetary wherewithal to construct a street-view replica of Norton’s place of work, which is where our story begins. Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) schemes to win the first prize at the Raccoon Lodge Costume Party by talking his buddy into spotting him ten bucks to rent a professional costume. Norton beats him to the punch by renting a set of Parisian threads and going as the man he thought was his hero, Pierre François de la Brioski. Unbeknownst to Norton, his so-called idol wasn’t the man who designed and built the sewers of Paris. Instead, he condemned them. To save you the time of Googling, Brioski was a fictional creation who, I’m guessing, was named in honor of Brioschi, the effervescent antacid that folks in the ‘50s used as a hangover remedy. Time has done little to support the lack of political correctness inherent in the sitcom. This episode alone carries examples of fat-shaming, spousal abuse (“Bang! Zoom!”), and even gay-bashing: Kramden refers to Brioski as Norton’s “sissy hero.” Please don’t hip Republican lawmakers to the show’s cancel culture potential, lest another benchmark of my childhood go the way of Dr. Seuss and Pepe LePew. Catch The Honeymooners on Amazon Prime.


C.H.U.D. (1980)

Who wins when John Heard and Daniel Stern, two of the most compulsively watchable actors to emerge from the late ‘70s, devote their unassailable talents to schlocky sci-fi? We do! Ornery, lapsed fashion photographer George Cooper (Heard) — a portraitist who thought he’d kicked his habit of snapping mannequins — and his pregnant model girlfriend Lauren Daniels (Kim Greist) stave off an army of carnivorous “undergrounders” responsible for a rash of murders. Joining them are A.J. “The Reverend” Shepherd (Stern), a staunch hippie soup kitchen proprietor who believes the government is behind the recent homeless murders. Representing law and order is Bosch (Christopher Curry), a faultily constructed cop whose motivation matches his name. His wife, the first victim we see, disappears while walking the dog, yet for the police captain, it appears to be just another day on the job. It isn’t until Stern questions why a Captain was sent to investigate something as insignificant as missing homeless that Bosch hits him with the guilt-tripping confession that his wife is among the missing. As it turns out, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not only aware of the problem, they have an acronym for it: C.H.U.D. as in Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. Or is it Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal? The first half had B-movie immortality written all over it before descending into utter camp trashiness. Less is more. That’s a rule director Douglas Cheek failed to observe before unleashing his army of paper lantern-eyed monsters. And if a chintzier send-up of Hitchcock’s often-imitated shower scene exists, keep it to yourself. Available on blu-ray through Arrow Video.

 

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Kanal: Subterranean homesick blues
Kanal: Subterranean homesick blues

Having spent 14 months in quarantine, the sudden reintroduction to the outside world left me feeling nostalgic for cramped spaces. For those having similar difficulty reacclimating, this week’s viewings selections are all sewer-based. Talk about sanit(ar)y reclamation!


Kanal (1957)

It’s day 56 of the 63 day Warsaw Uprising, the dust in the air refusing to settle as Poland’s ill-fated attempt to liberate the capital city from German rule staggers to an end. (Even more than they feared Nazis, Poles worried Russains would seize power and install a communist government.) With nowhere to turn, a company of resistance fighters take to the city’s sewers as a means of escape. Touch of Evil opens with the most celebrated long take in movie history (3 minutes 16 seconds), but did you know that an almost equally intricate long shot opens Andrzej Wajda’s Kanal — his second film, released one year earlier — and runs a minute longer? The shot introduces all of the major players, all marching to their doom. In what may be a first, audience expectations are significantly throttled by a narrator who fatalistically frames “the heroes of this tragedy in the last hours of their lives.” (How does an anti-war film end happily?) Somewhere around the 45-minute mark, we enter the sewer and don’t come up for air until it’s over. Tension builds to a defiant curtain shot that stands as a slap in the face to the futile practice of pledging blind military allegiance. Available on the Criterion Collection.


The Honeymooners: The Man From Space (1955)

No survey of sewers, even a skimpy one, would be complete without recognizing the Sultan of Cesspools, the Duke of Drainage, and Earle of Culverts: Edward L. Norton (Art Carney). The Honeymooners are so ingrained in my cultural psyche that it’s impossible to watch an episode without having my lips move along with the dialogue. This was a rich one: it’s rare enough to step outside the Kramden’s kitchen, let alone to have the budgetary wherewithal to construct a street-view replica of Norton’s place of work, which is where our story begins. Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) schemes to win the first prize at the Raccoon Lodge Costume Party by talking his buddy into spotting him ten bucks to rent a professional costume. Norton beats him to the punch by renting a set of Parisian threads and going as the man he thought was his hero, Pierre François de la Brioski. Unbeknownst to Norton, his so-called idol wasn’t the man who designed and built the sewers of Paris. Instead, he condemned them. To save you the time of Googling, Brioski was a fictional creation who, I’m guessing, was named in honor of Brioschi, the effervescent antacid that folks in the ‘50s used as a hangover remedy. Time has done little to support the lack of political correctness inherent in the sitcom. This episode alone carries examples of fat-shaming, spousal abuse (“Bang! Zoom!”), and even gay-bashing: Kramden refers to Brioski as Norton’s “sissy hero.” Please don’t hip Republican lawmakers to the show’s cancel culture potential, lest another benchmark of my childhood go the way of Dr. Seuss and Pepe LePew. Catch The Honeymooners on Amazon Prime.


C.H.U.D. (1980)

Who wins when John Heard and Daniel Stern, two of the most compulsively watchable actors to emerge from the late ‘70s, devote their unassailable talents to schlocky sci-fi? We do! Ornery, lapsed fashion photographer George Cooper (Heard) — a portraitist who thought he’d kicked his habit of snapping mannequins — and his pregnant model girlfriend Lauren Daniels (Kim Greist) stave off an army of carnivorous “undergrounders” responsible for a rash of murders. Joining them are A.J. “The Reverend” Shepherd (Stern), a staunch hippie soup kitchen proprietor who believes the government is behind the recent homeless murders. Representing law and order is Bosch (Christopher Curry), a faultily constructed cop whose motivation matches his name. His wife, the first victim we see, disappears while walking the dog, yet for the police captain, it appears to be just another day on the job. It isn’t until Stern questions why a Captain was sent to investigate something as insignificant as missing homeless that Bosch hits him with the guilt-tripping confession that his wife is among the missing. As it turns out, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not only aware of the problem, they have an acronym for it: C.H.U.D. as in Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. Or is it Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal? The first half had B-movie immortality written all over it before descending into utter camp trashiness. Less is more. That’s a rule director Douglas Cheek failed to observe before unleashing his army of paper lantern-eyed monsters. And if a chintzier send-up of Hitchcock’s often-imitated shower scene exists, keep it to yourself. Available on blu-ray through Arrow Video.

 

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Comments
2

I can forgive excluding the manholes of Mimic, since it's actually a very good movie that only spends part of its time under the streets, but no Alligator?! It's only Robert Forster's greatest movie, and the gator who gobbles up lab rats and ends up crashing thru the Chicago pavement is far more menacing than the cannibalistics of CHUD - gators in sewers are real!

May 22, 2021

Where have you been, Jay? Do you think I'd overlook that masterwork? I love the movie so much, I covered it a few months back in [email protected]: Alligators Edition. https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2...

May 23, 2021

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