Body Parts

By Stu Kobak

      Heads roll in every direction of the widescreen in Tim Burtonís new movie Sleepy Hollow, a garish and playful interpretation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Johnny Depp dodges the sword swipes of the headless horseman with innocent guile, but all those bouncing heads canít help but make you think of body parts.
     The parts are more effective than the whole. At least they can be used more dramatically in certain situations. An artfully used finger can inflict more terror into a film than a whole hand ever could. A single arm can be infinitely more powerful than an entire dead body. 
     The hand is one of the most popular body parts. You can do so much with a hand. Hell, if you are Oliver Stone you can write and direct a movie called The Hand. Can you just imagine this delightful little hand running all over the place? All that terror packed into five fingers.  Then there was Thing in The Addams Family. Thing, you will recall, is nothing more than a detached hand that zooms along the floor like something out of a Warners cartoon. Thing is not alone. Think of the creepy thriller The Hands of Orlac: Peter Lorre is the demented doctor who grafts the hands of a murderer onto a pianist who has lost his hands in an accident. Lorre, incidentally, is in love with the pianistís wife. Now, thatís what I call a hand job. Directed by the great cinematographer Karl Freund who also directed 

The Mummy, Hands of Orlac is lit to horrific perfection.
     Speaking of The Mummy, The Mummyís Hand became the title of a movie in Universalís successful film series. That harks back to that marvelous moment in the original 1932 film when the long dead Mummy is brought back to life. The hand reaches out onto to a shoulder in a terrifying act. But when you canít separate the hand from the body it loses some of its devious individuality.  You can catch The Mummy in an excellent DVD from Universal or even watch the latest remake of The Mummy which is infused with a totally different spirit.
     Even venerated Japanese director Akira Kurosawa got on the hand bandwagon in Yojimbo. Early in the film a dog trots happily through the main street with a severed hand clutched in its mouth. Itís one of the darker moments in Kurosawaís entertaining tale of a wandering Samurai. You can freeze-frame the dog in the act on Voyagerís Criterion Collection DVD of Yojimbo. 
     John Boorman can lay claim to being the king of arm and hands. It took two body parts for Boorman to brilliantly raise Excalibur out of the water. The Lady in the Lake did her best work hidden beneath the water save for the powerful rising. Itís not the first time Boorman dug deep to come up with a hand above the water. Remember the marvelous finish to Deliverance. Can you ever forget the moment when a hand rises up out of the river rapids? A Devilish use of body parts! You can examine director Boorman's hand signals in both Deliverance and Excalibur available from Warners on DVD.
     The best use of body parts does not have to be confined to horror. Ever watch the nimble feet of Fred Astaire take on a life of their own. They may be a pair of the sweetest body parts ever to grace a Hollywood sound stage.  But where, oh where is Astaire on DVD. Well, he arrives in a new double treat from Universal in Holiday Inn, double-billed with Going My Way, a perfect treat for the holiday season.  

Royal Wedding is available in a fairly sad transfer and while there are inspirational Astaire moments, it is not one of the better examples of the use of his body parts. You can also catch Astaire mostly from the waste up in The Towering Inferno and Ghost Story. My advice is to catch the beat of the feet. Truly vintage body parts!
     Astaire may have had the nimblest feet, but no one used feet more effectively than Alfred Hitchcock in Strangers on a Train. One of his main characters is completely introduced through his feet. The shoes he wears go a long way to defining his character. Hitchcock creates enormous suspense by eliminating most of Brunoís body in a perfect example of why the parts can be ever so more effective than the whole. Strangers on a Train is available on DVD from Warner in an excellent black and white transfer. Pop in the player and take the time to count the footsteps before Bruno Anthony is revealed. 
     Say all you want about dancing feet and nifty shows, but My Left Foot set a new standard for miraculous use of the lower digits. The film delivers one hell of a  kick. Daniel Day-Lewis received the Academy Award for his wonderful performance as Christy Brown. You can catch Day-Lewisís terrific performance on HBOís DVD of My Left Foot.      

