Wednesday, December 31, 2014

not the usual suspects. unannotated. unalphabetized. unapologetic.

 Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss in McDowell's "The One I Love"
  • "Nightcrawler" (Dan Gilroy)
  • "Boyhood" (Richard Linklater)
  • "Inherent Vice" (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  • "Snowpiercer" (Bong-Joon Ho)
  • "The One I Love" (Charlie McDowell)
  • "Big Eyes" (Tim Burton)
  • "Men, Women & Children" (Jason Reitman)
  • "The Lunchbox"/"Dabba" (Ritesh Batra)
  • "Bad Words" (Jason Bateman)
  • "Gone Girl"(David Fincher)
  • "The Skeleton Twins" (Craig Johnson)
  • "The Babadook" (Jennifer Kent)
  • "Laggies"(Lynn Shelton)/"Begin Again" (John Carney)

the dubious future of movies


 Credit: Grantland

 "This would be an apt place for me to deviate into a gravelly 'Gran Torino' old-man rant about the permanently arrested, riskless nature of our culture — how everything in modern major moviedom is now derived from material meant for children or adolescents and aimed at adults desperate to remain in that state well into chronological maturity. But that’s not new."

So writes Mark Harris in his brilliant, lengthy essay for Grantland, "The Birdcage," a detailed dissection of "Hollywood’s toxic (and worsening) addiction to franchise movies."  The eye-opening graphs above and below, published by Grantland to accompany Harris' fastidious piece, provide us with a disturbing preview of what's to come at our local cineplex.

Harris's essay itself is even more jaw-dropping.

Grantland printed "The Birdcage" on December 16.  Yesterday, only a mere two weeks later, Variety ran an article by Brent Lang, its senior film and media reporter, which pretty much validates Harris's salient point.

"‘Star Wars’ Beats ‘Avengers 2′ for Most Anticipated Film of 2015," published by Variety on December 30, reveals the results of a Fandango survey, announcing that the most eagerly awaited movie would not be the new James Bond opus, neither the "Jurrasic Park" or "Mission: Impossible" sequel, not “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but - drum roll, please - "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  Which is a surprise, given that the last couple "Star Wars" flicks have been depressingly mediocre and conventional.

But never underestimate the pull of those adolescent adults.  Fanboys rule.

Happy New Year!

 Credit: Grantland
 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

the contrarian

A pronouncement.

There are possibly more bad movie critics than there are bad movies.

An exaggeration?

I think not.  But I do know that I wish Pauline Kael was still around to prick the delusional balloons of opinions that current critics and would-be critics pass among one another as if those shared assessements were irrefutable, the final word on exactly what's good or not about movies.

I miss her decisive/devisive voice from Great Barrington.

The original contrarian, Pauline would approach films in two different ways.  If she favored a movie, she would make sure that her opinion got out there first, efficiently influencing lesser educated, unsure reviewers.

Who followed like sheep every time.

But if she disliked a particular movie, she'd wait and, when enough time had gone by and enough praise had been doled out by those aforementioned reviewers, Pauline would stage a surprise attack, deflating the foolish, premature enthusiasm and wising up those who dared to air it.

Based on her unpredictable track record, I've a hunch that possibly, just possibly, she would have preferred Ridley Scott's "The Counsellor" (2013) to Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (2014), that she would have reserved judgment, unlike her peers, on Benedict Cumberbatch, and that she might have chided Chris Rock for trying to be Woody Allen when he is so much better at being Chris Rock.  But what I'd really like to read is what she would have written about Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Innocence."  Any guesses?  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

façade: forgotten '50s femmes

Patricia Owens and Barbara Rush with Pat Hingle in Martin Ritt's "No Down Payment" (1957)

Actresses of the 1950s-'60s.

It's a subject that fascinates me.

But beyond Liz and Marilyn, who pretty much ruled the roost in the day, there was a whole collection of second- and third-tier actresses who offered a wide diversity between the Imperial Brunette and Hot Blonde.

I'm not necessarily thinking of Debbie Reynolds and Doris Day and Natalie Wood and Shirley MacLaine and Janet Leigh - or Lee Remick and and Piper Laurie and Joanne Woodward and Jean Simmons, although I love them all. Fact is, they all enjoyed star spots during their careers.

And while the era's "newcomers" - Hope Lange, Millie Perkins, Diane Baker and Suzy Parker - may not have become major players, people did know who they were. No, my fascination is with the fleeting stars. Not Grace Kelly, who had a brief but vibrant career, but someone like Vera Miles who was once deemed Kelly's natural successor. It never happened. And there are the ill-fated - the actresses who died too young - such as Diane Varsi and Inger Stevens, both singular and both talented.

