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Archive for the ‘Donald Ogden Stiers’ Category

Harry’s War

31 Mar

Harry’s War — Directed and written by Keith Merrill. Political Farce. A young postman inherits his Aunt’s Anti-tax campaign, and makes of it a national explosion. 97 minutes Color  1981

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Geraldine Page? I don’t believe there is a biography of the greatest actress on the English speaking stage of her time. What do you make of that? I think what is to be made of it is that there is nothing identifiable in her work, by which I mean nothing one can identify with. The first thing you notice is her odd voice, very strange, isn’t it? It’s placed high and back in the throat, and it sounds like thrift shop china being thrown at a wall. An expert might question its production, which seems to have no constant foundation in the diaphragm, and it also sounds like she is swallowing air as she speaks. But she certainly was an actress of giantess power, which means, not that she was beyond technical difficulty or failure, but that, still and all, she had counties of reserve all around her inside her. This would have put her in line for the great classical roles of Greek Tragedy, Medea, Clytaemnestra; but no; she had every piece of equipment to do them, but a vocal one. I once saw her with her husband Rip Torn perform Lady Macbeth.  In a huge long red braid down her back thick enough to moor a liner, perhaps designed after Ellen Terry’s in the same role, but Page’s performance lacked normal background of temperament. This wasn’t a person going crazy; it was a neurotic play-acting, which means the role had no place to go. Partly reduced in force because her husband, through no fault of his own, was a talent much smaller than hers, she played under his performance. And the performance was, naturally, vocally inadequate to the text, which was really the problem, and why, as a rule, she did not play Shakespeare — Gertrude or Volumnia, say.  Anyhow none, of this counts here, as she plays an oddball political maverick who takes on the IRS. She’s lovely in many moments and many passages. Just watch her achieve her objective in each scene. She not only gives her all, she is a spendthrift. She is never less than fascinating, arresting, spectacular, and generous. As to the film, who knew the IRS is authorized to carry firearms? It’s the story of an old woman, Page, who is brought low by the IRS, and whose standard is raised by an adopted son. Edward Herrmann plays him, and he is perfectly cast, and is a wonderful actor entirely, sensitive, various, and with an internal good one does not see in a principal male actor these days. Dingie Elisha Cook adds a good deal to the brew. But the picture grows cruder as it proceeds, until it almost becomes a silent film reduced to pure (i.e. impure) action, the problem being that the opposition is made too obvious in the form of Donald Ogden Stiers and Naomi Jens as the IRS bureaucrats gone mad. They make nasty, nasty eyes. We are so far from believing all these characters that everyone, tax avoiders and tax collectors, end up looking like Republicans.  Indeed, after two weeks of its 1981 release, it was pulled from circulation by the IRS who objected to its negative view of their sensitive selves. It has hardly ever been seen since. See it now.

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