The true star of Mullholland Falls is, of course, the 1949 Buick Roadmaster. Was any car ever more aptly named? Sleek, chrome-laden, portholes, rich enamel and even richer leather, this car just oozes the 50’s glamour that Nick Nolte does not. Nolte is, needless to say, no Brando. But he sure does hard-bitten well. Of all the hard-bitten cynical cops in cinema, he’s right up there with Russel Crowe. When a mobster needs black-jacking, Nolte’s the man you want.
Another inanimate star, the brilliant Los Angeles sunshine, has seldom been better captured on film. Everything is clear, sharp, illuminated, L.A. looks just fine in yellow-filtered nostalgic hues.
I’ve watched more than a few bad movies just because John Malkovich was in them. I’d watch Malkovich read Chinese restaurant menus for an hour. Here, with an inexplicable white crewcut, he’s fine as the dissipated Oppenheimer stand-in. Chazz Palminteri gets all the best lines, as garrulous as Nolte is tactiturn. Michael Madsen and especially Jennifer Connelly are mostly background figures; Melanie Griffith gets a lot of speeches but she’s really overwrought. Acts her heart out, but too much heart.
The plot, of course, makes no sense whatever. Relying on the most improbable of coincidences, Nolte and Malkovich turn out to be Eskimo Brothers; the Hat Squad heads out to what must be the lowest security Army base in the west, where they can drive the splendid Buick around the back country unseen and unmolested in what you’d expect would be a fairly closely guarded site. A site where Jennifer Connelly was apparently able to wander about the base with a movie camera, filming whatever took her fancy. Including the secret ward with no doctors or nurses or orderlies hanging about. Bit odd, that.
And would the nefarious Colonel and his minion really figure to dispose of Nick and Chazz by tossing them out of an airplane? Didn’t the discovery of the first pancake corpse in the desert start all this investigating? And we’ve already been told that an atomic test is about to take place. What better way to get rid of an inconvenient snoop than vaporizing him in a nuclear detonation? Plus, we movie-goers are, at this point, kind of looking forward to seeing an A-Bomb going off.
We do get an absolutely wonderful C-47 crash landing, though. I have to think this was a practical effect, too, not the CGI we’d get now. It looked great! Kudos for that crash.
Also kudos for the sheer number of cigarettes offered, lit, smoked, discarded, gestured with and thrown down in disgust. I like a movie with a lot of smoking, and this is one of those. You could make a great drinking game of that. One shot of Jaeger for every Lucky Strike? Plus, hats. I loved the bit where the survivors put their fedoras on the unlucky Chazz’s coffin. Except Nolte, who’s too tough for sentimental gestures. He keeps his hat screwed firmly on while me makes gruff apologies to Melanie Griffith, a hard man to the end.
In summary, a wonderfully filmed if slightly ridiculous tribute to the glory days of tough cops in seedy L.A., where every desk drawer has a bottle of rye and a blackjack across the occiput is preferable to an indictment. Where you can send a cheap gunsel on a one-way trip down the mountain and then go home and smoke a carton of Pall Malls with the wife you’re cheating on. Iron men with Chesterfields in one hand and .45’s in the other.