Bright Lights Film Journal

Moments of Xtreme Method

Maybe this has happened to you: you’re watching a film, dum de dum, suddenly… METHOD! Where did it come from and where does it go when it’s gone? Let’s take three examples that jump immediately to mind:

1. Robert De Niro in BLOODY MAMA (1970).

Roger Corman is noted for giving a lot of future stars their first breaks, thanks to his “just get it done under budget and you can do whatever the hell you want” approach. Here he lets method paragons like Bruce Dern, Shelly Winters and a very young Robert De Niro go completely nutso as Ma Barker and her bloody brood. While the brood keeps a low profile at an Ozark lakefront hideout, De Niro’s scrawny junky spies a beautiful girl bathing off aways, he’s led more or less by the wafts of opium and desire to come right after her. While she tries to find out what he wants, De Niro–with the scariest yet funniest “cracked out grin” you’ll ever see–just playfully paws at her and keeps trying to say something, but… what? I don’t want to bring you down with the violent outcome, but let’s just say De Niro breaks out of his “bit part” cocoon here and shows the world its first tiny glimpse hideously gorgeous method butterfly that would rocket to the forefront of his craft with MEAN STREETS and TAXI DRIVER in the next few years.

2. Elia Kazan in CITY FOR CONQUEST
While Jimmy Cagney and Ann Sheridan tussle over the fate of the kid brother with the violin, Elia Kazan creeps in from the wings, takes a quick look around, and quietly steals the picture as a Jewish outcast turned mobster who helps Cagney and Co. out by taking some crooked gamblers out to the docks for a little “shooting.” The scene of him in the back seat with his gun in the ribs of his prey, babbling on with a mix of canny patter and borderline hysterical bravado casts a shadow that even Cagney has to work to measure up to in the rest of the film. Brilliant stuff, yet Kazan’s only screen appearance before settling in as paragon of Method film making.

P.S. I dig Kazan and to hell with the politics. You can bitch all you want about Kazan “naming names” but unless you’ve been the victim of a witch hunt and quietly stood the test yourself, you don’t really have the right to judge, now do you?

(NOTE: Eight more paragraphs of ranting on topic of witch hunts, hysteria and communism deleted by editor)

3. Dean and Baker in GIANT? Hmmm I already wrote about them on Acidemic. hmmmmm.