? in ‘Across the Pacific’

The Maltese Falcon (1941), Across the Pacific (1942), and Casablanca (a little later in 1942) make up a trio of films that interlock in complicated ways.

All three: star Humphrey Bogart, costar Sidney Greenstreet, released by Warner Brothers.

Falcon and Pacific: directed by John Huston, costar Mary Astor (whom the Bogie character calls “Angel”), Greenstreet character referred to as “the Fat Man.” (He’s even called that in the Across the Pacific newspaper ad, above.)

Falcon and Casablanca: costar Peter Lorre.

Pacific and Casablanca: Bogart character named “Rick,” film is set in the days just before Pearl Harbor.

Across the Pacific is the weakest of the three, but it’s the only one with a movie-in-movie scene, and hence it’s my subject today. Bogart is Rick Leland, who, as the movie opens, has been court-martialed from the U.S. Army for stealing. But things are not as they seem. He’s actually a spy on a top-secret mission, which involves him traveling on a Japanese ship from Nova Scotia to Yokahama. But the ship is held up in Panama, where the denouement takes place.

The whole thing is pretty ludicrous, not to mention racist. Rick at one point actually says, “They all look alike.” (Huston and Warner Brothers must have thought so, too: all the Japanese characters are played by people of Chinese descent. In 1942, of course, Japanese-Americans were otherwise engaged in internment camps.)

But by the time, the movie-in-movie scene comes around, all the plot points have been taken care of and we can get down to action. Rick’s contact has told him to go to a movie house, which turns out to service Panama’s apparently sizeable Japanese community. Rick sits down, and Huston very skillfully builds suspense that suddenly erupts in a climax reminiscent of HItchock’s Saboteur, which had come out just a few months earlier. Note the audio track, with its mix of audience titters, a crying baby, and the movie’s dialogue and soundtrack.

Now, you will have noticed the question mark in the title of this post. The usually reliable IMDB doesn’t name the film being shown, and I haven’t been able to find it in any other source. I happen to have a neighbor and occasional tennis partner named Satoru Saito, who is a professor of Japanese literature and film at Rutgers University. He was kind enough to take a look at the clip and reported:

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out the name of the film. The poster in the lobby (the same one as the outside) is a women’s magazine (Fujin koron) cover. As for what the characters are saying, it’s a bit hard because the woman is definitely not a Japanese speaker, and they are both reading off a script (the movie is likely a silent film, and I don’t know if what is being said accurately reflects the silent movie). The dialogue is something like this:

The man: “I will make sure to use my time only for you.  I won’t go out with Hanako.   For ___ reason, I couldn’t help it.”

Woman: “I am happy to hear that…. Oh my classmates are here.”

Classmates: “They are very touchy.”

Man: “You must be tired; let’s go for some tea.”

Woman: “I don’t think I can today.”

Man: “Don’t say that, let’s go.”

So that’s all I got. If anybody has a clue to what this movie is, I would be delighted to hear it.

Spielberg Roundup, II: ‘Dumbo’ in ‘1941’; ‘Goldfinger’ in ‘Catch Me If You Can’; ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ in ‘Munich’

When we left Steven Spielberg, he was putting various movies and TV shows into Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was his second blockbuster in a row, after Jaws. Their success gave him permission to try something completely different, 1941, which I didn’t see when it came out in 1979 and can now report is his mashup of The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, in being a madcap, star-studded, slapstick movie about an aborted invasion of the U.S. Also like IAMMMMW (there’s no way to sugarcoat this), it is a mess.

The movie-in-movie scene is one of the quieter ones, and one of the more appealing. General Joseph Stillwell (Robert Stack) — who was actually stationed in California in 1941 — is portrayed as a movie buff and a softie. He sneaks into a Hollywood cinema to see Disney’s 1941 release.

That’s right, Dumbo. It makes no sense, but I guess it’s the ultimate kitchen sink in this very kitchen-sink movie.

