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Archive for the ‘WRITERS’ Category

Cymbeline

15 Sep

Cymbeline directed by Michael Almereyda. Shakespearean Fantasy. 97 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★
The Story: A princess, against her father’s wishes, marries her love who is forced to flee, and, after extreme complications, he is restored to her.
~
The director has cut the play, quite rightly and expertly, to its stony bones. It’s set in modern times, but it was written in the time of Game Of Thrones, which is to say in a Dark Ages that never existed save in fantasy drama – a genre which remains enormously popular to this day.

It would be silly to track the story here, as it would that of Game Of Thrones, for our interest lies in who shall be king. Everything in the story subserves that end.

Except, in this case, Shakespeare has created marvelous humans to enact the exploits and coincidents and passions so multitudinously arrayed before us. Cymbeline, being a pre-medieval computer game, is the most modern of Shakespeare’s plays, and the director gives it to us in modern dress. What does not work is that he gives it to us in modern acting style.

The recreation of the Globe Theater in London is large and holds 1400. The original Glob Theater held 3,000. (Radio City Music Hall holds 6,000.) So you see, the original Globe was enormous. So Shakespeare’s words were written for a certain vocal production audible in a vast theater, open air, out of doors, in full daylight, in a busy noisy city.

None of the actors here have the training in this particular voice production.

It is not simply a matter of speaking loud. It is a way of speaking, of surrounding words chosen for that way of speaking, surrendering to them, getting not just behind but way behind them. None of the actors, save one, has the inner placement from which to deliver the language.

Actors required for Shakespeare also, have to have enormous stage personality. And as good as Ed Harris’s Meisner training might be as the basis for the main body of his fine work as an actor, Meisner despised and denounced Shakespeare, and so Harris does not fare any better than the others do in opting to make the lines colloquial, gutsy, and intuitive. The voice is placed just at the back of his throat, so everything comes out without weight, without emphasis. He can act the part, but he cannot speak the part. The investment is missing. The investment is not Method investment, but an investment in a place in the human body from which these truths must be uttered.

This is true of all the actors, and because they have wonderful parts one watches them through. John Leguizamo, as the obedient/disobedient retainer, gathers himself into and out of the situations convincingly. His physical weight has carrying power and as a middle-aged actor we care for his destiny. Leguizamo knows something that enables him to play this part.

Anton Yelchin plays the brat/villain with every convention sticking out of his performance like a porcupine. We need to identify with this character’s compromised position in the drama, not dismiss him out of hand as a stereotype.

Dakota Johnson as Imogen gives us this great role with vapid tone, her voice wrinkling like a Valley chick. But Imogen is not a Valley chick. She, like Desdemona, is a young woman of parts, a role for a young Katharine Hepburn, a woman who dares defy her father to marry the man of her choice, and who will not back down. You need a big personality to play this young woman. It was a role for which Ellen Terry was renowned. But Johnson’s Imogen does not know what she is saying nor how to say it.

Ethan Hawke takes the choice role of Iachamo. Certain things he does well: the closet scene with the chest, for one. I believed it. But it is a pantomime scene. When he opens his mouth, the words that come out do not belong to Iachamo, nor to Hawke either. Nor does he seem to understand the character.

Iachamo is a Texas A & M fraternity boy of devastating looks and charm – and a nasty streak a mile wide. His ego sets the play in motion, but Hawke plays him mildly, as an After Sunset chap with a sly eye. No. Iachamo is the brat of brats. He’s a horror, but you’ve got to hand it to him. Finally, Hawke is simply too old for the part.

The one actor who does not suffer from inadequacy here is the great Delroy Lindo as Belarius, the stepfather of the princes. He simply has by nature the voice the role requires. When will someone give Delroy Lindo Lear?

I loved watching the movie; I liked the cuts; one gets to see Cymbeline too seldom. I was grateful for a lot of it. And – oh, that late Shakespeare – best in my appreciation books.

 

Cake

09 Feb

 

Cake – directed by Daniel Barnz. Drama. 102 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: A woman, badly traumatized and scarred, sets everyone’s teeth on edge, as she resists all conventional California remedies.

~

Does this sound promising? I hope not. Drama is not frozen custard. Nor should it have to end in warm and fuzzy, Steiff, panda-bear hugs.

Instead we have a brilliant performance by Jennifer Aniston of a brilliant script by Pat Tobin, and what more do you want? Do you want a gum-drop heart?

Well, this is not a candy store movie. This is the sort of movie Bette Davis pioneered for us, so let’s honor our heritage and place Aniston in our trove of cultural treasures where she belongs. We have a great female American actress here; let’s pay attention!

Long the most skilled of light comediennes – so skilled, indeed, that it is obvious she could play anything – now takes on this mordant drama of a woman who chooses to be coldly sardonic rather than take cheap cures.

There are no cheap cures for what has happened to her. I won’t go into it, because I don’t want to spoil the unfolding of the tale which develops with a narrative expertise teased to ripen before our inexperienced eyes. You have never seen anything like this before. Don’t worry. In this movie, for you too, there is no cheap cure. You will hoe the row.

There is no actress alive who can calibrate a performance with the mastery of Jennifer Aniston. You must behold it to behold it. Her timing, her inflection, her command of the interior valor, her willingness to be mean – all pay off in telling a story whose sole instrument is the character itself.

Adriana Barraza plays her housekeeper, chauffeur, and bodyguard. Brilliant casting. Brilliant performance.

Wonderfully directed.

I wish I could tell you more. But I don’t wish to. I wish you to go yourself and see what Cake tells you all by itself.

 

Nobody Lives Forever

31 Oct

Nobody Lives Forever – directed by Jean Negulesco. Grifter Drama. 100 minutes Black And White 1946.

★★★★★

The Story: A G.I. comes home to his former crimes scene and heads for a multi-million dollar scam.

~

John Garfield, perfectly cast as both a G.I. and a criminal. It’s his way, which is always the same way: the sensitive tough-guy, Bronx marshmallow. Very lovable. Very understandable. These are qualities which come with some actors and don’t come with others, and they determine work. Work in two ways: casting, and the way he executes scenes. For out of these qualities spring choices in handling scenes. The acting craft holds outlets for these people. They are not ordinary, these people. They have vitality, presence, and looks. They have in them that which wants to be seen. So in discussing acting in relation to them, it is almost impossible to view them dispassionately. It is almost impossible to define the skill with which the tiger dismembers the faun. What is first, mainly, only possible, is to experience being impressed. That much is sure.

Like them or not, there they are up on the silver screen where they belong. With him and always opposite him are all the other members of the cast, all as vital. George Coulouris as the sleazy crumb horning in on Garfield’s grift. George Tobias, as always comical as the almost useless sidekick. Two comical thug fools, in James Flavin and Ralph Peters. His two-timing, slapable canary played by Faye Emerson at the peak of her beauteousness. And the astonishing Walter Brennan as the pickpocket guru. All these are contrasted in their comical or threatening positions to him and to the only one who is not threatening, but is lovely, Geraldine Fitzgerald playing the widow they mean to cheat. Fitzgerald’s performance makes the film work. She is smart but justifiably ignorant; she falls in love with Garfield and you believe it; she registers everything quietly and truly. Don’t miss her. She lets you perform the part with her. Garbo did the same.

The film’s finale is handled somewhat clumsily. But otherwise the film is beautifully directed, which is a question of values attended to in a way noir does not often offer. W.R. Burnett (author of Little Caesar, High Sierra, This Gun For Hire, The Whole Town’s Talking, Scarface, The Asphalt Jungle) wrote it.

Give it a viewing. Let me know how you liked it.

 

Osaka Elegy

06 Oct

Osaka Elegy – directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. Drama. 71 minutes Black And White 1936.

The Story: A young working woman tries to raise money to pay off her father’s debt and becomes the object of abuse and scorn.

~

Two things.

Mizoguchi demonstrates:

First: women exist in a culture which abuses them. No further point need be made about it by Mizoguchi, since what he shows makes it self-evident. It isn’t that his leading actress is particularly sympathetic as a performer that makes this telling. It is rather that she is a bit silly, a bit foolish, a bit selfish, a bit vain. But she is a human being, and she does not deserve to be treated like something else.

It is also true that the female is also capable of delivering abuse, even our heroine, and surely the battleax wife of her boss. Gender is not the weapon. Money is.

Second: This complicated story is delivered to us in style so revolutionary it is difficult to imagine that it was filmed in 1936. It is a style which seizes one narratively in long continuous shots, and set-ups which rivet and enliven the drama and the characters. The placement of figures in a scene, one near with his back to one, another in a distant room.  One muttering about morality, while stealing money from his children, and over there, the prig of a son he’s stealing from, devouring his greedy dinner.

Mizoguchi serves his actors well. And they are wonderful. But the remarkable force of Mizoguchi’s story-telling camera is the real source of revelation. We do not have master shots, followed by two-shots, followed by closeups, in the prescribed Hollywood style. But something different and distinct. It does not call attention to itself, because the truth it reveals is greater than its technique in doing so.

Here’s a master new to me. I wish I were able to speak less clumsily of him. But here’s a director I intend to study, enjoy, immerse myself in, and learn all I can from.

Although he had made many others before this, this is said, by him, to be his first accomplished film.

 

 

 

Rain Or Shine

07 May

Rain or Shine – directed by Frank Capra. Backstage Comedy. 88 minutes Black And White 1930.

The Story: A madcap, double-talking circus manager is caught between his love for the pretty circus owner and his love for the circus which needs saving.

