Sunday, October 14, 2007

cinema obscura: Two by Tennessee Williams


Much like Neil Simon, Tennessee Williams was that rare playwright whose stage works routinely made it to the screen, where they were often treated as events.

Even his flops were optioned by the Hollywood studios, although their screen counterparts were equally unsuccessful. Two come immediately to mind - one completely forgotten and the other remembered only as a camp classic. Both underwent title changes for their respective film versions.

Needless to say, a DVD incarnation has evaded both.

Let's start with his 1964 play, the wonderfully titled "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," which made it to the screen in 1968 as a Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton vehicle, courtesy of Universal, under the lame title, "Boom!"

Produced for the stage by David Merrick and directed by Tony Richardson, "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" starred the singular Tallulah Bankhead as Flora "Sissy" Goforth, an aging ex-Follies girl, retired on the Italian Riviera and writing her memoirs. Her days consist of dictating her autobiography and begging for injections from her nurses. This world is invaded there by swaggering young gigolo Chris Flanders (played on stage by Tab Hunter), known as the "Angel of Death" who upends her life. The play also starred Marian Seldes, Ralph Roberts, Ruth Ford, Bobby Dean Hooks and Konrad Matthaei.

"The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" opened January 1st, 1964 at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. It ran for five performances.

Taylor played Mrs. Goforth in the Joseph Losey-directed film version, set atop a Mediterranean island where she makes her own rules. Burton plays Flanders, a man known for visiting to women shortly before their death. Noel Coward essayed the supporting role of intriguingly-named "The Witch of Capri, one of Mrs. Goforth's neighbors, and the supporting cast included Michael Dunn and Joanna Shimkus.

Williams second flop that made it to the screen is "The Seven Descents of Myrtle" which had a tryout at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia and opened March 27th, 1968 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, with a cast consisting of Estelle Parsons, Harry Gaurdino and Brian Bedford, under the direction of José Quintero.

OK, here goes: Williams' play is about Lot (Bedford), a tubercular, impotent transvestite who has taken a wife named Myrtle (Parsons) who, in turn, is a prostitute and former showgirl, the sole survivor of the Five Memphis Hot Shots. Myrtle lives to nurse Lot back to health but Lot cares only about stealing the family property from his multiracial half-brother, Chicken (Guardino). Naturally, Chicken is attracted to Myrtle.

"The Seven Descents of Myrtle" closed after 29 performances.

Sidney Lumet directed the 1970 film version, which was retitled "Last of the Mobile Hotshots" and was one of the few prestige films of that era to be rated X by the MPAA. Lynn Redgrave starred as Myrtle, James Coburn as Lot (renamed Jeb actually for the film), and Robert Hooks as Chicken. The film was made in New Orleans and St. Francisville, Louisiana, but forget the scenery. All that counted here was the idea of James Coburn playing a transvestite.

I don't know about you, call me a mosochist, but I want to see both these films again.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: The poster from "Boom!"; the playbill from "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore"; Lynn Redgrave as Myrtle in "Last of the Mobile Hotshots," and the playbill from "The Seven Descents of Myrtle")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Diane English's Planned Remake of "The Women"


Diane English, the auteur of TV's "Murphy Brown," has been trying to get her planned remake of George Cukor's "The Women" in production for about ten years now. Stars have come and gone. Julia Roberts was once attached to it, but no more. Meg Ryan, however, still is.

What seemed like a bad idea a decade ago has grown on me. In fact, I started to indulge in fantasy casting at one point and, about a year ago, I mentioned to my wife that an all Latina cast might be a novel idea. In my head, the film would star Penelope Cruz, Selma Hayek, Eva Langoria, Paz Vega, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Esposito and Eva Mendez. Think about it. It could be fun.