Flash forward a quarter of a century or so. Spielberg has achieved his status as the ultimate popular entertainer, eager and able to explore a variety of cinematic forms and historical periods. Catch Me If You Can (2002) is firmly set in that moment when the early ’60s was about to turn into the middle ’60s, that is to say 1964. And what better film to stand for a certain aspect of that moment than … pause for bass line and Shirley Bassey voice … Goldfinger. I well remember the excitement when this third Bond film came out, what with Sean Connery at the peak of his form (never mind the toup), the double-entendre character names (well, one character), and the iconic cars, props and set pieces. How were we to know that the moment would pass and become passe in an instant — and the movie turn into as much a period piece as Connery’s baby-blue terrycloth swimming ensemble?

In this clip, young con man Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) hears himself described as “James Bond of the sky.” Then quick cuts to Goldfinger (Gert Frobe is the other guy in a swim outfit), and a dolly-shot zoom in on DiCaprio watching the movie in a theater.

As you can see, even more humorous edits ensue, culminating with DiCaprio (or his double) at the wheel of an Aston-Martin tooling through New York. It’s an entertaining sequence, yet my ultimate reaction is that it probably wasn’t worth the expense of the dolly shot, licensing Goldfinger and John Barry’s Bond music, and putting the car and a period setting in the middle of Manhattan. Not to mention the suit. Of course, if you’re Spielberg, what’s a few dollars more in the budget?

In Munich (2005), the movie-in-movie is an easy-to-miss grace note. Spielberg has frequently talked about how much he was influenced by John Ford, once saying, “I try to rent a John Ford film, one or two, before I start every movie. Simply because he inspires me and I’m very sensitive to the way he uses his camera to paint his pictures.” He used The Quiet Man in a key scene in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Munich is about Israel’s targeted assassination of those it suspected of involvement in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. More broadly, it’s about the complicated morality and personal costs of such an enterprise.

In an early sequence, the Israeli operatives are following a Palestinian translator and poet living in Rome, who is on their list. We watch them watching him as he goes into a small corner store and buys some groceries. There’s a small TV playing. Presently, the man leaves the store and is murdered.

You wouldn’t know it because the TV is in fact so small, but the film that’s shown is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), one of Ford’s profound meditations on violence, its costs and its arguable necessity. I believe it’s my favorite movie-in-movie in all of Spielberg.

Spielberg Roundup, Part I: ‘Sssssss’ and ‘Whoa: Be-Gone!’ in ‘The Sugarland Express’; ‘Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century’ and ‘The Ten Commandments’ in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’

Not surprisingly for a charter member of the Film School Generation of directors, Steven Spielberg has always been a savvy user of movie-in-movies. We’ve already considered E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, and Minority Report. This post and the next will look at a few more Spielbergs, in chronological order.

His first feature film, in 1974, was The Sugarland Express, with Goldie Hawn and William Atherton, a low-speed chase movie based on the true story of of a real-life Texas couple who took a cop hostage in their quest to wrest back their toddler from his adoptive parents. It has a real ’70s vibe, with its improv-seeming scenes, use of non-actors, and sense of the American roadscape that’s at once loving and ironic. The last is enhanced by Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography, often grainy because of long shots showing an endless trail of police cars. The movie is of a piece with contemporaneous character-centered slices of Americana like Terence Malick’s Badlands, Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us, and Lamont Johnson’s The Last American Hero.

Spielberg, of course, would quickly pivot to a very different approach, but this movie works best in its small moments (the periodic car wrecks are tiresome), including the movie-in-movie sequence. Hawn and Atherton are hiding out in an RV that’s in a used-car lot overlooking a drive-in-movie. (Talk about the American roadscape!) We only briefly see the film that’s playing, but reliable sources assert that it’s Sssssss (1973), whose premise an IMDB contributor summarizes as: “A college student becomes lab assistant to a scientist who is working on a serum that can transform humans into snakes.”

