September 5, 2012

Justify My Netflix: Cannery Row

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Cannery Row

Today's movie: Cannery Row, 1982 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because now that I'm generally caught up with all the contemporary movies in my Netflix queue, I've been using the summer to get a bunch of older titles off the list; and this has been on there for a long time, after catching a million airings of five-minute snippets on early-'80s cable television where it was a staple, but never once all in a row as an adult, and especially since becoming familiar with the author John Steinbeck whose novels Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday were used as source material for this screenplay.

The reality: Oh, just very charming and nostalgic in an early-'80s, "they literally don't make films that way anymore" kind of way. And that's because this was directed by the same guy who wrote the early-'70s hit The Sting; and while he didn't direct that one, he openly stole everything he knows about directing from it, making this one too a grandly fake, overly old-fashioned spectacle, helped immensely by the decision to build the four-block wharf-front area of Monterey, California where this is set entirely on a soundstage, giving it this beautifully theatrical artificiality that is almost a comment unto itself on the moviemaking process. Featuring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger at their sexiest primes, as well as veteran character actors like M. Emmet Walsh and with John Huston as the Steinbeckian voiceover narrator, it tells the charming real story (although exaggerated here) of a marine biologist in the Great Depression who lodged near the hobos of this dying fishery district that just happened to double as a natural wildlife sanctuary, and who was kind to this destitute group and thus picked up a local reputation over the years of being a sort of blue-collar saint, Steinbeck addingTwain-like comedic anecdotes and a feisty love story to his fictional story, translated well here into a sort of Jean Shepard fairytale about life in the Early Modernist era. It'll take a certain personality to really love this (think fans of T. Bone Burnett); but it's certainly worth taking a chance on if you ever come across it, and definitely worth checking out if it sounds like something that will appeal to you.

Strangest piece of trivia: Nolte confessed later that he wore a girdle during production to hide his paunchy stomach, which he humorously referred to as a "Richard Dreyfuss Special."

Worth your time? Yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:23 AM, September 5, 2012. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |