A. S. Hamrah

  • Some Like It Fraught

    IN AUGUST 1945, THREE MONTHS AFTER ADOLF HITLER’S SUICIDE in the bunker and the Allied victory in Europe, the Hollywood film director Billy Wilder arrived in Berlin. Wilder’s film Double Indemnity, that pinnacle of film noir, had come out the previous summer to great acclaim and box office success. The Lost Weekend, Wilder’s next film, equally dark and also a future classic, was being readied for fall release at Paramount. Now Wilder had been enlisted by the US Office of War Information to return to the city he’d fled in 1933, when he was forced out of screenwriting because he was a Jew. The

  • Slime Regained

    AT THE END OF MAY 2011 I was standing at the corner of Union and Court Streets in Brooklyn with a man in his late seventies named Bobby Russo, who was born in the apartment where I live. Bobby and I were stopped there because the street was blocked off so that Columbia Pictures could shoot Men in Black 3, a sci-fi action-comedy starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.

    The street had been dressed to look like it might have in 1969, with Peter Max–style advertising in place of the usual signs outside bodegas. As we watched a scene featuring vintage cars and a bus

  • Inherent Nice

    IN JUDD APATOW’S MOVIE This Is 40, from 2012, a married couple played by Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd take a weekend trip to a hotel, where they get in bed and discuss their relationship. Rudd tells Mann that sometimes he feels like she wants to kill him. She admits that’s true, so he asks her how she’d do it. “I’d poison your cupcakes,” she answers, explaining that she would put in just enough toxin to slowly debilitate him. “I would enjoy our last few months together,” she tells her husband, “because you’d be so weak and sweet, and I would take care of you, but while killing you.”

    Fans of recent

  • Deeper into Cocaine

    Howard Koch Jr., assistant director on Chinatown and the son of the former head of production at Paramount Pictures, had always thought of cocaine as “elite,” according to Sam Wasson in The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood. But by 1975, coke had trickled down. “The fucking craft service guy had it . . . the prop guy had it. It was everywhere,” Koch Jr. noticed.

    For this son of Hollywood, the prevalence of cocaine was a portent, like the time in the late 1920s when a shoeshine boy offered Joseph P. Kennedy a stock market tip. A crash was coming. Wasson’s book, a production

  • He Found It at the Movies

    “IF IT WAS A FRIDAY NIGHT, the president’s hair would look much softer and shinier than usual, because he had washed it that afternoon,” Mark Weinberg remembers in Movie Nights with the Reagans, his 2018 memoir detailing the many evenings he spent at Camp David seeing films with President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy. Throughout Reagan’s two terms in the 1980s, Weinberg, then an assistant White House press officer, accompanied the Reagans on their weekend trips to Camp David, the compound located in the hills of Maryland that has been the official retreat of US presidents since 1942.

  • There Will Be Fake Blood

    The shooting of The Wild Bunch was not a pretty picture. If a film were made today the way Sam Peckinpah shot The Wild Bunch in Mexico in 1968, and if people found out, members of the cast and crew would be facing time in jail. The history of the film’s production fascinates because it was all so wrong. What happened encompasses many vices and several crimes, including manslaughter and statutory rape. It is an often repellent tale, a stew of toxic masculinity feeding a movie designed to dismantle the very myths about heroic cowboys, gun violence, and la frontera that it succumbed to as a

  • You Say You Want an Evolution

    STANLEY KUBRICK’S 2001: A Space Odyssey was not a flop when it came out. It was a big hit and ended up the highest-grossing film of 1968. It was especially popular with acidheads and pot smokers, science geeks, budding filmmakers, and people under forty in general. The critics in New York, however, all hated it (except for Penelope Gilliatt in the New Yorker), and it had not done well in preview screenings with studio execs and celebrities, who found it boring and confusing. Those preview screenings and early reviews have become part of the film’s legend. People love to remember how the snobs

  • Germanic Episodes

    “This animal sleeps its whole life away. It’s never really awake.” The Spanish conquistador and mutineer Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) thus describes a sloth in the 1972 West German anti-epic Aguirre, the Wrath of God. The same lethargy cannot be ascribed to the film’s director. Werner Herzog’s unceasing activity as filmmaker, author, lecturer, world traveler, actor in other people’s movies, and rescuer of strangers on the highway makes the paltry accomplishments of other human beings look inadequate and lazy by comparison. He gives the impression of a tirelessness that does not allow for rest, of

  • Red Badge of Courage

    Among the iconic Hollywood Westerns of the 1950s, High Noon, with Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane, remains a classic movie in the most basic sense. More people know what it is than have seen it. High Noon has, in many ways, been reduced to one black-and-white image: Gary Cooper walking down an empty western street, wearing his badge, ready to draw his gun and face his enemies alone. In 1989 this film still was used, with an added red splash, as the campaign poster for Poland's Solidarity movement, Cooper-as-icon standing in for the trade-unionist Lech Wałęsa in his quest to become the country's

  • The Interpretation of Screams

    In 1967, when he was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, David Lynch, the future director of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, made a mixed-media sculpture, a Rube Goldberg device that, as Dennis Lim describes it in his thorough, compact, and illuminating new book on Lynch, “required dropping a ball bearing down a ramp that would, through a daisy chain of switches and triggers, strike a match, light a firecracker, and cause a sculpted female figure’s mouth to open, at which point a red bulb inside would light up, the firecracker would go off, and the sound of a scream