★★★★★

~

There is an elephant here. Here and there is an elephant. Here, there, and everywhere there is an elephant. The elephant is the circus itself, which needs an elephant to move it around and to provide comic weight. Very Funny.

Because  — also very funny — the light comic weight is carried by one Joe Cook whom no one has ever heard of, but who was the star of the Broadway musical of the same name.

Capra threw out all the music and focused on Cook, who is certainly worth the camera. He is a master of circus double-talk and con, and his sequences with his stooge Tom Howard are on a The Marx Brothers plane for pataphysical loonyness. They are doubly funny because you have never seen these characters before.

Capra was a master of crowd scenes like none since, so the handling of the material seems completely up to date, as does that of cinemaphotographer Joe Walker – particularly when Cook, to save the circus, embarks upon a series of acrobatic acts that make one’s jaw drop with delight and incredulity. Cook is a Cirque du Soleil all rolled up in one. Wow!

What makes Capra still modern? Still admirable? Still funny?

His narrative foreshortening, for one. He moves things along with an intelligence which trusts ours intelligence to catch up, and we are flattered and join in. Also Capra’s care for The Actor: everything Capra devised was meant so the audience could enjoy The Actor. And so two-scenes are kept in play instead of the folly of back and forth closeups, and you really get to understand what is going on in people. Capra had a steady crew of cronies who worked with him, and you see their credits and welcome the smartness of screenwriter Jo Swerling again, just as you see a drenching rain scene in every film and wonder how he will get his players out of it once more. Also Capra’s big heart, which shades and colors everything.

Is that enough?

It’s enough for me.

It’s A Wonderful Life is a masterwork of this director of great Americanness. Rain Or Shine’s an early one. Underlying honesty is our forte, a beckoning to the truth of the matter, a condition discovered when justice is balanced between folks. To righten the scales, Joe Cook performs an act of comic sabotage. It is nothing to the one Capra himself inflicts as he let’s loose a stupendous grand finale. How would anyone dare! Although anything less entertaining in the end would be unthinkable, un-Capra-like, unfinished.

 

King Lear [Orson Welles, 1953 Omnibus TV Version]

11 Aug

King Lear [Orson Welles TV version] – directed by Peter Brook. High Tragedy. To retire with his cronies, an English King divides his kingdom, and the two daughters between whom he partitions it drive him to his death. 83 minutes Black and White 1953.

★★★★★

I saw Welles play King Lear at The City Center in New York, and he was quite inaudible – a grumbling old stage thunderer – magisterial and hollow.

Orson Welles was inaudible in many film parts – deliberately inaudible, evincing by that a grand contempt for the piffling project he was in and for acting and for the actors around him. I later came to realize he was neither a stage actor nor a movie actor nor a TV actor, but a radio actor, having to and eventually choosing to achieve all his effects vocally. He had voice of great depth and plangency, and he fancied it, and he thought that such a voice, if used as a bravura instrument, was all that acting needed to be for him, that such a voice was sufficient to play any part whatsoever. Many actors with natural or highly developed voices do the same.

But I find this boring. Misguided. Arrogant. Especially, in basso voices, such as Welles’, it leads to incomprehensibility. The words tend to become drowned in the tumult of ocean. The character as tuba.

Welles’ voice doomed him. He was too famous for it. He, like Reciter-Actors such as Richard Burton, foundered on the rocks of vocal vanity. Vocally his Macbeth, his Othello, his Falstaff are all the same: deep without depth: orotund: the deep sounds shallow.

But Orson Welles’ TV-Omnibus King Lear is another matter entirely. You understand every single thing he says. And part of the pleasure of this is one’s sense that Welles loves this play, this poetry, in just the right way, which is to say humbly. He also knows it so thoroughly, so inwardly, that you sense the actor knows it truly by heart. It’s a wonderful rendition.

He brings the great mass and height of his body to bear without bullying and augments it with a big long nose, which removes from his face the piggy quality it ordinarily had and the visage of a demonic elf, and sets him above all lesser noses. He gives himself patriarchal eyebrows, which erase his own which were those of a mountebank and mere magician. He wears a Neptune beard and hair, which turn him primordial. We are in the presence of a terrible old king before he even opens his mouth, which actually happens at once, since the Edmund/Edgar subplot is banished from this production. Removing the first scene, which justifies the children’s behavior to parents who treat them as no parent should, still does streamline the play for TV length. It’s all right. We are not really asked to concern ourselves with anything other than the central performance.

Alan Badel plays the Fool; Natasha Parry, Cordelia; Arnold Moss, Albany; Bramwell Fletcher, Kent; Beatrice Straight, Goneril; Margaret Phillips, Regan; Michael MacLiammóir, Tom A Bedlam; Fredrick Worlock, Gloucester. And. aged thirty-eight, as the four-score-years-and-more King Lear, Orson Welles. A great Lear, a true investment by the actor. Miss him at your cost.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: STAGE ENGLISH, HIGH TRAGEDY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, MADE FOR TV, Orson Welles, ROYALS, Tudor Costume Drama, WRITTEN BY: William Shakespeare

 

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

22 Mar

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof – directed by Richard Brooks. Melodrama. The scion of a huge Southern estate is to die, and everyone is out for the take. 108 minutes Color 1958.
★★★
This rattles along like an old flivver, threatening to fall apart any minute. Individual scenes are well played, such as the long ones between Brick and Big Daddy, but the whole lacks a coherence of style and approach directorially and narratively.

One of the great dampeners on the piece is the art direction, which smells freshly painted and pretty in pastels; it sabotages the play’s underlying forces. It does, however, provide a light background for the filming of Elizabeth Taylor by the great William Daniels. Daniels filmed most of Garbo’s films from the silent era on, and you might say his skill at doing this made her the goddess we know her to be. His camera was in love with a beautiful woman. You can just see the stage light up a certain way as it waits to film Elizabeth Taylor. It’s lovely to behold, but, of course, what does it have to do with this material?

Taylor plays a woman whose husband will have nothing to do with her. Now, Elizabeth Taylor made four films of Tennessee Williams’ plays, but as an actress she is not really at home in this milieu; her Southern accent is put-on; she hasn’t studied it to a particularity. She is now early in that stage of her work when she was taking on heavy dramatic roles; such parts were not really suited to her instinct or her gifts. She had been mightily impressed by Montgomery Clift’s acting when she was 18, but she had never troubled to study with Stella Adler or anyone else. Her roles tended to parallel her life as a heavy in her personal life. Cat is an early chapter of her downward spiral as an artist.

You also might question her casting in a role which Barbara Bel Geddes played on Broadway in the Elia Kazan production. By which I mean, isn’t Taylor too beautiful to play Maggie? Too beautiful to have vulnerability as a woman? As a human? —  yes — but as a woman?

It’s true that she does have a number of gentle moments, when our hearts go out to her. But this version, of the many versions of this play, stumbles from its casting. Madeleine Sherwood plays it just as she played it on the Broadway stage and at just the same pitch, which over-carries in a film. Jack Carson quietens her somewhat, and is excellent as Gooper, touching, real, and funny. Burl Ives is much better in the film than he was in the Broadway production, where Kazan simply stationed him stage center and let him hold forth. He brings the required ruralness to the part. Paul Newman is beautiful, reserved, and fine, but he has nothing inherent in him of the South. (Put a hot-blood like Tommy Lee Jones in the part and you’ve got something.) But the Australian actress Judith Anderson has no business at all as Big Mama. Her essential energy is off; indeed she fades out into Mrs Danvers from time to time. She loosens the movie from its moorings. And Big Mama is the play’s moorings, because she is the only one who cares a rap about anyone.

What would have grounded the piece would have been to have Mildred Dunnock who played Big Mama on the stage do it here. She was from the South, she had specificity of the accent, she was coarse, and vulgar. She would have given the production a foundation in the region and the style and the heart which it lacks.

I feel about the film what I felt about the original stage productions and all productions since. The play is cold. It has no heart. There is no one in it and nothing about it to care about at all.

 

In This Our Life

18 Nov

In This Our Life –– directed by John Huston. Drama. A young Southern woman runs over the lives and loves of everyone in town. 97 minutes Black and White 1942.

★★★★★

I saw it when it came out and remember it well –– because of its closing scene in which Bette tells off Charles Coburn and then drives her convertible over a cliff. The scene was actually directed by Raoul Walsh, but what was impressive about it was the intensity and rashness of Davis’s ability to tell the truth. The question is not whether she is mean, selfish, immoral, or even sociopathic, but her daring to find in her guts and let loose the emotional truth. I never forgot it, and neither did anyone else who saw it. It was what I could not do at the time, nor for years to come. There was no major film star of Bette Davis’ era who was not a full embodiment of Women’s Liberation. This was Davis’ version.

Davis deplored the picture, which is incorrect, for she chews scenery already there for her digestion. She is never bigger than the part. And she is certainly never smaller than the part. Her costumes, by Orry-Kelly, are superb in their careful want of subtlety: she is always tricked out for game. Perc Westmore executed the makeup, which gives her a bee-stung upper lip and mascara flounces at the outside corners of her eyes. Her hair is free curling just above the shoulder with a disgraceful bang on her brow.

Bette Davis is the most kinetic of all major female stars. Her body is always engaged or about to spring. More than any other actress of her time, she brings to the screen the quality of someone no one has ever loved, and this gives her sexual seething. One way or another she is hot.