Trust me: the movie on the drive-in screen is “Sssssss”

Sssssss has nothing to do, on any level, with The Sugarland Express, and I’m pretty sure the only reason it was used is that — like Sugarland — it was produced by Richard Zanuck and David Brown and released by Universal, and hence cost little or nothing.

The more pointed movie-in-movie is a cartoon that subsequently comes on at the drive-in, the Road Runner short “Whoa, Be Gone!” (1958), directed by Chuck Jones. (This is the third time I’ve noted Jones being used in feature films, the others being The Shining and the Spielberg-produced Gremlins.) “Hey, we got a free movie next door!” says Hawn’s character:

Improbably, Spielberg makes the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote’s antics into a tender moment, and foreshadowing of what lies in store for the young couple.

Spielberg followed up Sugarland Express with Jaws (no movies-in-movie) and, in 1977, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which is marked by quite a few — and quite varied — inserts. IMDB claims that a Road Runner clip is shown on a TV, but I confess I wasn’t able to spot it. It’s impossible, however, to miss another Chuck Jones short, the classic “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century” (1953), which is on TV as Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) obsessively labors on a his model of a landscape that’s really important, he doesn’t know exactly why. The contrast, of course, is between Jones’s wacky version of spacemen and Roy’s (implicitly) real ones.

In a couple of other moments, the urgency of the scenario is contrasted with the banality of ‘ the 70s TV shows that are playing in the background: Policewoman in one scene, The Days of Our Lives in another.

The tastiest meta set piece is a scene where Roy’s at home with his wife (Teri Garr) and three kids. He gets temporarily distracted from his UFO obsession by the fact that Pinocchio — for some reason one of his favorite movies — is playing at a local theater. The Disney reference isn’t the only one in Spielberg: Gremlins features Snow White and in the next post, you’ll see what’s in 1941. It’s (to me) an odd enthusiasm — I much prefer the madcap and antic Chuck Jones — and I’m with the kids, who vote to play miniature golf instead.

The focus then shifts to Cecil DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956), which is playing on TV. Everybody except Garr is transfixed by it: the kids for unknown reasons, and Roy because Mt. Sinai resembles, of all things, the landscape that’s haunting his consciousness.

It’s a long movie but, Roy says, “I told them they’d only watch five commandments.”

Next: 1941, Catch Me If You Can, and Munich.

‘La Marseilles’ in ‘Mississippi Mermaid’

As is well known, François Trufffaut was a movie critic before becoming a director; not surprisingly, many of his films were informed by other films. This was definitely true of The Bride Wore Black (1968) and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), both heavily influenced by one of Truffaut’s favorite directors, Alfred Hitchcock. (In the early ’60s, the two directors met for a series of interviews that became the classic book Hitchcock/Truffaut.)

The Hitchcock influences in Mississippi Mermaid are certainly evident: the suspense story revolving around deception and uncertain identity, the beautiful and possibly treacherous icy blonde (Catherine Deneuve), the Psycho-esque staircase murder. But the film has another influence as well, Truffaut’s favorite French director, Jean Renoir (1894-1979), to whom it is dedicated. Having two such different household gods (Renoir the humanist, Hitchcock the manipulator of audience reaction and emotion) leaves the movie a little schizophrenic. In fact, the suspense story is pretty much dispensed with after the first forty minutes or so, and the rest of the film is a tale of descent and obsession that’s more reminiscent of, I don’t know, Theodore Dreiser.

The movie-in-movie takes place right after the opening credits, when a narrator (uncredited, but I’m guessing it’s Truffaut) tells the history of Réunion, the French-owned island off the coast of Africa where the early part of the film takes place. And all of a sudden, there’s a substantial clip from Renoir’s 1938 docudrama La Marseilles, showing the historical incident from which the island took its name.

The clip represents a first for this blog: a movie containing a segment from another movie that isn’t watched by the first movie’s characters, but rather is just inserted.

