The saddest thing in current films is watching the long neglected action directors fade away as the less talented De Sicas and Zinnemanns continue to fascinate the critics. Because they played an anti-art role in Hollywood, the true masters of the male action film—such soldier-cowboy-gangster directors as Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, William Wellman, William Kieghley, the early, pre-Stagecoach John Ford, Anthony Mann—have turned out a huge amount of unprized second-gear celluloid. Their neglect becomes more painful to behold now that the action directors are in decline, many of them having abandoned the dry, economic, life-worn movie style that made their observations of the American he-man so rewarding. Americans seem to have a special aptitude for allowing History to bury the toughest, most authentic native talents. The same tide that has swept away Otis Ferguson, Walker Evans, Val Lewton, Clarence Williams, and J. R. Williams into near oblivion is now in the process of burying a group that kept an endless flow of interesting roughneck film passing through the theaters from the depression onward. The tragedy of these film-makers lies in their having been consigned to a Sargasso Sea of unmentioned talent by film reviewers whose sole concern is not continuous flow of quality but the momentary novelties of the particular film they are reviewing.
Howard Hawks is the key figure in the male action film because he shows a maximum speed, inner life, and view, with the least amount of flat foot. His best films, which have the swallowed-up intricacy of a good soft-shoe dance, are Ceiling Zero, Only Angels Have Wings, The Big Sleep, and The Thing. Raoul Walsh’s films are melancholy masterpieces of flexibility and detailing inside a lower-middle-class locale. Walsh’s victories, which make use of tense broken-field journeys and nostalgic back-ground detail, include They Drive By Night, White Heat, and Roaring Twenties. In any Bill Wellman operation, there are at least four directors—a sentimentalist, deep thinker, hooey vaudevillian, and an expedient shortcut artist whose special love is for mulish toughs expressing themselves in drop-kicking heads and somber standing around. Wellman is at his best in stiff, vulgar, low-pulp material. In that set-up, he has a low-budget ingenuity which creates flashes of ferocious brassiness, an authentic practical joke violence (as in the frenzied inadequacy of Ben Blue in Roxie Hart) and a brainless hell-raising. Anthony Mann’s inhumanity to man, in which cold mortal intentness is the trademark effect, can be studied best in The Tall Target, Winchester 77, Border Incident, and Railroaded. The films of this tin-can de Sade have a Germanic rigor, caterpillar intimacy, and an original dictionary of ways in which to punish the human body. Mann has done interesting work with scissors, a cigarette lighter, and steam, but his most bizarre effect takes place in a taxidermist’s shop. By intricate manipulation of athletes’ bodies, Mann tries to ram the eyes of his combatants on the horns of a stuffed deer stuck on the wall.
The film directors mentioned above did their best work over a decade ago when it was possible to be a factory of unpretentious picture-making without frightening the front office. During the same period and later, less prolific directors also appear in the uncompromising action film. Of these, the most important is John Farrow, an urbane vaudevillian whose forte, in films like The Big Clock and His Kind of Woman, is putting a fine motoring system beneath the veering slapstick of his eccentric characterizations. Though he has tangled with such heavyweights as Book of the Month and Hemingway, Zoltan Korda is an authentic hard-grain cheapster telling his stories through unscrubbed action, masculine characterization, and violent explorations inside a fascinating locale. Korda’s best films—Sahara, Counterattack, Cry the Beloved Country—are strangely active films in which terrain, jobs, and people get curiously interwoven in a ravening tactility. William Kieghley, in G Men and Each Dawn I Die, is the least sentimental director of gangster careers. After the bloated philosophical safe-crackers in Huston’s Asphalt jungle, the smallish cops and robbers in Kieghley’s work seem life size. Kieghley’s handling is so right in emphasis, timing, and shrewdness that there is no feeling of the director breathing, gasping, snoring over the film.
The tight-lipped creators whose films are mentioned above comprise the most interesting group to appear in American culture since the various groupings that made the 1920’s an explosive era in jazz, literature, silent films. Hawks and his group are perfect examples of the anonymous artist, who is seemingly afraid of the polishing, hypocrisy, bragging, fake educating that goes on in serious art. To go at his most expedient gait, the Hawks type must take a withdrawn, almost hidden stance in the industry. Thus, his films seem to come from the most neutral, humdrum, monotonous corner of the movie lot. The fascinating thing about these veiled operators is that they are able to spring the leanest, shrewdest, sprightliest notes from material that looks like junk, and from a creative position that on the surface seems totally uncommitted and disinterested. With striking photography, a good ear for natural dialogue, an eye for realistic detail, a skilled inside-action approach to composition, and the most politic hand in the movie field, the action directors have done a forbidding stenography on the hard-boiled American handyman as he progresses through the years.
