The late David Haskell shines in David Greene's film of the Tebelak-Schwartz musical, "Godspell" (1973)David Greene's refreshingly miminalist 1973 film version of John Michael Tebelak's Carnegie-Mellon student project/off-Broadway curiosity, "Godspell," is airing as Turner Classic Movies' Easter morning special - Sunday, 4 April @ 8 a.m. - and it remains as youthful and fresh as ever, even though it is now, unbelievably, 37-years-old. (Other Turner holiday fare for the day ranges from Charles Walters' quaint tuner, "Easter Parade," to Richard Fleischer's arty epic, "Barabbas.")
"Godspell," which was the "Glee" of its day, is Tebelak's witty take on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, fortified by a remarkable score by Stephen Schwartz, and its in-your-face religiosity remains as charming - and as charmingly inoffensive - as it was back in '73. (Did I say "witty"? Yes. Remember, the Canadian production featured such Second City stalwarts as Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin.)
Even though time, strangely enough, has not aged "Godspell, the film is now tinged with a certain melancholy, largely because so many of its contributors are now gone. Greene died in 2003 after directing some 80 projects, including two of my favorite Guilty Pleasures, "The People Next Door" (1970), which he had previously directed for television, and "Hard Country" (1981) which introduced Kim Basinger in a smashing early role.
Tebelak passed in 1985 at the age of 36.
Arguably sadder, however, is the realization of the fading of the movie's most companionable young cast. The commanding David Haskell, who plays John the Baptist and Judas and seemed to come with such promise, died of brain cancer in 2000, his career sadly cut short; the versatile Lynn Thigpen died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 2003; Jeffrey Mylett died of AIDS in 1986, and Merrell Jackson, so sweet in his heart-rending version of ""All Good Gifts," died young in 1991 of undisclosed causes.
All but one of the surviving cast members seemingly left show business after the film, the exception being Victor Garber, who plays the film's most ethereal Jesus and who has become one of our more reliable and recognizable characters actors. Incidentally, this role was played on Broadway by Don Scardino who is now a producer and the house director of NBC's "30 Rock" and by, yes, Jeremy Irons in the 1973 London production that played the Wyndham Theatre. (The role of Jesus was created off-Broadway by Stephen Nathan, who went on to do the films "The First Nudie Musical" and "You Light Up My Life" and who is now a producer-writer, mostly in television.)
This time out, in addition to Schwartz's most hummable score, savor the inventive choreography of Sammy Bayes, particularly his rousing staging of Thigpen's "Bless the Lord" number, and the hands-down show-stopper, "All for the Best," which culminates atop the World Trade Center (which was under construction at the time). More melancholy.
Thirty-seven years. A lifetime.
The month on Turner in general is fairly eclectic, starting with Susan Hayward and Bette Davis in two superior soap operas - Robert Stevens' "I Thank a Fool" (1 April @ 6 p.m.) and Curtis Bernhardt's "A Stolen Life" (5 April @ 2 p.m.), respectively.
The gifted Lois Nettleton, misused throughout most of her screen career, has a rare leading role in Burt Kennedy's "Mail Order Bride" (2 April @ 6:30 p.m.), co-starring Buddy Ebsen and Kier Dullea ... Robert Mitchum had a terrific late-career role in Peter Yates' atmospheric "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" (3 April @ 11:45 p.m.).
Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall take on the Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell roles in "Thieves Like Us" (4 April @ 3:45 a.m.), Robert Altman's remake of Nicholas Ray's "They Live By Night."
Both James Stewart and Rosalind Russell turn in steely performance in William Keighley's tough, sophisticated 1940 back-stage comedy-drama, "No Time for Comedy" (9 April @ 4:15 p.m.) about an impressionable young playwright whose success goes to his head, making him pretentious and threatening his marriage. The film's one flaw: Genevieve Tobin's performance as the rich matron who massages his ego. (For some reason, the print that Turner shows comes with the film's inane re-release title, "A Guy With a Grin.")