This picture is made in her heyday, between The Man Who Came To Dinner, which is her best screen performance, and Now Voyager, which is one of her most iconic. Once again she plays the brat. She had played it for years. And she played it successfully until All About Eve, after which she played it unsuccessfully, because, once over forty, it became barbaric, immature, and neurotic. After Eve, Bette Davis ceased to be an actress and became a persona, which is to say she became a statue in a public park forty years premature to her death.

But here she is giving vent to what all of us, males and females, only wish we could give vent to –– the suppressed life we’ve had to sit on, now released, fuelled, nasty or not, with the rage of our resentment at having had to sit on it so long.

This is John Huston’s second picture, and it is very well told. Ernest Haller who filmed Gone With The Wind makes beautiful light arrangements, and Ed Koch who will write Casablanca does a sound and economical script, particularly since the Pulitzer Prize- winning novel by Ellen Glasgow it comes from hinges on the Davis character’s attempt to incriminate a negro boy for a crime she herself committed. In a memorable jailhouse scene, Davis attempts to cajole and manipulate this boy to confess to it – a scene she plays well, as does the boy. Davis had found the actor, Ernest Anderson, as a waiter in the Warner’s commissary, saw his quality, and got Huston to use him; Anderson went on to have a long acting career. The handling of the negro truth has a moving first-time ever quality that rings true still.

His mother is played by Hattie McDaniel, and it is interesting to see her well-matched in a key scene opposite Olivia de Havilland. Both women were up for supporting Oscars for Gone With The Wind, and when McDaniel won it, de Havilland fled to the ladies’ room in a weeping rage. A friend shook her and said to her that McDaniel would never have another chance to win an Oscar and that de Havilland would, and it brought her to her senses. And here the two women are, face to face, filmed by Ernest Haller once again, while a score by that same Max Steiner strums by.

Olivia de Havilland gives a subtle, strong reading of Davis’ sister. Never in competition with Davis, because her instrument is essentially lyrical, the small telling registrations of her face bring this good woman to life fully. She’s wonderful to watch. She presents a formidable antagonist to Davis. It is one of de Havilland’s most fully realized characterizations.

But it is Davis’s film. Her leading men, Dennis Morgan and the penguin actor George Brent form part of a strong supporting cast which includes Lee Patrick as the care-free friend, and Frank Craven and Billie Burke as the parents. But it is Davis’ scenes with Charles Coburn that are exemplary of Davis acting at her best. Davis had more brass than a doorknocker and she and Coburn come alive to one another whenever they are together, because Coburn has brass too. Their incest scene on the couch is one for the books.

Bette Davis played The Brat for years: Jezebel, Of Human Bondage, The Letter, Dark Victory, Mr. Skeffingon, Elizabeth And Essex, The Little Foxes, and this is her quintessential take on it, and not to be missed. The title comes from the last line of a poem of George Meredith from Modern Love, a book inspired by his wife’s running off with another man. In In This Our Life, Bette runs off with another man. She also runs off with the picture.

 

Lincoln

16 Nov

Lincoln – directed by Steven Spielberg. Docudrama. President Abraham Lincoln is surrounded on all sides as he presses to get Congress to pass the 13th Amendment forbidding slavery. 149 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

I was thrilled, stirred, gripped.

I thought beforehand I would not be, for the coming attractions are ill advised.

But, once there, everything about this film surprised, entertained, informed, and moved me.

My first fear was that Daniel Day-Lewis would simply dress himself up in a top hat and shawl and, in the voice of Henry Fonda, perform The Lincoln Memorial.

But what Daniel Day-Lewis has done with Lincoln, is to give him a posture which is stooped, which we know he had, and a short gait, which we couldn’t know he had, but which keeps him in the contemplative present when he moves.

Day-Lewis’s figure is tall and thin, as was Lincoln’s, and his face is long, as was Lincoln’s. He has, as Lincoln had, cold eyes. Lincoln had a high-pitched voice, and that is what the actor contrives for us. The impersonation is beyond exception.

The actor also has the ability to negotiate Lincoln’s remarkable diction, so he is able to manage Lincoln’s speeches and his raconteurism –– everyone said Lincoln was a most entertaining individual, and folks gathered around him to hear him tell jokes and stories –– and this is given full play as is his play with his little son. But the weight of the matters that concern and confront him and how he faces them are the story.

The political shenanigans environing the passage of the 13th Amendment are the setting here, and in this he is beset by his foes and friends alike. Among the foes is Lee Pace, an actor of signal clarity of attack, who leads the Democrats of the day who, like the Republicans of our own, have no agenda but to oppose, in all matters, the person who holds The Presidency.

The complex backstairs bargaining and bribery and bullying to get the amendment through is exciting and involves a lot of first class actors to bring off. Kevin Kline as a wounded soldier, Jared Harris as U.S. Grant, Bruce McGill as Secretary Stanton. We have James Spader as the foul-mouthed operative sent to influence the undecided with sinecures and cash. Hal Holbrook as the peacenik operative whose truce-making might arrest the entire effort. John Hawkes as Robert Latham.

But the big difficulties at the time were two people who were in favor of the amendment. The first was Mary Lincoln, unbalanced by the loss of a previous child and exhausting and distracting Lincoln by indulging herself in grief because of it. This is an astonishing piece of work by an actress who has grown over the years: daring when young, even more daring now: Sally Field.

The second problematic character was Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist so radical his extreme fundamentalism bid fair to upset the applecart. A formidable politico and vituperator, it required an actor no one could out-wily, out-cunning, out-sly. And such an one we have to hand in the person of Tommy Lee Jones. He’s killingly funny and powerful in the role. It’s one of his great film turns.

The filming of story and the direction of it are exactly right, established at once by Janusz Kaminski with a Brahmsian color palette and a scenic arrangement that gives us a view from under the table of the White House goings-on and political dealings that never fall into the staid tableaux of Historical Documentary or the expected or the pat.

But the great credit of all the great credit due is to Tony Kushner who wrote it. He alone of modern playwrights could negotiate the elaborate rhetoric of 19th Century invective, without which the telling of this material would be incomprehensible. Instead of taking out your gun and firing at an insult, you had to stand still to hear it long enough to mount a more suitable riposte than a bullet. Congress in those days was messy, rude, and volatile. We see it all.

Kushner frames the picture with two speeches, and each one is given to us in a surprising way. Historical events with which we are familiar are gestured when they are not integral to the strife within. He knows how to write a scene with lots of words, and the material needs them and welcomes them. You have to lean forward and keep your ears alert, just as these men and women did in their day. You want to. It’s part of your engagement, your learning, your joy, and your satisfaction.

Up close and personal with Lincoln, if you ever imagine yourself so lucky as to be, you sure are here. You give full credence to this actor’s Lincoln. You watch Lincoln, yes, he is available. You still admire him, you are touched by him, you know him as well as you ever will, save you read his letters. A man of great depth of reserve and great humor. Torn, pure in two, but one. Because fair and honest and kind. Smart because he understands human language from aint to art. When has his party put forth for president a person of one tenth his character? Will they ever do so again?

 

Coriolanus

15 Aug

Coriolanus – directed by Ralph Fiennes. High Tragedy. A great warrior refuses to be polite for political position in. 123 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

Changing People’s Minds is the subject of many of Shakespeare’s plays. What is the outcome of asking people to go against their grain? Hamlet tortures himself with it. Macbeth tries it although he knows it won’t work. Lear’s daughter refuses to do it. Coriolanus is the great examination of this subject. Changing people. And of all his great tragedies it is the one that contains scenes of the most excruciating brilliance. How does someone who is set in his ways, see himself other than what he takes himself to be? How can he see himself at all. “That’s just the way I am,” he will say, not realizing that the real truth is, “That’s just what I do.” Identification with one’s own behavior as The Truth, identification with one’s own emotional habits, identification with the righteousness of one’s conduct and story, obscured by the triumph of its success in certain circumstances, enriches our spectacle of this extraordinary person, Coriolanus, a man made darker of mind by the fabulous rhetoric he can speak to support himself on his path. The text is simple and thorny, the diction plain and incomprehensible because the utterance of internal musings. This is how the mind actually works, the words not so much a way of thinking as an interiority. And it is very difficult for the ear to reach into. I performed Cominius in this play once in my acting life, and it is remarkable how, once reading the script which seems to be written in another language, one gets under it to find how physical it is, and therefore how renderable. Brian Cox, who plays the campaign manager Menenius, is a case in point of an actor who has discovered this, the secret of making all the points so small they reverberate with reality. When he leaves we should miss him more. The ubiquitous Jessica Chastain plays the worried wife, a thankless role we thank no lesser actress is performing. Vanessa Redgrave, an actress who I monstrously dislike, is Volumnia, the mother, the holder of moral suasion for the hero, but her performance is too exquisite for us to see Volumnia’s neurosis as being more hypnotic to Coriolanus and herself than either her maternal care, her passion, or her reason. After all, there really is something wrong with Volumnia. But the performance is simple, direct, and clear. Although there is nothing Mediterranean about her, the same is true of  Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, a part one would suppose him too slight of vitality and physique to play (Richard Burton was notable in the role), but not so. He is marvelous. With his lowering brow, his intention is so resolute, it has no place to go but collapse. His belligerence is massive. He fights with Gerard Butler as Aufidius as though every knife blow were a deep passionate kiss. They both do. Aufidius can kill Coriolanus, but cannot conquer him. He cannot out-best him. The best he can do is hate and adore him. Fiennes brings to the role an unexpected physical solidity, a snobbishness so symphonic you dare not admire it, the assurance of a hero who has his own back. He tends to play many of his big scenes small, and so he should, for the camera, after all, is right at his nostrils. He has a trick of raising his upper left lip in contempt and disgust, which is essentially mugging, and like many English actors he tends to generalize and bray when loud, so the words are lost. And the principal responsibility with filming Shakespeare is that it be detailed, not a word lost – not to whispers and not to shouts. But, for the most part, one leans forward in the wonder of what resides behind Shakespeare’s incredible diction. The power of it to release the human truth of the actor is without competition. It is a very great play, Shakespeare’s only tragedy in the Greek mode, Coriolanus, the drama of  a man of the highest accomplishments and whose valor preserves civilization, being brought down by the rigidity of his own ideals. His is the human tragedy of holding onto the part of you that you take to be yourself, yet your relinquishing of that part to your peril. Not easy watching. But great watching.