Severed body parts present an insurmountable obstacle when trying to convey sexiness. A long leg exposed at the thigh needs the rest of the fine lady to invite venal delight.  The ankle of Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity is arguably the sexiest ankle ever to rankle a screen male. Director Billy Wilder with screenwriting partner I.A.L Diamond wrote some great banter for Stanwyck and co-star Fred MacMurray to heat up the screen, but the lingering lens of the camera on that ankle was enough to fire up a male audience. Double Indemnity is another DVD worth adding to your collection. 
     One of my favorite body parts is the thumb. The artful use of a thumb by Clark Gable in It Happened One Night brought a whole new meaning to the art of hitchhiking. Gable arched his thumb in arrogant salute to male superiority, but it was the gams of Claudette Colbert that won the day. Catch the thumb and the gams on a Columbia new DVD, part of their continuing Classic Collection, scheduled for a 12/28/99 release.
     The best use of a single eye owes it all to special effects, though the imagination of a filmmaker must get some credit too. In Star Trek: First Contact the camera begins on the eye of Captain Jean-Luc Picard an opens up to a universe.  You can see this magic cinema moment on the Paramount DVD. 
     The pinky is certainly an underused body part. The most delicate appendage on the hand, the pinky found a way to create a powerful screen image in The Yakuza. The terrific samurai noir includes a scene of traditional yakuza mutilation, the severing of a pinky as a sign of acceptance. 

Robert Mitchum, short one pinky, then kills a bunch of assassins. The ritual is also exercised to chilling effect in Black Rain, but anti-hero Michael Douglas isnít the one to give up a digit. Ridley Scott saves this treat for the bad guy. Black Rain displays its blood on DVD from Paramount. No sign of Sydneyís Pollackís The Yakuza on DVD, but I keep hoping.
     Sometimes a writer gets carried away by body parts. Tom Schulman, whose sensitive writing helped make Dead Poets Society (Available from Disney on DVD) play the right notes, is over the top in his use of body parts, going so far as to name his debut directing effort Eight Heads in a Duffle Bag. What were you thinking Tom? One severed head is enough, but eight. Schulman actually has the audacity to have them pop out of the bag and break into a grand ghoulish chorus. Joe Pesci gets the job of chasing the heads down. No sign of these heads on DVD, but who cares. 
     Speaking of severed heads, they make great spear material. Five will get you ten that moments after severing ahead some eager movie dude will be cavorting with a body part on a stick. Thatís a Hollywood convention that must be honored.
     Ask Sam Peckinpah: thereís nothing better than a head in a bag. Keep a head in a bag long enough and the flies come a running. Thatís what Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is all about. Warren Oates has the task of lugging the head around while an assortment of bad Mexican guys look to sever his something. Not yet available on DVD, do you think some enterprising studio will deliver a special edition in a bag? 
     There are some really great films that contain body parts in the titles. But they donít necessary deliver the body part goods in severed packages.  Body part aficionados may be disappointed by the lack of detached digits in a film called Five Fingers. However, movie lovers who discover this superb espionage docu-drama starring James Mason will be delighted. The Hand that Rocked the Cradle has very little to do with body parts other than those of Rebecca De Mornay, looking especially delicious on the DVD of the Curtis Hanson directed movie. Cool Hand Luke delivers the goods in the person of Paul Newman in prison attire. The widescreen anamorphic DVD make not feature any body parts, but you can be sure to get a hell of a good kick from this top-notch entertainment. I sure hope Fox decides to release The Left Hand of God. My memory of the film is probably much better than the reality, but anything starring Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney get my movie juices flowing. Itís a big widescreen drama set in China and directed by Edward Dmytryk.
     Probably the body part most over-used body part in movie titles in the heart. For every bleeding heart, there are romances galore that feature enough tears for a simultaneous shoot of the Johnstown Flood. The latest heart is Music of the Heart, a film that started out as "Fifty Violins." The releasing powers realized that one heart in the title is worth many musical instruments and that body part familiarity makes marketing a movie much easier. Personally, Iíd take the violins every time. Not that there arenít plenty of heart films I love. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is one that comes to mind. A beautiful drama from the Carson McCullers book, it features a mute performance from Alan Arkin and the wonderful debut of Sondra Locke. Maybe Clint Eastwood is keeping a lick on this heart? Unfortunately, itís still absent from DVD. Yes, thereís Heartburn, Heart Beat, Hearts of the West, Heart Like a Wheel, Heart and Souls, Black Heart, Angel Heart, Braveheart; you get the picture, thereís no shortage of hearts.
    
It is interesting to note that the heart is the king of movie organs. Internal organs are a tough sell in Hollywood. I have never heard of a title with intestine in it. How about lungs? Maybe someone will make the definitive Mario Lanza biopic one day and called it Lungs. Can you imagine pitching a movie called Lungs to the studio guys? It might be the last movie pitch you make. Spleen: a story of emotional turmoil. Try Stomach Ache as a title proposal and youíll likely get a kick in the ass. In the end, only judicious use of body parts succeeds.

    

 


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