It is not too remarkable that the underground films, with their twelve-year-old’s adventure story plot and endless palpitating movement, have lost out in the film system. Their dismissal has been caused by the construction of solid confidence built by daily and weekly reviewers. Operating with this wall, the critic can pick and discard without the slightest worry about looking silly. His choice of best salami is a picture backed by studio build-up, agreement amongst his colleagues, a layout in Life Mag. (which makes it officially reasonable for an American award), and a list of ingredients that anyone’s unsophisticated aunt in Oakland can spot as a distinguished film. This prize picture, which has philosophical undertones, pan-fried domestic sights, risqué crevices, sporty actors and actresses, circus-like gymnastics, a bit of tragedy like the main fall at Niagara, has every reason to be successful. It has been made for that purpose. Thus, the year’s winner is a perfect film made up solely of holes and evasions, covered up by all types of padding and plush. The cavity filling varies from one prize work to another, from High Noon (cross-eyed artistic views of a clock, silhouettes against a vaulting sky, legend-toned walking, a big song), through From Here to Eternity (Sinatra’s private scene-chewing, pretty trumpeting, tense shots in the dark and at twilight, necking near the water, a threatening hand with a broken bottle), to next year’s winner which will probably be a huge ball of cotton candy containing either Audrey Hepburn’s cavernous grin and stiff behind or more of Zinne-mann’s glacéed picture-making. In terms of imaginative photography, honest acting, and insight into American life there is no comparison (between an average underground triumph (The Tall Target) and the trivia that causes a critical salaam across the land. The trouble is that no one asks the critics’ alliance to look straight backward at its “choices,” i.e. a horse-drawn truckload of liberal schmaltz called The Best Years of Our hives. These ridiculously maltreated films sustain their place in the halls of fame simply because they bear the label of ART in every inch of their reelage. Praising these solemn goiters has produced a climate in which the underground picture-maker, with his modest entry and soft shoe approach, can barely survive.
However, any day now, Americans may realize that scrambling after the obvious in art is a losing game. The sharpest work of the last thirty years is to be found by studying the most unlikely, self-destroying, un-compromising, roundabout artists. When the day comes for praising infamous men of art, some great talent will be shown in true light: people like Weldon Kees, the early Robert DeNiro, James Agee, Isaac Rosenfeld, Otis Ferguson, Val Lewton, a dozen comicstrip geniuses like the creator of “Harold Teen,” and finally a half dozen directors, such as the master of the ambulance-speed-boat, flying-saucer movie: Howard Hawks.
The films of the Hawks-Wellman group are underground for more reasons than the fact that the director hides out in the sub-surface reaches of his work. The hard-bitten action film finds its natural home in caves; the murky, congested theaters, looking like glorified tattoo parlors on the out-side and located near bus terminals in big cities. These theaters roll action films in what, at first, seems like a nightmarish atmosphere of guzzling, snoring, clicking flashlights, ice-cream vending, and amazing restlessness. After a while, the clatter and congested tinniness is swallowed by the atmosphere of shabby transience, prints that seem overgrown with jungle moss, sound-tracks infected with hiccups. The spectator watches two or three action films go by, and leaves feeling as though he were a pirate discharged from a giant sponge.
The cut-throat atmosphere in the itch house is reproduced in the movies shown there. Hawks’s The Big Sleep not only has a slightly gaseous, sub-surface, Baghdadish background, but its gangster action is engineered with a suave, cutting efficacy. Walsh’s Roaring Twenties is a jangling barrelhouse film which starts with a top gun bouncing downhill, and, at the end, he is seen slowly pushing his way through a lot of Campbell’s Scotch broth. Wellman’s favorite scene is a group of hard-visaged ball bearings standing around—for no damned reason and with no indication of how long or for what reason they have been standing. His worst pictures are made up simply of this moody, wooden standing around. All that saves the films are the little flurries of bullet-like acting that give the men an inner look of credible orneriness and somewhat stupid mulishness. Mann likes to stretch his victims in crucifix poses against the wall or ground, and then peer intently at their demise with an icy surgeon’s eye. Just as the harrowing machine is about to run over the wetback on a moonlit night, the camera catches him sprawled out in a harrowing image. At heart, the best action films are slicing journeys into the lower depths of American life: dregs, cast-outs, lonely hard wanderers caught in a buzz-saw of niggardly intricate devious movement.
