Archive for the ‘Geraldine Page: ACTING GODDESS’ Category

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.



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

* * * *

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.


Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button