Monday, October 29, 2012
In his Friday, October 25, 1963 review, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:
"Obviously, Mervyn LeRoy did a little bit more than merely place his camera in the Helen Hayes Theater and shoot a straight running photograph of a performance of 'Mary, Mary' to get a film of the Jean Kerr comedy. But you would hardly be able to tell it from the rigidly setbound quality of his film version of the long-run stage play, which came to the (Radio City) Music Hall yesterday."
That just about says it all. Rarely has a film of a play been as faithful as LeRoy's film version of Kerr's urbane comedy, which was the most celebrated stage farce of its time. As Crowther indicated, the work of LeRoy's art director John Beckman and set decorator Ralph S. Hurst borrows heavily from the play's famed designer, Oliver Smith. Debbie Reynolds took over Barbara Bel Geddes's stage role, but the play's leading men, Barry Nelson and Michael Rennie, were back on that familiar set.
Yes, the film - about a divorced couple brought together for income tax purposes - is stagebound, but that's not necessarily bad. I like the idea of being transported back to the Helen Hayes Theater in 1960. The film perfectly approximates the joy of attending a matinee performance of a stylish, sophisticated comedy. And I was there as a kid.
Yesterday, Turner Classic Movies televised "Mary, Mary" at noon, and I was there front row-center. In hand, I had my copy of Jean Kerr's stage script, courtesy of the Dramatist's Play Service. I read the play along with the actors on my television set, that's the fidelity that, except for two minor added sequences, scenarist Richard L. Breen brought to the film.
Jean Kerr was, of course, the wife of the Times' great theater critic, Walter Kerr, and her adventures as the wife of a critic has been the subject of two other films - Charles Walters' bubbly "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960), with Doris Day and David Niven as Jean's and Walter's on-screen surrogages, and Don Weis' "Critic's Choice," the film version of the 1960 Ira Levin stage comedy with Bob Hope as a theater critic whose wife, played by Lucille Ball, writes her own play.
By the way, Otto Preminger directed the original stage and Henry Fonda played the role of the critic.
Posted by joe baltake at 12:16 PM
Monday, October 22, 2012
Directed by Julian Jarrold and adapted by Gwyneth Hughes from a portion of Donald Spoto’s “Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies,” the movie quotes Hitchcock (brilliantly incarnated by Toby Jones) telling Hedren (Sienna Miller, above with Jones) that if she insists on breaking her personal contract with him, she will never work in film again. Not entirely true. While Hedren would never enjoy the A-level career she deserved (she’s magnificent in Hitchcock’s “Marnie”), she did land a role in an important – and prestigious – film three years after she and Hitch ditched each other.
Charles Chaplin’s “A Countess from Hong Kong,” released in 1967, had Hedren being handpicked by another legendary filmmaker (shades of her Hitchcock situation here) for a role in a highly anticipated film starring Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. This was Chaplin’s first film in 10 years, his first (and only) film in color and it would be his final film.
Based on a script that Chaplin wrote in the 1930s as a Paulette Goddard vehicle, it has the contours of a filmed play, with Brando, witty as a 'tic-afflicted American ambassador en route to the States on his boat and Loren as a glamorous Russian countess who stows away on it.
Hedren had the third lead as Brando’s estranged wife who enters the last act. It was originally a small role that Hedren hoped Chaplin would enlarge but, given that the piece is largely a two-hander, its narrative arc made that impossible. It remained a small, but crucial role.
Hedren thought of leaving the production but, according to Wikipedia, “in the end, she remained in the film and later said that it was a pleasure working for (Chaplin).”
The finished film is odd and oddly charming, full of eccentric touches – such as Brando’s character feeling uncomfortable with the close quarters that he’s sharing with Loren and being particularly embarrassed by the idea of using the bathroom (to relieve himself) when she is so nearby. I mean, rude bodily noises. Brando, who has a terrifically guarded chemistry with Loren, plays this moment for all its neurotic idiosyncrasy.
Chaplin cast himself as the ship's steward, a cameo role - once again shades of Hitchcock.