Well, filming has finally begun and Mendez is part of the cast (as Crystal Allen, the Joan Crawford part), along with Ryan (who plays the lead, Mary, created in the original film by Norma Shearer). Rounding out English's ensemble are Annette Bening (as Sylvia, the Roz Russell role), Jada Pinkett Smith, Carrie Fisher, Debra Messing, Bette Midler, Cloris Leachman, Lynn Whitfield, Debi Mazur, Ana Gasteyer, Joanna Gleason and Candice Bergen.

The 1939 Cukor film, of course, had a screenplay by Anita Loos from the Clare Boothe Luce play. English has written her own script and, in a move that's contrary to what's usually done today, has retained all the original names of the piece's characters. You may have already noticed.

Hurrah for her.

Again, no men will be in the cast (unlike David Miller and Fay Kanin's 1956 musical remake with June Allyson and Joan Collins.)

After this, English moves on to "First Man," starring Meryl Streep as The President and Robert DeNiro as you-know-what.

(Artwork: Poster art from George Cukor's "The Women"; Eva Mendes as Crystal Allen, the "Joan Crawford part," in Diane English's planned remake)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Monday, October 01, 2007

cinema obscura: Delmer Daves Double-Bill


Inadvertently, the reliable director Delmer Daves (1904-1977) has been back in the spotlight of late, thanks to James Mangold's "3:10 to Yuma," a remake of the solid Western that Daves helmed in 1957 with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. Every review of the current "Yuma" has made a reference to Daves, so much so that he seems to be receiving more attention in death than he ever did in life.

An admission: I've a soft spot for Daves, especially for the Western he made the year after "3:10 to Yuma" - 1958's "Cowboy," also starring Ford and based on the autobiographical novel by Frank Harris (played in the film by Jack Lemmon).

Tough, adult Westerns notwithstanding, Daves truly proved his skills with a series of soap operas made for Warner Bros. in the late 1950s and early '60s, among them the classic/guilty pleasure "A Summer Place" (1959), "Rome Adventure" (1962), "Youngblood Hawke" (1964) and "The Battle of the Villa Fiorita" (1965).

Which brings me to my own guilty pleasures, both from 1961 and both starring Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens - "Parrish" and "Susan Slade," teen agnst dramas extraordinaire. Incredibly popular in their day, both have virtually disappeared.

Of the two, "Parrish" was the studio favorite, also starring the estimable Claudette Colbert, Karl Malden and Dean Jagger and eliciting an opening at Radio City Music Hall, while "Susan Slade" was treated strictly as a B-movie, usually one-half of a double bill. For me, they're equal - and equally wonderful.

Set in the tobacco groves of the Connecticut River Valley, the 137-minute "Parrish" - adapted by Daves from the Mildred Savage novel - casts Donahue as a kid plagued by an evil stepfather (Malden), a tobacco tycoon, and equally awful stepbrother (Hampton Francher), when his widowed mother (Colbert in a lovely return to the screen) remarries. Stevens, Diane McBain (as Jagger's daughter) and Sharon Hugueny (as Malden's daughter) - all Warner contract players - essay the roles of Parrish's various love interests, each one given equal screen time. McBain and Hugueny represent forbidden fruit, women learly out of Parrish's league, making it easy to root for Stevens' mistreated lowlife heroine.

In "Susan Slade," based by Daves on Doris Hume's novel, the ever-underrated Stevens has the title role (her parents are played by Dorothy Maguire and Lloyd Nolan), a 17-year-old who ends up pregnant by a reckless, wealthy mountain-climber ("The Incredible Shrinking Man's" Grant Williams) who promptly dies in a climbing accident. What's a girl to do? Well, the family agrees to keep Susan's pregancy a secret and Mrs. Slade steps up to pose as the baby's mother to protect Susan's reputation. And on and on it goes, with Donahue and Bert Convy on the sidelines as guys interested in Susan. (Two guesses which one she ends up with.) The veteran actor Brian Ahern also stars.