The projects of the underground directors are neither experimental, liberal, slick, spectacular, low-budget, epical, improving, or flagrantly commercial like Sam Katzman two-bitters. They are faceless movies taken from a type of half-polished trash writing that seems like a mixture of Burt L. Standish, Max Brand, and Raymond Chandler. Tight, cliché-ridden melodramas about stock musclemen. A stool pigeon gurgling with a scissors in his back; a fat, nasal-voiced gang leader, escaped convicts, power-mad ranch owners with vengeful siblings, a mean gun with an Oedipus complex and migraine headaches, a crooked gambler trading guns to the red-skins, exhausted GI’s, an incompetent kid hoodlum hiding out in an East Side building, a sickly-elegant Italian barber in a plot to kill Lincoln, an underpaid shamus signing up to stop the blackmailing of a tough millionaire’s depraved thumb-sucking daughter.
The action directors accept the role of hack so that they can involve themselves with expedience and tough-guy insight in all types of action: barnstorming, driving, bulldogging. The important thing is not so much the banal-seeming journeys to nowhere that make up the stories, but the tunneling that goes on inside the classic Western-gangster incidents and stock hoodlum-dogface-cowboy types. For instance, Wellman’s lean elliptical talents for creating brassy cheapsters and making gloved references to death, patriotism, masturbation, suggest that he uses private runways to the truth, while more famous directors take a slow, embalming surface route.
The virtues of action films expand as the pictures take on the outer appearance of junk jewelry. The underground’s greatest mishaps have occurred in art-infected projects where there is unlimited cash, studio freedom, an expansive story, message, heart, and a lot of prestige to be gained. Their flattest, most sentimental works are incidentally the only ones that have attained the almond paste-flavored eminence of Museum of Modern Art’s film library, i.e. Gl Joe, Public Enemy, and Scarface. Both Hawks and Wellman, who made these over-weighted mistakes, are like basketball’s corner man: their best shooting is done from the deepest, worst angle. With material that is hopelessly worn-out and childish (Only Angels Have Wings’), the underground director becomes beautifully graphic and modestly human in his flexible detailing. When the material is like drab concrete, these directors become great on-the-spot inventors, using their curiously niggling, reaming style for adding background detail (Walsh), suave grace (Hawks), crawling mechanized tension (Mann), veiled gravity (Wellman), svelte semi-caricature (John Farrow), modern Gothic vehemence (Phil Karlson), and dark, modish vaudeville (Robert Aldrich).
In the films of these hard-edged directors can be found the unheralded ripple of physical experience, the tiny morbidly life-word detail which the visitor to a strange city finds springing out at every step. The Hawks film is as good on the mellifluous grace of the impudent American hard rock as can be found in any art work; the Mann films use American objects and terrain-guns, cliffs, boulders, an 1865 locomotive, telephone wires—with more cruel intimacy than any other film-maker; the Wellman film is the only clear shot at the mean, brassy, claw-like soul of the lone American wolf that has been taken in films. In other words, these actioneers—Mann and Hawks and Kieghley and, in recent times, Aldrich and Karlson—go completely underground before proving themselves more honest and subtle than the water buffaloes of film art: George Stevens, Billy Wilder, Vittorio De Sica, Georges Clouzot. (Clouzot’s most successful work, Wages of Fear,, is a wholesale steal of the mean physicality and acrid highway inventions in such Walsh-Wellman films as They Drive hy Night. Also, the latter film is a more flexible, adroitly adlibbed, worked-in creation than Clouzot’s eclectic money-maker.)