The sublime Inger Stevens gets a triple-bill shout-out with screenings of Ted Post's "Hang 'Em High," Vincent McEvvety's "Firecreek" and Phil Karlson's "A Time for Killing" (9 April, starting @ 8 p.m.), her co-stars Clint Eastood, James Stewart and Glenn Ford, respectively.
The magnetic Maximillian Schell won an Oscar for a role he originally played on television in Stanley Kramer's all-star message film, "Judgment at Nuremberg" (10 April @ 8 p.m.) ... Danny Kaye had one of his best screen roles in Charles Vidor's "Hans Christian Anderson" (11 April @ 10 a.m.), with a fabulous score by Frank Loesser ... Doris Day plays Cathy Timberlake, an eternal single gal, in Delbert Mann's "That Touch of Mink" (11 April @ 8 p.m.) ... Ann Miller assumes the Claudette Colbert role in Will Jason's "Eve Knew Her Apples" (12 April @ 2:45 p.m.), a variation on the same story on which "It Happened One Night" was also based.
A seven-film salute to Stanley Donen includes such rarities as "Fearless Fagan" with Carleton Carpenter and Janet Leigh, "Give a Girl a Break," with Marge and Gower Champion, Debbie Reynolds and Bob Fosse and "Deep in my Heart," a biopic of composer Sigmund Romberg starring Jose Ferrer (13 April, starting @ 6 a.m.) ... Redd Foxx, Pearl Bailey and especially Dennis Dugan are hilarious in George Schlatter's seriously underrated comedy, "Norman ... Is That You?" (15 April @ 4:30 a.m.), a largely black version of a play that starred Caucasians on Broadway.
Natalie Wood plays a fictionalized version of Helen Gurley Brown in Richard Quine's sly adaptation of Brown's self-help sex tome, "Sex and the Single Girl" (18 April @ 4 p.m.) with an assist from Tony Curtis, Lauren Bacall, Henry Fonda and Mel Ferrer. Basically, it's inane fun.
For culture shock, you can go from Norman Taurog's Presley film, "Blue Hawaii" (co-starring Angela Lasnbury as his mom), to the Sigmund Romberg-Oscar Hammerstein II operetta, "The Desert Song," with a trilling Kathryn Grayson and Gordon MacRae (18 April, starting @ 6 p.m.)
More Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda! Together again! With Tony in possibly his best performance ever! Richard Fleischer's "The Boston Strangler" (21 April @ 10 p.m.), a commanding policier based on the Gerold Frank book about serial killer Albert DeSalvo ... Strikingly opposite, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's "The Red Shoes" (22 April @ 8 p.m.) stars the striking redhead Moira Shearer as a doomed ballerina.
Ann-Margret and Alain Delon, a hot combo indeed, sizzle in Ralph Nelson's "Once a Thief" (27 April @ 10 a.m.), with Jack Palance on hand for good (bad?) measure ... yet another one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Vincente Minnelli's "The Cobweb" (27 April @ 4 p.m.), set in a posh asylum in all-star inmates. Dr. Richard Widmark presides.
Mitchell Leisen's silky smooth "Midnight" (28 April @ 8 p.m.), with a terrific Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore, is a must-see ... Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Conner are marvelously young and marvelous in Don Weis' "I Love Melvin" and Reynolds and Jane Powell are fadist sisters in Richard Thorpe's "Athena" (29 April, starting @ 7:30 a.m.), two of MGM's better but least-hearlded movie musicals.
Sandra Dee twinkles and shines in Peter Tweksbury's pregnancy comedy, "Doctor, You've Got to be Kidding!" (29 April @ 4:30 p.m.) ... and Cliff Robertson plays John F. Kennedy in Leslie Martinson's Pt 109 (29 April @ 8 p.m.), based on Kennedy's war-time memoir.