Note in Passing: Daves' terrific "Spencer's Mountain" (1963), another personal favorite, starring starring Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara, James MacArthur, Mimsy Farmer, Donald Crisp and Wally Cox will be screened on Turner Classics at 10 p.m. (est) on October 25th. Watch it.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Poster art from Delmer Daves' Troy Donahue-Connie Stevens duo from 1961, "Parrish" and "Susan Slade"; Claudette Colbert and Karl Malden in "Parrish")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

Robert Benton on Sex and Violence in Movies


Matt Prigge, a film critic for Philadelphia Weekly, offered a highly readable
interview with filmmaker Robert Benton in the Sept. 26-Oct. 2 issue of the Philly alternative. Benton, of couse, was hyping his new film, "Feast of Love."

In the course of their chat, Benton had the following to say about sex and violence in American movies:

"We're frank about violence and we're not frank about sex. That seems odd. I think I'd rather be frank about sex than violence."

Odd? Not really, Bob. Think about it. This country was founded by angry Puritants - a bunch of people who were uptight and repressed about sex but had no qualms blowing off someone's head with a rifle.

These attitudes remain ingrained in American some 200 years later - epitomized by the American moviegoer's adolescent taste in movies in general (Beavis and Butthead, anyone?) and by the fire-and-brimstone anti-sex standards of the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board in particular.

In all my years as a movie critic, whenever a parent would contact me inquiring about a film's R rating, he/she would be concerned only about the movie's sexual content, never its violence.

Maybe that's why American movies are "frank about violence," to quote Benton, but not about sex. After 200-plus years, I don't see this changing - at least not in our lifetime.

(Artwork: Robert Benton, right, on the set of 1979'2 "Kramer Vs.Kramer" with Dustin Hoffman. That's producer Stanley Jaffe in the background)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

turner this month - bravo!

Note: This is a regular monthly feature, highlighting, well, the highlights on Turner Classics' schedule. Why? Simple. Because Turner Classics remains a veritible college education in film.

Oct. 1: Two by Nicholas Ray - “They Live By Night” (also filmed by Altman as “Thieves Like Us”) and “King of Kings” (in which Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus had to shave not only his chest but also his arm pits).

Oct. 3: “Hook, Lines and Sinker,” avec Jerry Lewis, and “Manhattan,” arguably Woody Allen’s best movie. Or is it? Funny. I look at the films I revered in the '70s and now wonder, What was I thinking? In this case, Gordon Willis' shimmering black-&-white cinematography is still a feast for the eyes (and actually makes New York more attractive than it really is), but, boy, are these characters annoying.

Oct. 4: Kicks off screenings of films featuring the star of the month, Henry Fonda. Plus Spielberg’s “Jaws,” Davis and Hopkins in Vincent Sherman’s “Old Acquaintance” and Glenn Ford in the charming Geroge Marshall flick, “Imitation General.”

Oct. 5: “Star Struck,” Sidney Lumet’s wonderful film about the theatah (featuring Susan Strasberg in her only great film role) and the 1942 short, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” about a killer haunted by the sound of his victim’s beating heart.

Oct. 6: “Born Losers,” the first “Billy Jack” movie, and Woody Allen, Andrea Marcovicci and Zero Mostel in Martin Ritt’s “The Front.”

Oct. 7: More with Mostel - “The Angel Levine,” directed by Jan Kadar and co-starring Harry Belafonte. This is a good day to stay home and watch Turner all day - “Three for the Show,” a disarming Betty Grable musical; the peerless Dennis O’Keefe in Allan Dwan’s marvelous “Brewster’s Millions”; Douglas Sirk’s “Written on the Wind” and John Huston’s “The Misfits” and the 1962 family film from Columbia, “Safe at Home,” starring Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.

Oct. 8: Norman Taurog’s difficult-to-see “Please Believe Me” with Deborah Kerr, Peter Lawford and Robert Walker. Plus: “The Tender Trap,” in which Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, david Wayne and Celeste Holm get to sing the title song under the end credits.

Oct. 9: “Jeanne Eagles,” in which Kim Novak plays the ill-fated actress for her “Pal Joey"/”The Eddie Duchin Story” director, George Sidney. Plus: Richard Quine directs his pal Jack Lemmon yet again in “How to Murder Your Wife,” their sixth and final film together.