However, the characters in Mississippi Mermaid do watch movies. (We just don’t see them doing it.) At one point, the tobacco plantation owner played by Jean-Paul Belmondo announces his attention to do so; asked what he will be seeing, he replies “Arizona Jim.” That’s a reference to Renoir’s 1936 The Crime of Monsieur Lange, in which a character writes westerns featuring a cowboy of that name. Later Belmondo and Deneuve are seen leaving a cinema where they’ve just seen Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954). The movie was a favorite of Truffaut and his auteur critical school, and, on leaving, the characters agree that it’s not a typical western and “really very good.”

Photo credit: filmsinfilms.com

Truffaut couldn’t resist one more reference to his mentor. On the wall to the left is a poster for The Elusive Corporal (1962) which proved to be Renoir’s final feature film.

‘Beast with a Gun,’ ‘Detroit 9000’ and ‘Dirty Mary Crazy Larry ‘ in ‘Jackie Brown’

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown isn’t a very good movie, but it’s interesting, which is not nothing. Re-watching the 1997 film — an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch — on HBO Max, I was struck, first, by how self-indulgent Tarantino is and, second, how he carries self-indulgence off better than most. Much of the film’s two hour and thirty-four-minute running time is occupied by Tarantino sticking a camera in front of two or three of his formidable cast (Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro), and then not turning it off for a long time. Far from being boring, the long takes usually foment a kind of fascination.

The thing I found most interesting about the movie was how, despite being set in the mid-’90s present tense, it is firmly planted in the 1970s. That applies to the soundtrack, which kicks off with Bobby Womack’s rousing “Across 110th Street” and includes a couple of great Philadelphia soul tunes from the Delfonics, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” and “La-la Means I Love You.” The characters played by Grier and Forster actually bond over the Delfonics, and another feature of the film is how Tarantino’s camera lingers over the interesting faces of those two ’70s icons, neither in the first bloom of youth.

The other really ’70s thing about Jackie Brown is the movies-in-movie aspect. Jackson plays a two-bit gun smuggler named Ordell Robbie and Fonda his surfer-girl girlfriend. At one point Ordell walks in on her smoking a bong:

Ordell: Goddamn girl, you gettin’ high already? It’s just 2 o’clock!

Melanie: [chuckling] It’s that late?

Ordell: You know you smoke too much of that shit, that shit gonna rob you of your own ambition.

Melanie: Not if your ambition is to get high and watch TV.

Indeed, the TV is always on in the apartment, and what do you know, it’s tuned to a channel whose continuous fare, somehow, is 1970s grindhouse flicks. The first we glimpse is Beast with a Gun (1977). IMDB’s plot summary: “In Italy, escaped sadistic killer Nanni Vitali and his henchmen terrorize the populace and seek revenge against those responsible for Vitali’s incarceration.”

And right, Helmut Berger it is.

Later, Jackie Brown (Grier), in a red dress, walks by the TV as it’s playing Detroit 9000, a 1973 blaxploitation flick which Tarantrino likes so much he sponsored its reissue on DVD a few years back.

The most delicious moment is Fonda watching Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1973). How come? Well, it stars her dad, Peter — shown here with Susan George, kind of a ’70s icon herself.

‘Easy Living’ in ‘After the Fox’

If I say “mid-’60s madcap Peter Sellers comedy, with a theme song by Burt Bacharach and poster art by Frank Frazetta,” what movie comes to mind? Most likely it’s What’s New, Pussycat? (1965), but today’s topic is Pussycat‘s sort of sequel, After the Fox.

I say “sort of” because the movies don’t have common characters or plot elements, just the features listed above and United Artists as a production company. And that allowed the Pussycat reference in the After the Fox poster.

The movie was recommended to me by Eric Hanson, who was inspired to stream it on Amazon Prime because of its noteworthy creators: Sellers as star, Neil Simon as writer (this was his first screenplay), and Vittorio De Sica as director. De Sica also has a cameo as himself, directing a biblical epic with “John Huston” playing Moses. It’s not the real John Huston, just one of many cinematic in-jokes in After the Fox. Earlier in 1966, Huston had played Noah in his own epic, The Bible.

