Archive for the ‘Elisha Cook’ Category

Tom Horn

14 Jul

Tom Horn — directed by William Wiard and five others. 98 minutes Western. Color 1980.
The Story: Hired to scrape a rash of rustlers from the Wyoming territory, a famed human tracker is framed by the worthies that hired him.
You won’t want to see this picture when I tell you what I like about it.

From first to last, I was impressed by the sets, costumes, and locations. On the streets of the 1903 western town lies horse manure. Structures look lived in and added onto. The characters have worn the the costumes for years, their colors are drab, they fit the shoulders, and are not recently pressed arrivals from the costume shop sewing machines. The interiors smell right. The landscape is widespread, spectacular, and convincing. I’ve never seen it in a Western before, or a Western like this.

The film is well directed, written, and shot by John A. Alonzo — unique in story and treatment — in line after Shane.

The actors are male — with the exception of Linda Evans, who is misdirected or chooses to play on first sight of the hero her strong suite of blue-eyed devotion. Otherwise she is fine, as are all the other actors and they are many, and include Elisha Cook Jr., Slim Pickins, and Richard Farnsworth, the blue of whose eyes convince you of his own and everyone else’s innocence at all times.

Steve McQueen plays Tom Horn. His head is maned in platinum curls. He always played characters a lot younger than what he actually was. But here he is fifty years old and looks every day of it. This is one of McQueen’s final films. He is like to die.

As a super-star McQueen had a few peers, but he was one. He operated with a self-possession unrivaled — except once, by that of Edward G. Robinson’s opposite him in The Cincinnati Kid.

He housed a quality of irresistibility present in every cell of his rather slight blond figure. He was irresistibly sexual and knew it. His irresistibility was also born to prevail in such mortal combat as his films frequently threw him against.

He was also irresistible to himself. One senses in him the vanity of an actor who knew what suited him on camera, what he could do best, and what the camera best liked about him.

For he was also irresistible to the camera.

He had a face potential with events. The mobility of it, the wrenched muscles, wrinkles, dimples, lines, crevices, crannies, and corners of it gave his face a mobility entrancing to behold, watch, wait for, catch up with, and envy — as did James Dean and Clark Gable and Sean Xavier. Watch it scrinch up to fire a rifle. He had an up-to-his-ears smile to win any bet. His eyes searched or threatened with the intensity of a blue spear. He had the impishness of a boy and the bashfulness of a delinquent girl. He is never likable, but he is always desirable. His technique is believable, imaginative, and limited to his guts, for everything is played from below the navel. Thus he never plays a “character”. He can’t. Only roles. For he is always a powerhouse of dangerous charm. He is always untamed.

This last makes Tom Horn a perfect part for Steve McQueen, a misfit born. The writing is so well gauged that you never know what will happen next. McQueen produced the film himself, and it is one of his best efforts. If you have never seen it, gather round. It was not a success at the time of its first release in 1980 the year he died. It is a success now.

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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, Elisha Cook, Steve McQueen


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.


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