Unfortunately, the action directors suffer from presentation problems. Their work is now seen repeatedly on the blurred, chopped, worn, darkened, commercial-ridden movie programs on TV. Even in the impossible conditions of the “Late Show,” where the lighting is four shades too dark and the porthole-shaped screen defeats the movie’s action, the deep skill of Hawks and his tribe shows itself. Time has dated and thinned out the story excitement, but the ability to capture the exact homely-manly character of forgotten locales and misanthropic figures is still in the pictures, along with pictorial compositions (Ford’s Last of the Mohicans) that occasionally seem as lovely as anything that came out of the camera box of Billy Bitzer and Mathew Brady. The conditions in the outcast the aters—the Lyric on Times Square, the Liberty on Market Street, the Victory on Chest-nut—are not as bad as TV, but bad enough. The screen image is often out of plumb, the house lights are half left on during the picture, the broken seats are only a minor annoyance in the unpredictable terrain. Yet, these action film homes are the places to study Hawks, Wellman, Mann, as well as their near and distant cousins.
The underground directors have been saving the American male on the screen for three decades without receiving the slightest credit from critics and prize committees, The hard, exact defining of male action, completely lacking in acting fat, is a common item only in underground films. The cream on the top of a Framed or Appintment with Danger (directed by two first cousins of the Hawks-Walsh strain) is the eye-flicking action that shows the American body—arms, elbow, legs, mouths, the tension profile line—being used expediently, with grace and the suggestion of jolting hardness. Otherwise, the Hollywood talkie seems to have been invented to give an embarrassingly phony impression of the virile action man. The performance is always fattened either by coyness (early Robert Taylor), unction (Anthony Quinn), histrionic conceit (Gene Kelly), liberal knowingness (Brando), angelic stylishness (Mel Ferrer), oily hamming (Jose Ferrer), Mother’s Boy passivity (Rock Hudson), or languor (Montgomery Clift). Unless the actor lands in the hands of an underground director, he causes a candy-coated effect that is misery for any spectator who likes a bit of male truth in films.
After a steady diet of undergrounders, the spectator realizes that these are the only films that show the tension of an individual intelligence posing itself against the possibilities of monotony, bathos, or sheer cliché. Though the action film is filled with heroism or its absence, the real hero is the small detail which has arisen from a stormy competition between lively color and credibility. The hardness of these films arises from the aesthetic give-and-go with banality. Thus, the philosophical idea in underground films seems to be that nothing is easy in life or the making of films. Jobs are difficult, even the act of watching a humdrum bookstore scene from across the street has to be done with care and modesty to evade the type of butter-slicing glibness that rots the Zinnemann films. In the Walsh film, a gangster walks through a saloon with so much tight-roped adlibbing and muscularity that he seems to be walking backward through the situation. Hawks’s achievement of moderate toughness in Red River, using Clift’s delicate languor and Wayne’s clay-like acting, is remarkable. As usual, he steers Clift through a series of cornball fetishes (like the Barney Google Ozark hat and the trick handling of same) and graceful, semi-collegiate business: stances and kneelings and snake-quick gunmanship. The beauty of the job is the way the cliche’ business is needled, strained against without breaking the naturalistic surface. One feels that his is the first and last hard, clamped-down, imaginative job Clift does in Hollywood-his one non-mush performance. Afterward, he goes to work for Zinnemann, Stevens, Hitchcock.
The small buried attempt to pierce the banal pulp of underground stories with fanciful grace notes is one of the important feats of the underground director. Usually, the piercing consists in renovating a cheap rusty trick that has been slumbering in the “thriller” director’s handbook—pushing a “color” effect against the most resistant type of unshowy, hard-bitten direction. A mean butterball flicks a gunman’s ear with a cigarette lighter. A night-frozen cowboy shudders over a swig of whiskey. A gorilla gang leader makes a cannonaded exit from a barber chair. All these bits of congestion are like the lines of a hand to a good gun movie; they are the tracings of difficulty that make the films seem uniquely hard and formful. In each case, the director is taking a great chance with clichés and forcing them into a hard natural shape.
People don’t notice the absence of this hard combat with low, commonplace ideas in the Zinnemann and Huston epics, where-in the action is a game in which the stars take part with confidence and glee as though nothing can stop them. They roll in parts of drug addicts, tortured sheriffs; success depending on how much sentimental bloop and artistic japery can be packed in without encountering the demands of a natural act or character. Looking back on a Sinatra film, one has the feeling of a private whirligig performance in the center of a frame rather than a picture. On the other hand, a Cagney performance under the hands of a Kieghley is ingrained in a tight, malignant story. One remembers it as a sinewy, life-marred exactness that is as quietly laid down as the smaller jobs played by the Barton MacLanes and Frankie Darros.