Misunderstood and dismissed, “A Countess from Hong Kong” was not a success, with either critics or its audience. It’s something of a flawed masterwork (Chaplin considered it his best movie) that joins the ranks of such criminally underrated films as Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate,” Robert Aldrich’s “The Legend of Lylah Clare,” Peter Bogdanovich’s “At Long Last Love” and Hitchcock’s own “Vertigo” and “Marnie.” At least, the latter two have been rediscovered and reevaluated with a new appreciation.
"A Countess from Hong Kong," which has occasionally and uneventually popped up on home entertainment without much enthusiasm from Universal, is ripe for the same attention and consideration.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Warner Bros. - the original and the Saul Bass update
Monday, October 08, 2012
Remember this logo? Once, in the late 1960s and early '70s, it meant quality mainstream filmmakingStuart Rosenberg (1927-2007) came to movies from TV. Not a good thing from the viewpoint of your standard cinéphile. I - of course - disagree.
Rosenberg began his filmwork belatedly in 1967, making an auspicious debut with "Cool Hand Luke," starring Paul Newman and produced by Jack Lemmon's Jalem Productions, and would direct only a handful of theatrical films - 14 (including one using the familiar psuedonym, Alan Smithee).
He would make three more films with Newman, all estimable - "WUSA" (1970), "Pocket Money" (1972) and the Lew Harper flick, "The Drowning Pool" (1975) - and he also worked with Redford on "Brubaker" (1980).
His most impressive work, arguably, was with Walter Matthau on the edgy "The Laughing Policeman" (1973) and with soulmates Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke on the iconic "The Pope of Greenwich Village" (1984).
But my favorite Rosenberg titles are two back-to-back items that tend to come in under the radar - "The April Fools," which paired Lemmon with Catharine Deneuve in 1969, and one of four titles that Elliott Gould made in 1970, "Move" - a hip take on the era's trendy Euro filmmaking.
The two meet at a party hosted by Deneuve's husband (Peter Lawford, who appeared with Jack in Lemmon's debut film, 1954's "It Should Happen to You"), spend the night clubbing (in the company of eccentric night couple Myrna Loy and Charles Boyer) and then fly off to Paris together the next morning, with Lemmon leaving behind his wildly acquisitive wife, Sally Kellerman (nothing less than outstanding here as a vain, selfish, very oblivious woman who talks in psychobabble).
It's a soufflé and adding to the fun are the invaluable Jack Weston and Harvey Korman as two of Lemmon's buttoned-down, alcholic business buddies, and Melinda Dillon and Kenneth Mars as a (then) New Age couple.
"The April Fools" briefly made it on to VHS in the 1980s but has never been released on DVD. And while Turner has aired the four aformentioned Cinema Center titles of late, alas, this one has evaded its sechedule. (Hint to Turner.)
"Move," meanwhile, was one of four films made by Gould in 1970, the others being Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H," Richard Rush's "Getting Straight" and Mel Stuart's "I Love My ... Wife," all of which contributed to Gould landing on the cover of Time magazine as its Man of the Year, despite (save for "M*A*S*H") their middling critical status.
Nevertheless, I like all of them, and "Move" is particularly arresting, a daring attempt by Rosenberg to bring something Godardian to the American cinema. Not surprisingly, the critics didn't get it and, while the public showed up, it was not in droves. Let's face it, nouvelle vague is something that is not quite understood without the help of French subtitles.
Gould is Hiram Jaffe, an unsuccessful playwright married to the wonderful Dolly (Paula Prentiss) and wanting nothing more than to move from his cramped Upper West Side studio to a one-bedroom flat a few blocks away. (He actually makes a living walking dogs.) Much of the film is about Hiram waiting for movers who, of course, never show up. What follows is a paranoid fantasy as Hiram, the ultimate Gould character, endures sexually inferiority while his sexual imagination goes haywire.
For an added enthusiastic perspective on Rosenberg's rough gem, check out Filmbrain's ever-fascinating Like Anna Karina's Sweater site.
As for me, "Move" seemed way too sophisticated and cerebally complicated even for a liberated 1970, and has been punished by its distributor, 20th Century-Fox, for these perceived flaws for nearly 40 years now. The film has never been released on home video.
It hasn't even surfaced on the ever-dwindling Fox Movie Channel. Hmmm, why am I not surprised?
Posted by joe baltake at 12:13 PM