Anyway, Eric had commended it to my attention because of yet another in-joke, the movie-in-movie scene. I will set it up as simply as possible. The movie takes place in Italy and Sellers plays a criminal on the run from the law. Britt Ekland (his wife at the time) is his sister. Victor Mature is Tony Powell, a washed-up American actor who happens to be in Rome at the time and has just been set on by a mob of adoring fans.


A couple of things to unpack. The first poster they see is for Crimine a Due, a real 1964 Italian horror film. The poster for the movie they do see says Il Giocatore (“The Player.”) There is no such movie but it fits with the film that’s being screened in the theater, Easy Living, a 1949 melodrama starring Lizabeth Scott and Mature as a washed-up football player. Then we see Mature as Tony Powell in the present day, in a hotel room with his agent, played by Martin Balsam, whom it’s always good to see.

And finally, full credit to Mature. He came out of retirement (his first of several) to spoof himself, even consenting to submit himself to egregious hair dye. That’s what I call taking one for the team.

‘The Egg and I’ in ‘Brute Force’

Contrast is almost a prerequisite when it comes to effective movie-in-movies. It would be hard to find one more pronounced than in Jules Dassin’s 1947 prison melodrama from Universal Brute Force. Actually, you’d think that whoever does the cinematic programming at this pen should be fired, as probably the last movie Burt Lancaster and his fellow hardened cons would be expected to enjoy would be The Egg and I. That comedy is also from Universal and was released just a few months before Brute Force. It’s also unlikely that a prison would get its hands on such a recent movie, but chalk that up to poetic license.

The Egg and I is about the wacky misadventures of a couple from the city (Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert) when they decide to go into the chicken-farming business. The inmates have a surprising reaction.


The appreciative chuckles at this fluff either the ultimate poetic license, or the prisoners are so starved for entertainment that they’d lap up anything.

Incidentally, looking into this pairing led me to a funny anecdote told by one of my favorite DJs, Jonathan Schwartz, and recounted by blogger Peter Filichia. It seems that long ago, a TV programmer in the Midwest

“decided one night to show both films — first Brute Force, until the moment where the men go to see the movie, at which point he interpolated The Egg and I in its entirety. Yes, all 104 minutes of it. During commercials, he’d intone, “You are watching Brute Force, starring Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn” — though someone who’d tuned in late would swear that he was watching The Egg and I.

“Finally, after that light comedy finished up, our programmer returned to the scene in Brute Force where the guys are getting up from the table after having watched the movie…. The programmer then continued with the rest of Brute Force, giving viewers a 199-minute orgy of 1947 Hollywood!”

Thanks to Eric Hanson for the suggestion.

‘Snow White’ (and a lot more) in ‘Gremlins’

If asked to name to the most movie-conscious movie, I probably wouldn’t select Gremlins. But Joe Dante’s 1984 horror-comedy belongs in the discussion.

The film’s best-known movie-in-movie scene occurs when the apparently cute, but actually viciously destructive, title creatures have taken over the local cinema. Initially, there’s some trouble in the projection booth, but that gets sorted out.

The movie the gremlins are watching, of course, is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). It’s a knowing choice, showing the striking transition in animated sidekicks from Disney’s lovable dwarfs to Dante’s disgusting critters. But gross as they are, they’re also — in their rapt involvement with what they’re watching — the sort of audience a director can only dream of.

And if you think it’s odd that a 1937 movie should be on offer in an early ’80s cinema, you shouldn’t: Disney re-released Snow White in the Christmas season roughly every decade, the last time in 1983. Gremlins is a Christmas movie as well (though it was rushed to a June release, apparently so that its studio could have some blockbuster competition against Ghostbusters and the second Indiana Jones movie). It has lots of nods to the ultimate Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, including the fact that the main character, Billy (Zack Galligan), works in a bank, and both the look and the name (the Bedford Falls-sounding Kingston Falls) of the town where it’s set.