 

 

Gunga Din

12 Apr

Gunga Din — produced and directed by George Stevens. Comic Action Adventure. 117 minutes Color 1939.
★★★★★
George Stevens was 17 when he jumped over the wall of the Hall Roach Studios. What he found on the other side was a Western, Rex, King Of The Wild Horses, and its sequels. As assistant cameraman he went off into the rugged mountains and made up movies, and ever after he said that the Western was his preferred genre. What this gave us is, of course, Shane but it also produced The Greatest Story Ever Told, shot in those settings and Gunga Din a sort of Eastern Western, situated in spectacular mountains and in a frontier fort and a remote town, and with a host of bloodthirsty savages.

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, authors of His Gal Friday, wrote the story, which, naturally therefore, has one of a trio of soldiers of the Raj wanting to get married and the other two sabotaging his immanent retirement by engaging all of them in putting down the Thugees, a tribe of native killers – read The Taliban.

To say there is a plot to this were to rearrange the meaning of that word, for the movie is one thing after another, a comic scene at the fort, followed by a big battle scene, comic scenes back at the fort, another battle scene, another comic scene back at the fort, and so forth.

The battle scenes are as funny as the comic scenes, for Stevens had learned gag comedy at The Roach Studios so the movie resembles Indiana Jones, or rather Indiana Jones resembles Gunga Din, for Jones kept up with Din by aping it in scene after scene. Stevens’ visual imagination in devising interesting and entertaining slaughters was unequalled. They involved thousands of actors and, to insure no one was hurt, they had to be carefully imagined, very slowly rehearsed, then repeated a bit faster, then faster still, then shot at full speed.

But Stevens also knew what to look at with his fort scenes, where the comedy depends not on gags but on the expressions on actors’ faces. Each of the sergeants – Douglas Fairbanks Junior is Scottish, Victor McLaglen is Irish, and Cary Grant is Cockney – has rich comic scenes to play, and from the start they are all involved in comical branagans. Grant has his lust for booty, McLaglen a darling elephant, and Fairbanks the milksop Joan Fontaine.

Stevens knows exactly what to look at with his camera, which is manned by the great Joe August, who even gives us an in-tight Place-In-The-Sun closeup of Fontaine. Abner Biberman and Eduardo Ciannelli play the outright villains outrightly. And Sam Jaffe is just lovely as the waterboy, Gunga Din, a middle-aged man who saves the day and who is the hero of Rudyard Kipling’s poem from which the picture is loosely derived. They originally wanted the great child actor Sabu, so Jaffe said he played it exactly as Sabu would have, and he’s just marvelous.

Alfred Newman’s music is rousing, and the thousands of troops on the parade grounds and threading through huge mountains is spectacular. Cary Grant is especially gratifying in, for him an unusual, lower class part and also a dopey one. There are comic effects on his face you will never see from him in any other film. All you need do is sit back and look at him to be entertained. He was lower class in origins, and it shines through with a warm, particular and special wit.

Stevens seldom moves his camera so the adventure takes place without intrusion, and he seldom used reaction shots, so the energy between actors is never broken. It is one of the most “complete” films ever made, and remained a George Stevens’ favorite.

The film has never been out of circulation since its immensely popular first showing in the year of the movie miracles, 1939.

 

China Seas

10 Feb

China Seas — directed by Tay Garnett. Low Adventure On The High Seas. A ship captain endures pirates, monsoon, and the forward attentions of two desirable dames. 87 minutes Black and White 1935.

★★★★

Drama at every turn, so, why are you complaining – ain’t you gettin’ your money’s worth? Yes, you are, but it’s a crazy film. Clark Gable is before us, aged 34 and at the peak of his masculinity. There’s a lot to say about Gable as an actor, for he loved his craft, was absolutely in earnest about being good at it. Technically he is the perfect film star, with the most beautiful head of hair, shape of head, face, eyes, mouth, nose, and photogenicality. He has a voice unmatched for male ardor. He is absolutely sure of his sexuality, which is really the foundation of his appeal, and which means not only that he can go after what he wants, but that he can decline what he does not want, both without shame. And what he does not want in this story is the neediness of the dame he has been screwing, played by Jean Harlow. How different a sex idol she was than Monroe, who has all the seduction of pliability, soft as perfume, whereas Harlow is rapacious and hard. The peroxide hair of Marilyn made her look soft, that of Harlow tough. Interesting huh? The difficulty with the material lies in these two stars’ acting. Gable had a lot more talent and technique than Harlow, but he barks and barks, and Harlow is cacophonous. She is so monotonously raucous in her playing that the character looks insane, and you never think that Gable would put up with her for a minutes, much less possibly end up with her. They needed a suggestion of more variety from the director. Rosalind Russell, such a tonic as an actress, plays the English lady Gable really loves, a gal friend from his better days. Aboard this ship of fools is Robert Benchley as a droll drunk, C. Aubrey Smith, that firm but kindly hatchet, as a bemused ship owner, Lewis Stone as a deposed captain, Edward Brophy playing out that great Somerset Maugham story about the necklace opposite Akim Tamiroff, he of The Moscow Art Theatre and Stanislavsky, along with Donald Meek, Hattie McDaniel delicious as the greedy maid, and, last but never least, Wallace Beery as the loveable heavy. Harlow’s and Russell’s dresses are by Adrian and are masterpieces of the costumers’ art. Dwell upon them. The story is by one of the most gifted screenwriters of the day, Jules Furthman. The filming of the typhoon at sea is worth the show – but all of it is worth the show. If only to just watch Gable, and see how good an actor he is, a factor almost impossible to scope past his personal presence, confidence, and beauty.

 

 

A Murder Of Quality

04 Feb

A Murder Of Quality — directed by Gavin Miller. WHODUNIT. Spymaster George Smiley is dragged out of retirement to solve a murder in a boys’ public school. 90 minutes Color 1991

★★★★★

Gary Oldman and Alec Guinness, after and before, have been called upon to play the ruthless taciturn Mr. Smiley but the role clearly belongs to Denholm Elliott, who, granted, is asked to resuscitate the character only for the petites pommes de terre of a policier of a provincial whacking. Guinness, he of the moonstone school of acting perfected by Ralph Richardson and finally put out of business by Paul Scofield, was the most opaque and Gary Oldman the most ruthless of the Smileys, but Denholm Elliott outsmarts even those masters of scene larceny by giving Smiley not just one implacable spine but a suppleness of carriage that gives him a place to begin and a place to go. He first appears to be a mealy-mouthed amateur when meeting the local inspector, masterfully cast and played by Matthew Scurfield, not as a bumbling dope or bigot but as a highly proficient but frustrated professional with a strong personality and smart views. Denholm Elliott is assisted in the detection by the curmudgeon-mouthed Glenda Jackson, and one can see the reason for her Oscars by just the way she puts a napkin down on the table and rises in utter silent disgust at the fascism of the culprit when she learns of it. Billie Whitelaw scares us silly as mad Jane the local loony, simply by the swiftness and lack of motivation of her violence, a wonderful choice by an actor. Then on the one hand we have Joss Ackland as the grandiloquent gay master fascinating his boys with his magic quotes from the Rubyiat and on the other as one of the boys, Christian Bale, he of the inner smirk. Yes, even at 16 years of age this is so. A completely untrained actor to this day, Bale brings to the character a minimalism perfect for an adolescent out of his depth in the machinations of adult doings. If you look at him carefully, or even carelessly, you can see here his systèm. He begins with a tiny single point and retains it. In later years this skill spokes out to produce performances and characters of  terrifying intensity. Think of him as the opposite of Sean Penn, but playing the same sorts of parts with the same rash effect. He is one of those masters-through-experience actors I prefer. I find it very hard to look at him. I don’t like his face, which difficulty makes his work all the more admirable to me. A craft and a talent devoted to stretching beyond the extreme borders cuts through my revulsion of a physiognomy he simply cannot help. It would be fascinating to see him perform Noël Coward’s Private Lives, that is to say a high comedy of manners: Mirabel in Congreve’s The Way Of The World. Jack in Bunbury. Someone, that is to say, not doomed by what he knows.

 

Spanglish

13 Dec

Spanglish — Directed and written by James L. Brooks. Family Comedy/Drama. The chaos of an L.A. well-to-do family realigns itself into a brand new chaos. 131 minutes Color 2004.

* * * * *

Téa Leoni! I had never seen her before, but what an actress! (She reminds me of that daring beauty Jill Clayburgh.) Willing to go to any lengths to reveal the truth of the character, she inspires my deep bow of appreciation. She plays a woman so self-indulgent and voluble you could smack her, were she not at the same time, for very innocence and complete ignorance of herself, completely lovable. Spouting a torrent of California human-potential flapdoodle, she is up against a husband who understands her perfectly and who also understand himself and who also understands everyone else, including the new maid, a young mother who speaks no English whatsoever, for she has been barriod since she fled across the Mexican border with her young daughter now thirteen. Adam Sandler plays the hubby and, while his playing often resorts to the strategy of looking away, around, and back at those who confront him, he is a model of kindly and good humored equanimity in the turmoil of the house, or houses, since they move to Malibu for the summer, with the maid, the maid’s daughter, their two children, and his wife’s drunk mother, played by the incomparable Cloris Leachman. Everyone in this film has a big heart. And that’s the ground of its success as a story. On that necessary foundation is laid a marvelous piece of dialogue-writing, and you can just see every actor rejoice to be able to finally say decent, nay, wonderful lines. Motion pictures are about the actions speech leads to. So one leans forward with delight as these relationships unfold in what is said, in repartee – particularly since the maid, played by Paz Vega, speaks no English at all. Leoni speaks too much English; Vega none. The story probably started out as an examination of the Leoni/Sandler marriage, judging by the deleted scenes, but it also started out as an exposition of the conflict between love for one’s mate and love for one’s children. And this last is the direction the story ends up going, the marriage, quite rightly, left hanging at the curtain. This bifurcation of intention throws a veil over the piece, so you don’t really know where it is going, which is to the good. And it provides a ground for surprise as well. Every actor is excellent. The film has a big glow of real warmth, a glow which is never stoked by sentimentality. I would not suppose I could identify with people in this particular Southern California world, but I do, and I recommend that you do too. A warning, though: Skip the Director’s Commentary. He cheapens the film by being unprepared, facetious, and offering crude praise. Commentators: never wing it! Otherwise, don’t miss it.

 

 

 

Twentieth Century

06 Nov

Twentieth Century — Directed by Howard Hawks. Slapstick Screwball Comedy. A theatre director divo spellbinds an actress until she can take no more. 91 minutes Black and White 1934.

* * *

Certain qualities can make an actor popular and even lovable, without their ever being a good actor. Such certainly was the case with Gary Cooper, and such was also the case with Carole Lombard. She was pretty, she had a good figure, and she was spirited, but it is only the last of these qualities which cinched her stardom. Watching her playing Lily Garland, the “discovery” of the manic Broadway Director Oscar Jaffe (based on Jed Harris and others), the most obvious defect of her technique is vocal. Even in repose, she always seems to be screaming, always in her upper passagio. She was Howard Hawks’ first discovery as the Hawksian woman who could stand up to men and compete in their world. He would find it later in Ann Sheridan, Rosalind Russell, and Lauren Bacall – but all of them had low, well-placed voices, and if they had not he would send them into a back room for a couple of weeks and train them to replace them with lower ones, but  Hawks hadn’t gotten around to it yet with Lombard. As it is, Lombard’s inability to modulate her voice and her spirit ends up being almost as annoying as John Barrymore’s inability to modulate his own performance into making at least a few local stops into reality. (Carole Lombard’s recently divorced husband, William, Powell, would have been better in the part.) For is Barrymore a ham playing a ham, or is he an actor playing a ham, or is he an actor who has become a ham playing a ham? If you have to ask the question, you already know the answer. Barrymore also had one of those badly placed voices, a high grating tenor. And the film is such a mélange of frenzy in the dog-and-cat fight of its episodes, that it becomes monotonous in its yowling and in its pace that breaks the neck of any audience. Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht wrote it from a hit play of their own, and there are lots of funny lines. Most them are delivered by Roscoe Karns as the drunken press agent. (These were the days when alcoholism was considered droll.) And the movie is worth seeing just to witness the wit style of the era of which Macarthur and Hecht were the masters. But the film as whole I found trying. It feels labored and forced. It demonstrates a complete failure of directorial tone. The famed cameraman Joe August shot it, and I think not well, especially in the theatre scenes, all of which were taken first in the shoot. As per Hawks films, there are almost no close-ups, so that when Lombard appears in one it’s a stylistic shock. If you want to see if Barrymore could act, don’t listen to his Hamlet, see Don Juan or see William Wyler’s Counselor At Law of the year before. And if you want Lombard at her best, see her in the last film she made, Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not Be. Twentieth Century started her off in Screwball Comedy. It was not a successful film at the time. It still isn’t.

 

 

The History Boys

03 Nov

The History Boys — Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Comedy. A bunch of private school boys cram to get into Oxford with the help of a doughty gay professor who wants to get into their pants. 109 minutes Color 2006.

* * * * *

I had never seen the actors before, but I found them wonderful, particularly Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths, who are fascinating to watch perform a highly literate script in an absolutely realistic tradition freshly. I went to a school like this in England and sat for the exams these boys sit for , so you might say I know the milieu. But that’s not the question. The question is not “verisimilitude” or “meaning” or “morality”. Because those are not on offer here. What is on offer is: can one watch a play and entertain the passions in it without having to draw a conclusion or level a judgment on them? Like them, I passed the test. I enjoyed this piece immensely. If you like “The Corn is Green” with Bette Davis, or “The Browning Version,” this may speak to you — though this story has its wits about it more than either of those, and is, in the best sense of the word, more ruthless. The question is not whether something here is right or wrong or good or bad, it seems to me, but is it provocative? Has the author dealt with material proper to him? Is his tale told well? To all of this I say, Yes! I saw it in a movie house and was thoroughly satisfied. I don’t go to a movie house to be preached to, as a rule, either as a liberal, which I am, or as anything else. And I was not preached to here, but rather met with a work of high imagination with which I could dance. To me it is a joy. It does what movies do best. It was my favorite movie of 2006.

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Ball Of FIre

09 Oct

Ball Of Fire – Directed by Howard Hawks. Screwball Comedy. A virginal professor meets up with a tootsie chanteuse. 111 minutes Black and White 1941,

* * * *

Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote this version of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, with Dana Andrews as The Wicked Stepmother, Gary Cooper as Snow White, and Barbara Stanwyck as the ball of fire that wakes him from his sexual sleep. Because it is inauthentic, Cooper’s naïve style dates badly, and the film dates too. This is most noticeable when compared to Hawks’ intolerable A Song Is Born made only seven years later with the exact same script, set, setups, cameraman (Gregg Toland), and even Miss Totten.  Why? World War II had intervened and America was naïve no longer. Yet of the two versions, this is the more swallowable. First of all, Gary Cooper is a prettier object of romance than Danny Kaye, and second of all Barbara Stanwyck. It’s a shame Stanwyck did not make more comedies. The War may have killed that too. She had spunk, a strong breezy style, and a rich sense of humor that fit perfectly into the works of Capra, Sturges, and Hawks. Here she is a bunch of fun as the tart, sexually insolent singer on the lam in a refuge of encyclopeaists. These seven dwarfs are played in the lost manner of the time by the great S. Z. Sakall, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, Leonid Kinsky, and others. The brilliant Dan Duryea is on hand as a henchman as is the sparky Elisha Cook Jr as a waiter. Hawks had a ten-year run of huge hits – Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, Sargent York, Air Force, To Have And To Have Not, The Big Sleep, Red River, I Was A Male War Bride, The Thing – and this was one of them. It is the most forced of all his comedies, and like all of them it is an owl and the pussycat story, of a person heading toward the cliff of convention being rescued against his will by a ruthless eccentric. A fundamental human sexual predicament, that is to say, one that is still recognizable despite, or perhaps even more recognizable because of our modern sexual liberation.

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Dragonwyck

26 Sep

 

Filmed by the great Arthur Miller. Dragonwyck – Written and Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Gothic Melodrama. A farm girl comes to live in a mansion whose married Byronic owner rolls his eyes at her. 103 minutes Black and White 1946.

* * *

Gene Tierney – a farm girl? – never. She’s too snooty. Look at the tricksy way she has of lowering her eyelids. Of course, the girl is a dreamer which is what sets her off to leave the sheep herd of her father, played by Walter Huston in one of his Duel In The Sun–Sadie Thompson religious fanatic roles. Anne Revere, an actress I do not admire much, plays the stalwart mother, also once again. The first thing you notice about them is that their aprons look just-off-the-rack, and that disease prevails throughout. The sets are brilliant but they are suborned by the film being over-costumed as though the things were built for one of Betty Grable’s musicals there at Fox. When no expense has been spared, vulgarity is usually the consequence. Connie Marshall does a fine job, in this her last film, as the food-addict wife; Spring Byington is interestingly cast against type as the cracked housekeeper; Jessica Tandy shows up just great as a gimpy maid, and Harry Morgan in one of his 130 film roles does fine by a rabble-rouser. Glenn Langan, a leading man I had never seen before, is lovely, chosen perhaps for his height, 6’5”. For the real lead in the film is that six foot four of toad, Vincent Price. I remember when the film first came out and how attracted I was by its grandiose title: Dragonwyck. But I declined to go, because I knew, even then, that Gene Tierney was an actress of imperceptible interest and that Vincent Price had no authentic authoriity. And besides people always said Vincent Price was a terrible ham. Well, why did they say that? When you look at this performance, you see an actor who is razor thin, with very long legs that look super in the straight trou of the 1840s and especially in that floor-length dressing gown. In execution of the part, Price never gesticulates, he scarcely moves, except to walk, so he is not throwing himself about. He is not of the bent wrist school of acting, the pre-Pickford silent screen school of acting. His voice is barely modulated, hardly any outward emotion is expressed on his face, and, as was the custom in Hollywood acting of his era, no subtext at all is perceptible. Why is he a ham then? A ham is someone who is overdoing it. A ham is someone who is pigging out as though all scenes were his. Is Price really doing that? Nope. And yet he is a ham. It is part the fault of his use of his voice. Vincent Price’s voice is cobalt velvet upon which a raw egg has been broken. And with it he overacts incontestably, not because he is extravagant with it but because he is the reverse. He overacts by overacting underacting. He overacts by maximizing minimization. He always makes less more. He reminds me of Orson Welles who was always and in everything a radio actor, an actor vain about his voice and in slavery to it. He, like Price, makes everything he does, macabre – which is to say humanly hollow. Price went on to make many pictures, but Dragonwyck is Price’s favorite of all. And he actually has scenes of genuine romantic attraction and a death scene that is quite touching. Filmed by the great Arthur Miller, it is Mankiewicz’s first directorial effort, to be followed by All About Eve, Suddenly Last Summer, Cleopatra. His writing style is canny; his directorial style is plain, but the film is goulash. Leave it to heaven.

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All About Eve

06 Sep

All About Eve – Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. Drama. 138 minutes Black and White 1950.

★★★★★

The Story: A great Broadway star teeters on the brink of 40, and a younger star tries to push her over.

~

I don’t know whether Mankiewicz is a good director, but his screenplay here works like crazy, because it takes the focus off of Bette Davis and hands it around evenhandedly to the other  characters before us, so our interest in the main matter which is Can Broadway Star Margo Channing Stop Being A Brat And Become A Grownup? is left to the other actors to manage for us.

Very crafty.

George Sanders is the only non-female main character in the story, but, if you consider the part could be been played, although not so well, by Clifton Webb, you will recognize that he is not actually a male character at all. There are three other males in the piece, but Gregory Ratoff as the play producer, while very good, has little to do, Hugh Marlowe as the playwright has only a little more to do, and Gary Merrill, as her suitor and her director, does everything with contempt for the craft of acting itself and is quite bad.

This leaves us with Celeste Holm. She said, when she first came on set, Davis was rude to her on sight. Davis was an inexcusable person; so Holm is very well cast as Davis’s best friend, and the first of Eve’s suckers.

Sanders won the Oscar for this, quite rightly (George Sanders like that other master of boredom, Gig Young, eventually committed suicide. And you can see it coming in his relations with Baxter.) More than any other actor who ever lived, George Sanders drawl could make any line sound witty, which is nice, since many of the lines are so. Marilyn Monroe – she of the Copacabana School of acting – charmingly appears as the object of one of them.

This brings us to the two remaining stars.

Bette Davis is really up for this role. Her natural vitriol gives way to the sheer physical requirements of the part – snatching up a mink from the floor, waddling into a bathroom, declining a bonbon. Her command of all that is inside her and all that surrounds her wins our loyalty from the start. For once, Davis is actually at home in a role, relaxed, her customary archness vanished, and the story grants us only the best of her tantrums.

That year the stories of two aging stars, Norma Desmond and Margo Channing, vied for the Oscar, but Anne Baxter bullied the studio to put her up for one too, and, in a divided vote, both Swanson and Davis  (how characteristic of Eve) lost and Judy Holliday, the younger actress, got it. Yet, as Eve, Anne Baxter is lamentably miscast. You cannot believe that any of those shrewd judges of character that those theatre people are would have been duped for a minute by those batting eyelashes and that breathy, tobacco stained voice into believing she was an innocent.

Never mind. Otherwise more than worth the bumpy ride. Davis endures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Women

01 Aug

Two Women – Directed by Vittorio De Sica. Low Tragedy. As World War II ends, a mother and her daughter seek shelter from destruction. 100 minutes Black and White 1960.

* * * * *

One of the great humorists of film and a master of many styles, De Sica was the most gifted, varied, and accessible of all the neo-realist film-makers of the New Wave. He made more films than any of the others, many of them before the War, and they ranged from White Telephone movies through neo-realistic movies like Bicycle Thief, to The Garden of The Finzi-Continis. Why the neo in neo-realism? I dunno. It was the first and only realism since silent pictures. Anyhow, this is a remarkable picture. Sophia Loren was slated to play the daughter, but when Anna Magnani was asked to play the mother she said, “Let Loren play her own mother!” and slammed the door on the role that won Loren The Cannes, The BAFTA, The Donatello, The Italian National, The San Jordi, The New York Film Critics, and The Oscar for the Best Performance By An Actress for 1960. She well deserved it. She plays a cunning, susceptible shopkeeper intent on preserving her 12 year old daughter from destruction from the bombing of Rome. They strike out for her native village in the mountains. There they live and survive. There she meets a student revolutionist, an intellectual wearing glasses, cast, in a stroke of genius, with the most sensual actor in films, Jean-Paul Belmondo. Loren is 25 when she does this, and is completely convincing as the widowed mother protecting her daughter like a tigress. Both Neapolitan, she and De Sica make wonderful film together. She has the energy and internal power of the lower classes from which she came, their knowledge, passion, strength, humor, and forgiveness. Moravia wrote the novel, Zavattini the screenplay. In all of this De Sica is never without humor, most of which is gestural and therefore all the more telling. See it.

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Force Of Evil

28 Jul

Force Of Evil – Directed and written by Abraham Polonsky. Crime. A bespoke lawyer tries to advance his brother in the numbers racket. 78 minutes Black and White 1948.

* * * * *

I never like to say of a film, I wish it had been done this way or that way. After all, the thing is finished, a work of art, good or bad, published, done with. But I wish the closing sequence of this picture had been shot differently: it’s a sequence of John Garfield going down and down the cliff of Riverside Drive to the rocks by the river, and it needs to be a descent into hell and it is not. Unless it is, the last line of the film doesn’t work, and it doesn’t. So when you see this terrific picture, I want you to imagine that it is a hell-descent and that the last line does work. For, setting the conclusion aside, the picture is brilliant in a way that seems to transcend the gifts of those who made it, particularly those of its star, John Garfield, who also produced it. Used to seeing him in Depression get-ups, talking out of the side of his mouth and none too bright, instead one finds him here as the super-intelligent, fastest talking lawyer in New York, an operator in the numbers racket (now the NY State Lottery). Looking at his slightly oily face, one sees a real character constantly in play behind the once familiar features. His delivery is faster than a revolver, and the lines he delivers are swift, devious, mean, the result of a remarkably literate and verbal screenplay by Polonsky. I love a lot of good talk in a movie, and Garfield is not the only one supplied with it. Cast with amazing prescience is Thomas Gomez completely occupying the role of the older brother torn between his need for work and his need for honest work. He has the acting opportunity of a lifetime, and he does not fail it. Beatrice Pearson, as the little bird of conscience, is equally wonderful in a role easy to ruin through piety or dimples, neither of which she opts for. Everyone involved is excellent in this production, but let’s just credit Garfield as standing for all, in bringing life to a life, and therefore a mystery, and therefore a dimension instructing our respect, admiration, and wonder.

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The Taming Of The Shrew [1929]

22 Jul

The Taming Of the Shrew – Directed by Sam Wood. Shakespearean Comedy. An out-of-towner in town to marry wealthily hooks up with a harridan. 63 minutes Black and White 1929.

* * * * *

The first talking film of a Shakespeare play, this is also the first time (and the last time) Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford appeared together in a picture. They go at one another with bullwhips, which is less funny than the series of brilliant sight gags the film explodes with. (Tell me, please, how that business with the chair was ever done!) The screenwriter has balanced out the story rather neatly with the conceit that Kate, in order to reach a truce, by succumbing to his outrageous demands is actually taming Petruchio. The movie begins with the camera looking admiringly at the sets by William Cameron Menzies, and it ends abruptly and bafflingly by omitting the buildup scene to Kate’s submission speech. Pickford was a wonderful actor, but here she plays into her husband’s huge theatrical style and not to her advantage. Fairbanks throws his arms wide upon every occasion and tosses his head back and laughs longer than even his three thousand white teeth can lend reality to. If you handed him a cup of tea, he would do the same. But this style both suits the role and suits his limitations but does not suit Pickford’s genuine genius for realistic performance. Make-up gives her wasp-stung lips, and Costume wimples her head like the Mad Queen. She ends up visible as a character to us only when she shows her hair. The script is cut to include only its famous big set pieces, such as the moon scene and the dinner table scene. But that’s all right. The show is far more lively than the lumbering version with the Burtons. The Taming Of The Shrew a very great comedy, on three counts: It has dialogue that an actor can swing around like a cat by the tail; it has a supersonic plot; it has two leading roles that never misfire.

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Boesman And Lena

13 Jun

Boesman and Lena – Directed by John Berry. High Tragedy. A South African couple, dispossessed and refugee, work out their destiny in a wasteland. 84 minutes Color 2000.

* * * * *

I did not know it had been made; I knew I would be a fool not to see this. Atol Fugard is one of the greatest of modern playwrights, and this play is his King Lear. It takes place in a wasteland and a storm. It is a two character piece in which both characters play the fool, play the monarch, play the bastard-son Edmund. It offers up to us a married couple at rock bottom in their marital and material lives, bulldozed out of their township and now forced to scrounge in desolate mudflats by the sea. The man, Boesman, played by Danny Glover has become stone-hearted by cynicism and reduction, as he knows, to the non-human status of white-man’s-rubbish. Lena Played by Angela Bassett is his alcoholic wife, whose brain has become damage by drink, by circumstance, and by the violent abuse of her husband. I would never have believed Angela Bassett had in her the intelligence, the technique, or the temperament to play as I see her play here, with uncanny daring and immediacy in a range that goes beyond even this great script — which is what you want from the play King Lear, and what you want from the play Boesman and Lena. It is what  such plays exist for. The extraordinary depths to which the script takes us, and the heights to which this actress takes us you will seldom see combined. These two people have become junkyard junk in their marriage and in society. Yet they live. And they fight tenaciously, ignorantly, deeply, not knowing if their fight even leads back. Would you be a fool to miss it? I am happy to say I was not.

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La Ronde – Vadim

12 May

La Ronde – Directed by Roger Vadim. Sex Drama. From one on to the next to the next and the next. 110 minutes Color 1964.

* * * * *

A version of the Arthur Schnitzler play once filmed by Max Ophuls who brings into the material a satirical voice personified by Anton Walbook’s intercessions. Here there is no satire and no interruptions; Vadim’s approach is straight on. What’s similar is that in both films the females are sympathetic humans and the males are the idiots, just wanting to get their jollies. Once sex is over, the men want no further history; once sex is over the women want history to begin. As in Ophuls’ the men rush to the women’s slaughter; the women submit winsomely, as though regretting the loss of the fairy tale they believed love to be. One great difference is that Vadim’s script omits the use of the word l’amour to the degree Ophuls employed it, so we have the grace to know the story is about flat out sexual seduction, and we have the joy to see that the seducers are all mostly female, no matter how the males may posture. Two beautiful males, Jean-Claude Brialy and Jean Sorel open and close the picture, neither one having to play any his aces to take the queens. But the females still are more wonderful than the males, just as they are in Ophuls’. On the other hand, Vadim’s also omits Ophuls’ great interest in camera style. Ophuls’ film is about the beauty of film; Vadim’s is about the beauty of women. An interesting advantage Vadim’s has is that the omission of Walbrook’s recesses gives the screenwriter a chance to expand on certain characters and certain scenes, and, since the screenwriter is no less than Jean Anouilh the most fully developed character is the playwright. Jane Fonda plays the part Danielle Darrieux took, and our Jane does very well in the part. Vadim was a handsome and sexy man, and Fonda married him. His interview in the Extras is fascinating. And her interview about him might be said to contain more wisdom than the film itself.

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One Hour WithYou

09 May

One Hour With You – directed by Ernst Lubitsch – Musical. Two ladies vie for the bedroom of M. Chevalier, one of them is married to him, one isn’t.  80 minutes Black and White 1932.

* * * * *

Lubitsch’s perpetual sense-of-humor-cigar is that sex is a jest that people inevitably loose their sense of humor over. The one who loses it here is Jeanette MacDonald just as Florence Vidor lost it in Lubitsch’s 19245 silent version The Marriage Circle. Now, I want you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say, for no matter what you may think of “old” films, especially this old, they possess a quickness of wit and heart to be found no place else. You may adore or despise the hairdos and the decor. You may find the music and the tone to be “Viennese” and dated. You may dismiss the frivolity, but you’d be a suicidal killjoy to miss any movie that begins with a line like this: “She was a brunette when I married her, and now I can’t believe a thing she says.” Again, in this piece we have the light-operetta style so suited to the non-singer. I speak of Maurice Chevalier. Chevalier appeared to sing. Of course he didn’t sing; he never sang a note his whole life long. He simply appeared to. So do we care whether he will jilt his wife and spend the night with that most forward of minxes, Genevieve Tobin? Perhaps not, but that is the entire point. Neither should his wife, Jeanette, care. Sex is a cocktail glass from which anyone may sip, provided there is fresh martini in it. Why not? If sex is not a cocktail, then how can you make a movie about the folly of sex? And what we mean by sex is sexual attraction. The act itself is best left to closed lids. Your drama could never entertain points about that attraction unless your setting was frivolous. For, when the frivolous becomes the essential, you have something worth looking at. And Lubitsch provides you with this. You, with him, have a way of seeing. You have a way of penetrating. With point of view, you have a chance of latitude of view. You have a fixed position around which you may gaze in all directions. With Lubitsch’s films one is complicit. Why in drama and in life does infidelity seem far more momentous than fidelity? It is because we have made what is unimportant important, and it is important to see that we have. Lubitsch gives us that permission. A respect. A distance. A stepping back. Provided, of course, that you are not actually experiencing sexual attraction at the moment. Otherwise you can relax. You can see that sexual attraction is droll and endearing and that infidelity is simply a beguiling possibility. You don’t have to worry about making the rent. You can laugh. And, best of all, you can breathe like a human being once again.

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The Eccentricities Of A Nightingale

16 Apr

The Eccentricities Of A Nightingale — Directed by Stephen Porter. Romantic Drama. A Southern spinster sets her sights on the handsome boy next door. 1970’s/2002 Color 120 minutes.

* * * *

Tennessee Williams wrote this material four times, and his rewrites never solved the defects it presented. Samson Raphaelson said that while Williams was a much greater playwright than himself, if he had only fifteen minutes with Tennessee Williams he could have solved the problems of his plays, and he’s right. In this one, for instance, Williams writes a long closet or bedroom scene between the mother and John, but places it at the end of the play. The mother should not appear in the park, and it should be set, if at all, at the beginning of the play after the first scene between Alma and her father. This would invest the piece with the power of suspense, and build to the the seduction scene in Act III. Williams was a great playwright but not much of a craftsman. The essential problem of the play for an audience  is Alma, and the fact that, like Flora in Milktrain, Alma talks too much for an audience to care about. She is flibbertygibbet-boring.  But her tragedy is not that she has eccentricites or that she talks too much or is nervous or laughs oddly. Her problem is she has adopted these to make herself different from what she knows herself to be, which is normally sexed but maybe sexually unmateable. Adapting Eccentricities from From Summer And Smoke, Williams removed the rakes-hell boy next door and all the madness of The Moonlake Casino. But Rosa Gonzales and  little Nellie, while not subplots, at least gave the play something solid to bounce back from, and their light sheds upon the boy next door  the color of his vices. Wiliams replaced the rakes-hell with a nebbish. He replaced his righteous father with an incestuous mother. He replaced the melodrama with nothing. Alma got laid. But nothing improved. And nothing happened. The play declined in power and lost its great and brilliant and moving final scene in the doctor’s office. And in neither version is there is there a subplot, no secondary line of interest feeding the main matter, as there is between Stanley and Stella, for instance in Streetcar, or Mitch and Blanche, or between big Daddy and Brick in Cat, and in any Shakespearean play you might mention. What we have instead is two hours of  the rantings of a frustrated spinster and some voluble locals, and a mother who will not shut up, all of them molasses-Southern and rendered with Williams’ infallible ear, but none of them of sufficient dramatic or comic import to supply the deficiencies of a play which, being underwritten, ends up overwritten to compensate. The long bedroom scene at the end of the first part offers us nothing we do not already know from the mother’s merely taking her son’s arm at the fireworks display. Neva Patterson plays the mother here, a part written so it can only be played one way, witchy, which makes her character one-note-monotonous. It’s not Patterson’s fault, although she and all the players over-Southernize their accents, when Williams, by his diction alone, supplies all the accent needed. Summer and Smoke is certainly the better play, and Geraldine Page as Alma is superb in the role. Blythe Danner is an actress so inherently lovely it seems impossible she could remain a spinster, although she does supply a wince to regulate and demote her beauty and the neurasthenic affectations which make her annoying enough to make us think she is unmarriagable. But the part cannot work, because Williams has not got to the heart of it. Frank Langella brings his rich voice to the characterless part of the boy next door. Langella smiles affectionately throughout, a smart move, but it’s a dog’s-body of a part; here’s nothing there; and all one can do is thank him for not making more of a thankless role than can be made. Their losing their virginity together is a beautifully written scene and beautifully played, and worth the price of admission, but it shouldn’t be in the play. These two actors have played together many times on the stage, where I have seen them, and their high style is well suited to one another, and the respect for the talent and workings of one another make them look like Lunt and Fontanne. I love Tennessee Williams. And I love this material. Yes, as Hal Holbrook says in his introduction, it is different From Summer And Smoke. Different, yes. Better, no.

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The Rules Of The Game: Pirandello

13 Apr

The Rules Of The Game : Pirandello– Directed by Stephen Porter – Tragedy. A married woman prefers to live like a kept woman, and the consequences are dire. 87 minutes Color 1975.

* * * * *

The Nobel Prize winning Luigi Pirandello is my favorite playwright. And the reason for that is that his dramas hinge on the machinery of the human psyche and how its truth forces inner roles into becoming outer roles. Here we have a frivolous and capricious woman, a love-tease and a sex-tease, who can’t abide her husband and so lives away from him. She has a courter, well played by David Dukes, who may or may not be her lover, but who is devoted to his fascination with her, as is her husband, the lover’s close friend. One evening a trio of drunk playboys barges into her apartment thinking it is a bordello and molests her until her maid rouses the neighbors (among whom you will find Glenn Close). She then decides, as a dirty trick to play on him, that her husband must avenge her. What are the forces afield inside these individuals? What is really there? What makes all these plot developments inevitable? Why is the servant sure that his master will have breakfast at 7:30; is he a fool? Joan Van Ark misplays the wife as actressy, which throws the menge-a-trois-blanc into the realm of a shrug: how could anyone be attracted to this phony? But John McMartin plays the husband superbly. Mildred Dunnock once said to me that McMartin was an actor who played everything the same way. Which meant that he had a trick vocal lever he always pulled. Certain actors have such a lever: Sandy Dennis, for instance, Gloria Graham: they are always the same because they mechanize their voices. McMartin does not pull his usual lever here, and his remarkable voice and technique hold him in good stead. So as not to be confused with Jean Renoir’s film masterwork The Rules Of The Game, this translation might better have been titled The Rules Of Play. Still, beautifully directed by Stephen Porter and costumed by Nancy Potts, it’s a blessing to have rare, star, stage productions, such as this, preserved.

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Summer and Smoke

04 Apr

Summer and Smoke — Directed by Peter Glenville. Love story. A spinster letches for the ne’er do well boy next door. 93 minutes Color 1961

* * * * *

As a critic, I wonder what good it does to bring to the front things that cannot be remedied. Here, the lighting often fails its needs, and the director should never have been hired, or shot soon after. The leading man is out of place and league. But this movie contains one of the greatest love scenes ever filmed, ever written, ever acted. It also records the performance of it that brought the play out of the obscurity of its original failure on Broadway, and thrust into prominence both the play, the theatre, The Circle In The Square, and the actress who played Alma and plays it here, Geraldine Page. The play lends itself to one’s imagination as one sees it in a theatre, but the scriptwriters have coarsened these references by literalizing them. The director, who is English, has no sense of the atmosphere required for this material or how to diminish the staginess of his performers. Laurence Harvey is right only in his opening scene, for he has none of the juice and charm that would make this character bearable and understandable. And he should be understandable, for Tennessee Williams has done again what he did in Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire; he has created a female protagonist whose tragedy is that she puts on airs. Why does she do this? Because, like all of us, at one time or another, she so wants to be someone else, someone whose heart is a little taller than the arrows shot at her. She wants to escape the stern facts of her circumstances. This makes her an isolate and a tolerated mockery. It makes her the sort of phony no man wants to be around. Geraldine Page is able to work this character just short of putting our teeth on edge. With desperate hands she clasps her body as though it would fly apart if she did not. She seethes with the sexuality she has to gainsay in order to sustain her act, but she longs for its release if only the young man would stop carousing. You can see the character in Page’s eyes, which are wide open and which are so true to the feeling, to the longing, to the passion in Alma’s being. It’s astounding that she can do all this opposite Laurence Harvey, with his tight, narrow temperament, and his bad Southern accent, a role made thankless by the actor’s lack of blood, a role perfectly suited to Jack Nicholson back in the day. Yet the great scenes unfold between them, carried by Williams’ superb writing and Page’s profound grasp of this woman’s needs. I never saw Page do it on the stage, but when I asked Mildred Dunnock what she thought of Page in the picture, she said she felt Gerry had lost her lyricism in the role. I should have asked her what she meant, and I repeat it here as a lighthouse for actresses to come. But I cannot do anything now except to say you must see this remarkable performance of this remarkable character in this remarkable play.

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Stage Door

08 Mar

Stage Door — Directed by Gregory La Cava —  Comedy Melodrama. A boardinghouse for aspiring actresses is the poison bowl where an ambitious amateur and her hardbitten roommate machinate for success on The Great White Way. 92 minutes Black and White 1937.

* * * * *

If you like 30s movies with Fast Talkin’ Dames, this will make your eyeballs pop! Everyone is completely at home with the (proleptic of Altman) overlapping dialogue by Edna Ferber and George F. Kaufman who wrote Dinner at 8 and You Can’t Take It With You and this. A nifty gab-fest by world class reparteuses — Eve Arden, Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn, Ann Miller (ae 14), and Lucille Ball (who discovered her, ae 13). Hepburn’s hold on her public is never plainer than here, for she talks with an Hartford high society twang but she always levels with you. Her directness and her common sense are a passport in any country and any society. And Roger’s drunk scene is brilliantly played (and written) revealing that Jean, the lady with the snappy tongue, is a lot more ignorant of the ways of the world than she would have us believe. The ladies are catty, of course; indeed Eve Arden actually wears a live cat around her neck! The extras include a Lux Radio Broadcast with Rogers in her old part, Eve Arden in a different part, and Roz Russell in Hepburn’s part. Talk about collection of distinctive voices!  Talk about talk! Choice!

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The Merry Wives Of Windsor

01 Mar

The Merry Wives Of Windsor – Directed by David Hugh Jones – Low Oomedy. A fat old reprobate tries to seduce two wealthy wives. 120 minutes Color 1982

* * * * *

Here we have one of the greatest recordings of a Shakespeare play ever set down. And yet it is of one of WS’s thorniest scripts. Like Henry V it is tortured with a melange of voices in Latin, French, Welsh, and German, making the script monstrously hard to parse! But it wasn’t written to be read, but to be acted, and WS understood the rubric of acting like no one else, so that in the bodies of the actors it comes alive here, understandable here, priceless here. The sixteen shifts of mood in one character’s speech on the page are gibberish, but in the craft of the great Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly, we have a masterpiece of human truth and humor, a performance of genius. Each minor character here is enacted, embodied, played to full measure. They are characters with no history, for their history lives in the exact present entirely. The piece is a proving ground for its players, led by Judy Davis’ Mistress Ford and Ben Kingsley as her frenetically jealous hubby Frank Ford. Prunella Scales’ performance as Mistress Page gets lost and monotonized behind its regionalism, but its energy is right on the money. Richard Griffiths we have recently seen in The History Boys plays Falstaff. Now this was made 25 years ago, so our actors are in their twenties (i.e. Alan Bennett) , and perhaps Griffiths is too young for the part in the sense that he wants merriment. TMMOW is a play, unlike Henry IV 1 & 2. In those plays Falstaff is driven by a lust for zest; here he is driven by a lust for money through lust, and it’s not that he is just too old and too fat, which he is, he is also just too ridiculous to score. This complicates the part, and Griffiths makes him a little more downbeat than one wants him to be. A little less of an unmoored balloon. A little less of a roguish liar. Still, when he thinks he has finally achieved the bosom of Mistress Ford, and utters the jubilant line, “Let the sky rain potatoes!” we are in a world of comedy unparalleled. The odd attic setting and the inn and the house of Ford and Caius and all the costumes and wigs and make-up are fabulous. If you love Shakespeare or want to learn to love Shakespeare, dive in.

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My Zinc Bed

30 Jan

My Zinc Bed — directed by  Anthony Page  — Drama. A billionaire and his wife throw temptation in the way of a recovering addict. 75 minutes color 2008.

* * * * *

Do you like His Gal Friday. Do you like that rapid crossfire of conversation laced with devilish seduction? I do. So I like this piece a lot. Billionaire Jonathan Pryce plays the Imperiousness Of Addiction, cunning, baffling, powerful, and he levels his attack on the one thing he comes nowhere near possessing,: the freedom of temperament of artistic talent. So he meets the poet and he hires the poet and he even countenances the poet making love to his wife. It’s a fascinating scenario. For the wife is played by Uma Thurman, in the role of  is-she-an-alcoholic-or-isn’t-she. Thurman is just right for this part, celestially beautiful, majestic, and opaque. The poet is played by Patrick Considine, an actor I have never heard of, and he skirts all the righteous, crappy pain an English actor would ordinarily infuse into this role: think the opposite of Richard Burton at his worst. Like His Gal Friday, also known as The Front Page, My Zinc Bed is a stage play masterfully rendered into film by David Hare who wrote it and by Anthony Page who directed it. This, the fastest tennis game on camera, is shot perfectly and directed perfectly and played out perfectly by these three fine actors. Does Jonathan Pryce know everything? How could he? But one look into his eyes and you can see that not only does he know everything, but he knows everything in particular. His wife calls him constantly kind, but one wonders, how could a man so knowing and so taunting ever be also always kind? Well, this is one of the koans of this material. Well worth the experiencing for all 12 Steppers, all friends of Bill W, as it outlines the perils of white-knuckling it, the collapse of white-knuckling it, the restoration to sanity from white-knuckling it. Well worth the experience of everyone else as well.

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Baby Doll

04 Dec

Baby Doll — directed by Elia Kazan — a comedy about a nubile teen age girl, her drooling husband, and the cotton gin of a rival. 114 minutes black and white 1956.
★★★★★
Of the six great Kazan films, all made around the same time: A Streetcar Named Desire, Panic In The Streets, Viva Zapata, On The Waterfront, East Of Eden, it is the last.

Baby Doll is one of the funniest American comedies ever made, and it certainly is the most unusual – because it resembles the low comedy of comedia del arte and certain films of Da Sica and Fellini.

Completely the opposite of the starched and laundered comedies of Doris Day, those tense technicolor sundaes of that era, Baby Doll is a comedy based in actual humor, and comes from the pen of the finest ear in the English language since Congreve.

When Caroll Baker, asserts to Eli Wallach that she is not a moron by saying: “I am a måagazine-reader!” we are in the land of comic plenty.

And when the great Mildred Dunnock as the half-cocked Aunt Rose Comfort, picking bedraggled weeds in the unkempt garden, calls them “Poems of Nature” we are in poetry heaven.

Mildred Dunnock was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, and she and the luscious Carroll Baker and the foxy Eli Wallach and the profusely sweating Karl Malden make the most of all that Kazan and the Deep South location and Tennessee Williams’ script and The Method can offer.

This is a movie to see over and over, over the years, and I have. An American classic!

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