A constant attendance at the Lyric-Pix-Victory theaters soon impresses the spectator with the coverage of locales in action films. The average gun film travels like a shamus who knows his city and likes his private knowledges. Instead of the picture-postcard sights, the underground film finds the most idiosyncratic spot of a city and then locates the niceties within the large nicety. The California Street hill in San Francisco (Woman in Hiding) with its old-style mansions played in perfect night photography against a deadened domestic bitching. A YMCA scene that emphasizes the wonderful fatwaisted-middle-aged-physicality of people putting on tennis shoes and playing handball (Appointment with Danger). The terrorizing of a dowdy middle-aged, frog-faced woman (Born to Kill) that starts in a decrepit hotel and ends in a bumbling, screeching, crawling murder at midnight on the shore. For his big shock effect, director Robert Wise (a sometime member of the underground) uses the angle going down to the water to create a middle-class mediocrity that out-horrors anything Graham Greene attempted in his early books on small-time gunsels.
Another fine thing about the coverage is its topographic grimness, the fact that the terrain looks worked over. From Walsh’s What Price Glory to Mann’s Men at War, the terrain is special in that it is used, kicked, grappled, worried, sweated up, burrowed into, stomped on. The land is marched across in dark threading lines at twilight, or the effect is reversed with foot soldiers in white parkas (Fixed Bayonets) curving along a snowed-in battleground as they watch troops moving back—in either case the cliche effect is worked credibly inward until it creates a haunting note like the army diagonals in Birth of a Nation. Rooms are boxed, crossed, opened up as they are in few other films. The spectator gets to know these rooms as well as his own hand. Years after seeing the film, he remembers the way a dulled waitress sat on the edge of a hotel bed, the weird elongated adobe in which ranch hands congregate before a Chisholm Trail drive. The rooms in big shot directors’ films look curiously bulbous, as though inflated with hot air and turned toward the audience, like the high school operetta of the 1920’s.
Of all these poet-builders, Wellman is the most interesting, particularly with Hopper-type scenery. It is a matter of drawing store fronts, heavy bedroom boudoirs, the heisting of a lonely service station, with light furious strokes. Also, in mixing jolting vulgarity (Mae Clarke’s face being smashed with a grapefruit) with a space composition dance in which the scene seems to be constructed before your eyes. It may be a minor achievement but when Wellman finishes with a service station or the wooden stairs in front of an ancient saloon, there is no reason for any movie realist to handle the subject again. The scene is kept light, textural, and as though it is being built from the outside in. There is no sentiment of the type that spreads lugubrious shadows (Kazan), builds tensions of perspective (Huston), or inflates with golden sunlight and finicky hot air (Stevens).
Easily the best part of underground films are the excavations of exciting-familiar scenery. The opening up of a scene is more concerted in these films than in other Hollywood efforts, but the most important thing is that the opening is done by road-mapped strategies that play movement against space in a cunning way, building the environment and event before your eyes. In every underground film, these vigorous ramifications within a sharply seen terrain are the big attraction, the main tent. No one does this anatomization of action and scene better than Hawks, who probably invented it—at least, the smooth version—in such 1930s gunblasts as The Crowd Roars. The control of Hawks’s strategies is so ingenious that when a person kneels or walks down the hallway, the movement seems to click into a predetermined slot. It is an uncanny accomplishment that carries the spectator across the very ground of a giant ranch, into rooms and out again, over to the wall to look at some faded fight pictures on a hotel wall-as though he were in the grip of a spectacular, mobile “eye.” When Hawks landscapes action—the cutting between light tower and storm-caught plane in Ceiling Zero, the vegetalizing in The Thing, the shamus sweating in a greenhouse in The Big Sleep—the feeling is of a clever human tunneling just under the surface of terrain. It is as though the film has a life of its own that goes on beneath the story action.