An early movie-in-movie scene is a more explicit shout-out to Frank Capra’s classic. Billy and his mother (Frances Lee McCain) are in the family kitchen.

I love it that she doesn’t have the sound on: at this point,Wonderful Life is so familiar that it’s really not necessary. And is she crying at the ending of the movie (which would be happy tears, not sad ones, right?), or from the big pile of onions she’s just chopped?

Here are the other movies in the movie, in no particular order. I find all but one of them clever and fun.

Billy and Gizmo, the Mogwai who inadvertently spawned the gremlins, watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) on TV. The parallels are obvious.

Playing in the classroom of the high school science teacher (Glynn Turman) is Hemo the Magnificent, a 1956 documentary about the circulatory system directed by none other than Frank Capra.

Mr. Futterman (Dick Miller), who is bitter at foreign imports up to and including the gremlins taking over from American-made products, finds that his TV will only play kind of the ultimate foreign film, Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orpheus.

My favorite Easter egg takes places in the local bar, where the TV is barely visible. IMDB informs me that what’s showing on it is the 1949 Pepe Le Peu cartoon For Scent-imental Reasons, directed by Chuck Jones. And guess who’s the customer walking along the bar, looking at it? Chuck Jones himself. (Phoebe Cates is the waitress, Judge Reinhold the dude on the left.)

The one movie-in-this-movie whose point I can’t quite figure out is To Please a Lady (1950), which looks to be a pretty bad car-racing movie starring Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck. But Gizmo and Billy’s dog clearly don’t share my opinion. There’s probably an in-joke in there somewhere, and if anyone can spot it, please let me know.

“Her Hour of Love” in “Taxi”

I was looking around on the invaluable Films in Films site and came on an entry for Roy Del Ruth’s 1932 movie Taxi. (Films in Films lists it as Taxi! but the original posters and such do not have an exclamation mark.) FIF says the film includes scenes from the same director’s Side Show, released the previous year. This was exciting to me because, up till now, the earliest example I’ve found of a sound film using clips from another sound film is Wild Boys of the Road (1933), which uses Footlight Parade. And Taxi came out more than a year earlier.

The movie-in-movie situation turned out to be a bit more complicated than that, which I’ll get to in a minute. But to start, Taxi (available for rental on Amazon Prime) is a weird, wonderful, and disturbing movie. The bread and butter of impressionists used to be James Cagney saying, “You dirty rat. You killed my brother.” And that started with Taxi, where Cagney plays New York City cabdriver Matt Nolan. As with many famous lines, he didn’t say exactly those words. A bad guy does indeed kill his brother, and in one improbable plot turn, Matt’s wife, Sue (Loretta Young), gives some assistance to the killer. Matt shoves Sue around (he’s always socking people, dames included) and says, “The dirty rat kills Danny and you help him get away with it!” Later, a la R. Kelly, the killer is locked in a closet and Matt exclaims, “Come out and take it, you dirty yellow-bellied rat or I’ll give it to ya through the door!” Spoiler alert: he goes ahead and shoots. Matt’s a true sociopath, and the disturbing thing is the movie pretty much gives him a pass on that.

Taxi also has this kind of amazing scene:

Cagney was born on the Lower East Side and really did speak Yiddish. An article in the Forward summarizes what’s going on here:

The man tells the policeman that he urgently needs to go to Ellis Island because his wife and children are due to arrive and becomes incensed that the cop cannot understand his “plain Mame-Loshn.” After insulting the cop, calling him fat and a dummy — literally: a “gentile head” — the Jewish man asks Matt if he is a fellow member of the tribe. “What else would I be, a sheygets?,” Cagney’s character responds. (Sheygets is the male equivalent of a shiksa.)

And one more little sidelight. In another amazing scene, Sue and Matt enter a foxtrot contest, and who should beat them out but an uncredited George Raft, in one of his first roles?

