The Review/Short Read/

What To Watch This Weekend

A rare Jack Nicholson appearance and a terrifying prediction of when Trump met Putin lies ahead

Oct 28, 2016

A TRUMPED-UP COMPARISON? We wrap up our “Election Year Special” mini-series this Saturday with the 1962 political-paranoia classic The Manchurian Candidate, whose title has been invoked many a time this past year in response to Donald Trump’s spectacular rise to certain (?) defeat in the presidential election. But, Trump’s Putin-palling aside, how exactly does this bizarrely byzantine thriller — about a bellicose anti-Communist senator serving as a stalking horse for a Red Chinese takeover of the United States — apply to the Trump candidacy? Our erstwhile Review contributor Adam Nayman parses this question over at Cinema Scope, so have a read — and pray we don’t all come down with a case of the D.T.s come November 8.

The Manchurian Candidate screens on Saturday, October 29 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.*


Jack Nicholson’s satyr grin has become such a fixture in American cinema and pop culture that it’s easy to forget that, in the first decade of his career, the wearer of the grin was more sought after for his talents behind the camera than in front of it. As part of the unofficial Roger Corman stock company in the 1960s — where he cut his teeth (literally) as root-canal enthusiast Wilbur Force in the original Little Shop of Horrors, among other memorable assignments — Nicholson supplemented his acting income by writing scripts for the avuncular exploitation impresario. In 1964, Nicholson worked as both actor and writer on a pair of Philippines-shot cheapies with director Monte Hellman, Flight to Fury and Back Door to Hell — which would pay dividends (artistic, if not financial) two years later.

Pleased with the efficient, back-to-back production model of the duo’s previous collaborations, Corman asked Nicholson and Hellman to shoot two westerns for him at once, utilizing much of the same cast and crew for each to maximize his investment. Nicholson wrote, produced and starred in the first of the pair, Ride in the Whirlwind, a terse, gritty chase movie in which three innocent cowpokes are pursued by a posse who have mistaken them for outlaws. (In the second and better-known film, The Shooting — written by Carole Eastman a.k.a. Adrien Joyce, who would later script the Nicholson-starring classic Five Easy Pieces — Nicholson was an actor only, playing spiffy, amoral gunslinger Billy Spear alongside the great Warren Oates.)

Pawned off on a distributor who promptly sold them to TV, the two films virtually vanished in North America (though they attracted much admiring critical attention in Europe) and Nicholson returned to the writer’s ghetto, penning the script for Corman’s psychedelic LSD odyssey The Trip and the Monkees vehicle Head before ascending to “instant” stardom with his performance in Easy Rider. While we would be much poorer without Jack on screen over the decades, one wonders what might have been had his star not made its ascent quite so high — if, instead of his very infrequent writing and directing turns over the ensuing decades (Drive, He Said in 1971, Goin’ South in 1978 and The Two Jakes in 1990), the unique sensibility on view in Whirlwind would have yielded more eccentric and intriguing films from the scrappier fringes of the American cinema.

Ride in the Whirlwind screens on Sunday, October 30 as part of TIFF Cinematheque Special Screenings.

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