However, there have been many great examples of such veining by human interactions over a wide plane. One of the special shockers, in Each Dawn 1 Die, has to do with the scissoring of a stooly during the movie shown at the penitentiary. This Kieghley-Cagney effort is a wonder of excitement as it moves in great leaps from screen to the rear of a crowded auditorium: crossing contrasts of movement in three points of the hall, all of it done in a sinking cavernous gloom. One of the more ironic criss-crossings has to do with the coughings of the stuck victim played against the screen image of zooming airplanes over the Pacific. in the great virtuoso films, there is something vaguely resembling this underground maneuvering, only it goes on above the story. Egocentric padding that builds a great bonfire of pyrotechnics over a gapingly empty film. The perfect example is a pumped-up fist fight that almost closes the three-hour Giant film. This ballroom shuffle between a reforming rancher and a Mexican-hating luncheonette owner is an entertaining creation in spectacular tumbling, swinging, back-arching, bending. However, the endless masturbatory “building” of excitement—beautiful haymakers, room-covering falls, thunderous sounds—is more than slightly silly. Even if the room were valid, which it isn’t (a studio-built chromium horror plopped too close to the edge of a lonely highway), the room goes unexplored because of the jumbled timing. The excess that is so noticeable in Stevens’s brawl is absent in the least serious undergrounder, which attains most of its crisp, angular character from the modesty of a director working skillfully far within the earthworks of the story.
Underground films have almost ceased to be a part of the movie scene. The founders of the action film have gone into awkward, big-scaled productions involving pyramid-building, a passenger plane in trouble over the Pacific, and postcard Westerns with Jimmy Stewart and his harassed Adam’s apple approach to gutty acting. The last drainings of the underground film show a tendency toward moving from the plain guttural approach of G Men to a Germanically splashed type of film. Of these new-comers, Robert Aldrich is certainly the most exciting—a lurid psychiatric stormer who gets an overflow of vitality and sheer love for movie-making into the film. This enthusiasm is the rarest item in a dried, decayed-lemon type of movie period. Aldrich makes viciously anti-Something movies—Attack stomps on Southern rascalism and the officer sect in war, The Big Knife im-pales the Zanuck-Goldwyn big shot in Hollywood. The Aldrich films are filled with exciting characterizations—by Lee Marvin, Rod Steiger, Jack Palance—of highly psyched-up, marred, and bothered men. Phil Karlson has done some surprising modern Gothic treatments of the Brinks’ hold-up (Kansas City Confidential) and the vice-ridden Southern town (The Phenix City Story). His movies are remarkable for their endless outlay of scary cheapness in detailing the modern underworld. Also, Karlson’s work has a chilling documentary exactness and an exciting shot-scattering belligerence.
There is no longer a literate audience for the masculine picture-making that Hawks and Wellman exploited, as there was in the 1930’s. In those exciting movie years, a smart audience waited around each week for the next Hawks, Preston Sturges, or Ford film—shoe-stringers that were far to the side of the expensive Hollywood film. That underground audience, with its expert voice in Ferguson and its ability to choose between perceptive trash and the Thalberg pepsin-flavored sloshing with Tracy and Gable, has now oozed away. It seems ridiculous, but the Fergusonite went into fast decline during the mid-1940s when the movie market was flooded with fake underground films-plushy thrillers with neo-Chandler scripts and a romantic style that seemed to pour the gore, histrionics, decor out of a giant catsup bottle. The nadir of these films: an item called Singapore with Fred MacMurray and Ava Gardner.
The straw that finally breaks the back of the underground film tradition is the dilettante behavior of intellectuals on the subject of oaters. Aesthetes and upper bohemians now favor horse operas almost as wildly as they like the cute, little-guy worshipings of De Sica and the pedantic, interpretive reading of Alec Guinness. This fad for Western films shows itself in the inevitable little magazine review which finds an affinity between the subject matter of cowboy films and the inner aesthetics of Cinemah. The Hawks-Wellman tradition, which is basically a subterranean delight that looks like a cheap penny candy on the outside, hasn’t a chance of reviving when intellectuals enthuse in equal amounts over Westerns by Ford, Nunnally Johnson, J. Sturges, Stevens, Delmar Daves. In Ferguson’s day, the intellectual could differentiate between a stolid genre painter (Ford), a long-winded cuteness expert with a rotogravure movie sense (Johnson), a scene painter with a notions-counter eye and a primly naive manner with sun-hardened bruisers (John Sturges), and a Boys Life nature lover who intelligently half prettifies adolescents and backwoods primitives (Davis). Today, the audience for Westerns and gangster careers is a sickeningly frivolous one that does little more than play the garbage collector or make a night court of films. With this highbrow audience, that loves banality and pomp more than the tourists at Radio City Music Hall, there is little reason to expect any stray director to try for a hidden, meager-looking work that is directly against the serious art grain.