I came to Taxi after watching Footlight Parade and a bunch of other Warner Brothers pre-Code musicals, and it’s fun to watch members of the Warners stock company like Guy Kibbee and George E. Stone show up in non-musical roles. In this sequence, Matt and Sue go to the movies with Stone (as fellow cabbie Skeets) and Leila Bennett, playing a wise-cracking waitress, Ruby (and stealing the picture).

Gentle fun is poked at Warners star John Barrymore, and slightly less gentle at Paramount’s Fredric March, who had just played a Barrymore-like thespian in The Royal Family of Broadway. Ruby’s favorite, Joe E. Brown, was a comedy star at Warners.

Here’s the movie-in-movie:

In the entire history of movie-in-movies scenes, from silent days up through Mad Men, the predominant theme for the trope has been a contrast between the idealized or hokey, “Hollywood” world that the characters watch, and their own “real” world. (And the enduring richness of the trope, of course, derives from the fact that their world isn’t really real, either.) Here, what’s onscreen is hokey and Hollywood to the max: with stilted acting, lousy synchronization, and melodramatic lines like, “My life seems misspent. The meaning has gone out of everything and left only … ashes.” (The dialogue brings to mind the scene in Harold Pinter’s The Last Tycoon script where Robert DeNiro, playing an Irving Thalberg-like executive, rips a screenwriter for the line he’s penned in response to “I love you” — “And I you!”)

The Taxi characters’ reaction eliminates any doubt we might have about the badness of the movie they and we are watching. And by the way, Cagney’s line in reference to the male lead, Donald Cook –“His ears are too big” — is another in-joke. That was commonly said about another actor from a rival studio, MGM’s Clark Gable.

Now as to the identity of that crummy movie. The marquee says it’s Her Hour of Love — “GREATEST PICTURE OF ALL TIME.” (Hardy har har.) There is no such film, though One Hour of Love was a 1927 silent. Both Films in Films and IMDB say the actual footage is from Side Show, directed by Del Ruth in 1931. That is not true, as I can attest now that I’ve seen Side Show, which is available for rental on YouTube. That film does indeed feature Cook and Evalyn Knapp (the onscreen lovers) but it’s a circus-set comic adventure. Del Ruth, Cook, and Knapp worked up this scene especially for Taxi.

So Wild Boys of the Road still hasn’t been displaced. Taxi does, however, hold the distinction of being the first movie to include clips from a fake movie, and that is not nothing.

‘The Outlaw’ in ‘Citizens of the World’

My wife is obsessed with all things Italian, and through one of her email subscriptions heard about an online showing of a 2019 film called Citizens of the World (Italian title: Lontano Lontano), to benefit the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society. It seemed like a good cause and a good film, so we paid our $12.50 and streamed it.

Good choice. The movie, directed by Gianni Di Gregorio, is a very well-observed, funny, gentle and (most important) un-cliched character study of three Roman retirees who decide that the only way to make their pensions cover their living costs would be to move abroad. Complications ensue. (By the way, it’s also available for rental on Amazon.)

As a bonus, there’s an early movie-in-movie scene. One of the guys, played by the director, is a retired teacher known only as “Il Profesore.” We see him in his apartment, preparing dinner. And then:

The choice of movie serves a couple of purposes: one, the comedy of the professor’s sleeping through a shoot-’em-up and, two, more subtly, the implication that perhaps that his time, the time of black and white westerns, has passed by.

My only problem is that I can’t i.d. the movie. It’s listed neither in the Films in Films website nor the user-generated “Connections” sections of IMDB. If anyone can name the movie the professor is dozing to, I’ll put it up on IMDB myself.

Update: Shortly after posting this, I made a plea on Facebook and Twitter for help in identifying the movie. Within minutes, three separate people — Francie Halderman, Lewis Beale and Nancy Friedman (Twitter @fritinancy) — had pegged it as Howard Hughes’s infamous The Outlaw (1943), starring Jane Russell. That adds to the joke, as the Professor even sleeps through Russell’s va-va-voomitude.

I immediately filed the Connection with UMDB. Grazie tutti!