Oct. 10: “Lover Come Back,” surefire sex comedy with Hudson and Day.

Oct. 11: “The Ox-Bow Incident,” William A. Wellman’s acute commentary on America’s lynch-mob mentality.

Oct. 12: Burt Kennedy’s “The Rounders,” with Fonda and Ford; Plus a William Castle film fete - his nifty “Homicidal,” and “Strait Jacket,” “13 Ghosts” and “The Tingler.”

Oct. 13: “Cimarron,” Anthony Mann’s excellent remake of the Edna Ferber story with Glenn Ford and Maria Schell.

Oct. 14: Two for ‘tweens – Gary Nelson’s original “Freaky Friday” with Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris, and Ida Lupino’s terrific “The Trouble with Angels,” with Rosalind Russell, Hayley Mills, June Harding and ... Gypsy Rose Lee.

Oct. 15: “Lord Love a Duck,” George Axelrod’s love letter to Tuesday Weld. Roddy McDowell has a ball in this one. Plus: “Felix Saves the Day,” a silent short with Felix the Cat, and Georges Franju’s deliciously creepy “Eyes Without a Face.”

Oct. 17: “Panama Hattie,” with the irresistible Ann Sothern, and George Stevens’ “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” with Max Von Sydow as Christ.

Oct. 18: Steven’s affecting “The Diary of Anne Frank,” a must-see.

Oct. 19: “Scream of Fear,” another with neglected film ingénue, Susan Stransberg.

Oct. 21: “Fiddler on the Roof,” Norman Jewison’s superior film version of the beloved stage musical, with an outstanding Topol, may be the last truly great film musical - certainly the last with a dream sequence. To Jewison's credit, he didn't stint on the Jewish-ness of the material to appease the masses.

Oct. 22: Ingmar Bergman’s art-house epic, “Fanny and Alexander” and Robert Wise’s “Until They Sail,” starring Piper Laurie, Joan Fontaine, Jean Simmons and Sandra Dee (her first film) as sisters. With Paul Newman for a little testosterone.

Oct. 23 & 24: VCR alert, VCR Alert! a two-day Louis Malle tribute, including “Calcutta,” “Murmur of the Heart,” “Zazie Dans le Metro” and “Black Moon,” among others.

Oct. 25: Delmer Daves’ lovely, highly watchable “Spencer’s Mountain” (the Earl Hamner Jr. story that was the basis for “The Waltons”), starring Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara, James MacArthur, Mimsy Farmer (great! as usual) and Wally Cox.

Oct. 26: “Big Hand for the Little Lady,” Fielder Cook’s studio-alienating hybrid (with Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward) that in its time was both mainstream movie and art-house film.

Oct. 27: Herk Harvey’s seedy “Carnival of Souls” and “The Trial,” in which Orson Welles and Anthony Perkins take on Kafka. With the much-missed Romy Schneider and Jeanne Moreau.

Oct. 28: Anthony Perkins again, this time with Sophia Loren in Anatol Litvak’s “Five Miles to Midnight.” Plus: Richard Brooks’ great “Elmer Gantry,” with a mesmerizing Burt Lancaster. Why hasn't anyone turned this into a Broadway musical by now?

Oct. 29: Masaki Kobayahi’s exotic “Kwaidan,” a ‘60s art-house treasure encompassing four short stories - a horror film, I suppose, but with visual style to spare.

Oct. 30: “Song Without End,” George Cukor’s opulent take on the life of Franz Liszt (with Dirk Bogarde and Capucine) and the underrated Sal Mineo in Don Weis’ forgotten “The Gene Krupa Story.” Plus: “Tender Comrade,” with the interesting team of Robert Ryan and Ginger Rogers.

(Artwork: Louis Malle directing Brigitte Bardot in 1962's "A Very Private Affair"/"Vie privée," and the French poster art for Delmer Daves' lovely "Spencer's Mountain")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com