Monday, April 21, 2008
cinema obscura: Turner Screens Chayefsky/Mann Duo
Before there was Michael Mann, there was Delbert Mann - and also Daniel Mann.
But, today, we're honoring Delbert Mann, who died of pneumonia in November of 2007 at age 87 and who, during his peak as a Hollywood filmmaker, was the go-to guy for filmed plays. In the five years between 1955 and 1960, Mann helmed no fewer than six big-studio adaptations of hit plays, starting with Paddy Chayefsky's "Marty" in '55, his first film for which he won an Oscar as best director, and continuing with Chayefsky's "The Bachelor Pary," Eugene O'Neill's "Desire Under the Elms," Terence Rattigan's "Separate Tables," Chayefsky's "Middle of the Night" and William Inge's "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs."
Three of those films - "Marty," "The Bachelor Party" and "Middle of the Night" - as you can see were based on plays by Chayefsky and Chayefsky himself did the adaptations.
Thanks to what could not exactly be coincidental timing, Turner Classics is screening both "Middle of the Night" (1959) and "The Bachelor Party" (1957) this week - two difficult-to-see titles worth checking out.
The heartbreaking "Middle of the Night," airing Wednesday, April 23rd at 3 p.m. (est) on Turner, about a confused, immobilized young woman, newly divorced, looking for a father figure, opened on Broadway on February 8th, 1956 and starred Edward G. Robinson (who won a Tony Award for his performance) and a young actress named Gena Rowlands. It was adapted from a teleplay that Chayefsky wrote for NBC's Philco Television Playhouse that was performed on September 19th, 1954. E.G. Marshall and Eva Marie Saint starred in the TV version for a director named ... Delbert Mann. (Yes, Mann also directed the TV edition, just as he experimented with "Marty" first on television before tackling it as a film.)
"Middle of the Night" holds up remarkably well, has some great vintage shots of New York’s garment district and features a titanic supporting cast (Glenda Farrell, Lee Grant, Joan Copeland, Martin Balsam, Edith Meiser, Albert Dekker and Lee Philips).
Mann elicited unusually strong performances from Fredric March and Kim Novak as a widower businessman and the much younger secretary with whom he falls in love, deciding against everyone's wishes to marry her.
There is some quietly revelatory work here by Novak. You really sense her digging deep into her troubled and troubling character. And March, one of our great, unheralded actors, is particularly fine. Better than fine. His subtle ethnic patterns here are particularly impressive. He never stoops to stereotype or caricature, yet he’s totally credible.
It’s a deeply shaded, nuanced character performance. March is exceptional.
"Middle of the Night," voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1959 National Board of Review, has never been released on any form of home entertainment. So being able to see it on Turner is a rare gift.
"The Bachelor Party," not to be confused with the early Tom Hanks comedy of the same title, has also evaded home video. The title tells all as Charlie (Don Murray, always a credible combination of sensitivity and masculinity) and a group of office buddies (Jack Warden, Larry Blyden and E.G. Marshall) take another co-worker and groom-to-be (Philip Abbott) out on the town before he ties the knot. There is much soul-searching as the guys get progressively drunk and strip themselves naked, emotionally, while Charlie, whose wife (Patricia Smith) is expecting, struggles with balancing his dreams and his doubts. Actually, this is a depressing little picture.
The highpoint is Charlie's tempting encounter at a party with Carolyn Jones (an Oscar nominee here), playing a chatty bohemian simply identified as The Existentialist. Her stream-of-consciousness monologue shows Chayefsky in top form as a writer, and Jones' razor-sharp, quick-witted dialogue delivery of his work is nothing less than awesome. Warden is also memorably gruff and macho as the, well, dominant ape among the guys.
"The Bachelor Party," which airs on Turner Friday evening, April 25th at 11:30 (est), also started life as a TV playlet - in 1953 as a Goodyear TV Playhouse production. Mann also directed the television program, which starred Eddie Albert as Charlie.
Mann's other efforts include the now-lost Glenn Ford-Geraldine Page love story, "Dear Heart," two Doris Day hits ("Lover Come Back" and "That Touch of Mink") and Tony Curtis' "The Outsider," the story of Ira Hamilton Hayes, the Native American who helped to raise the flag at Iwo Jima and who was also profiled (by Adam Beach) in Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Father" (2006).
Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.
(Artwork: March and Novak in a scene from Mann's "Middle of the Night", artwork for the paperback edition of Chayefsky's script for "The Bachelor Party")
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Posted by joe baltake at 5:57 AM