No, my fascination is with actresses who were "almost stars," who worked unobtrusively as contract players, often in lead roles and usually in B movies, but who, for some bizarre reason, represent the real quintessential female stars of their era. The names Mary Murphy, Nancy Gates, Mala Powers, Colleen Gray, Dianne Foster, Karen Sharpe, Betsy Palmer, Elaine Stewart and Diane Brewster may not mean anything to you, but they do to me. They were great. All of them.

But even here, there was a pecking order - certain actresses who stood out more than others, even in secondary roles in secondary pictures.

Julie Adams (then Julia) and a bad blind date in Jack Arnold's "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954)
First and foremost, there was the gorgeous and woefully overlooked Barbara Rush, who played in the occasional comedy ("Oh Men! Oh Women!" and "Come Blow Your Horn") but largely specialized in socially-conscious soap operas (Martin Ritt's "No Down Payment," Daniel Petrie's "The Bramble Bush," Vincent Sherman's "The Young Philadelphians" and Richard Quine's "Strangers When We Meet") where she brought a distinct artistry to her reliably tremulous line-readings. When Rush cried, which was often, I cried along with her.

The equally beautiful Julie Adams had a bit more of an up personality, which made her game for creature flicks, the most famous of which is Jack Arnold's "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954). She always had a sparkle in her eyes and she clicked with leading men as diverse as Richard Denning, George Nader, Charlton Heston and Francis the Talking Mule. Adams made a wildly memorable comeback, thanks to Dennis Hopper, in "The Last Movie" (1971), where she proved she was made for the counter-culture. As far as I'm concerned she's the Mrs. Robinson who should have been.

The lovely Delores Michaels, meanwhile, appeared in only 11 films but made a lasting impression on me. A Hitchcock blonde who got away before Hitch could discover her, I remember Michaels (pictured right) fondly for Henry Levin's "April Love" (1957), Edward Dmytryk's "Warlock" (1959), James Clavell's "Five Gates to Hell" (1959) and James B. Clark's "One Foot in Hell" (1961).

Slender, sculptured and icy (but in a good way), the German-born Dana Wynter (née, Dagmar Wynter) will forever be associated with Don Siegel's sublime pod movie, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"(1956), in which her character Becky Driscoll seemed to be a vague semblence of herself to begin with. Her best role - her best showcase, at least - was probably in Henry Koster's "Fräulein," which also starred the aforementioned Delores Michaels and which borrowed from her German heritage, but Wynter, always the strong, supportive woman, also shined in Richard Brooks's "Something of Value" (1957) opposite Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier, Michael Anderson's "Shake Hands with the Devil" (1959), with Jimmy Cagney, and even Melville Shavelson's "On the Double" (1960), a Danny Kaye vehicle. There are many, many more. Wynter (pictured below) enjoyed a most productive career.

Patricia Owens, another Delores Michaels co-star (in "Five Gates to Hell"), also teamed with Rush (in "No Down Payment"), but she is perhaps best known for her role - and her scream - in Kurt Neumann's original "The Fly" (1955), a seminal film in my life. So I have a soft spot for this very attractive woman.

Owens enjoyed some good roles, particularly in Joshua Logan's "Sayonara" (1957), starring as Marlon Brando's uptight financée, and in Richard Fleischer's "Ten Thousand Hills" (1959), an excellent Western also starring Don Murray, Lee Remick, Albert Dekker, Stuart Whitman and Richard Egen. There was a skill and shyness about Owens that made her perfect for the sexually-suppressed '50s and '60s, but she was very good at hinting, largely with her beautiful eyes.

She seemed to bring a sensual longing to each of her roles, even the disposable ones, comparable to what Kim Novak did so magnificently in Quine's "Strangers When We Meet." It's a role that Owens could have played blindfolded, but, alas, she didn't have the star power.

Unerringly proper, Martha Hyer did not play likable women. She specialized in standoffish, often snobbish women and yet, thanks to her personal nuances, her women were never completely dislikable. Hyer made sure we understood her characters - their flaws and the psychology behind them.

She expertly plied her trade in such diverse films as Vincente Minnelli's 'Some Came Running" (1958), Melville Shavelson's "Houseboat" (1958), Jean Negulesco's "The Best of Everything" (1959), Jack Webb's "The Last Time I Saw Archie" (1961), Frank Tashlin's "The Man from the Diner's Club" (1963) and Arthur Penn's "The Chase" (1966), all in a short amount of time. At quick glance, Hyer was an enigma, but she really wasn't. A closer look shows her women were flesh-and-blood.

Well, they're my picks. Let me know if I left anyone out.
So is she or isn't she? A pod, that is. Dana Wynter in Don Siegel's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956) with staunch, stalwart Kevin McCarthy

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

cinema obscura: Lamont Johnson's "Cattle Annie and Little Britches" (1981)

In her New Yorker review of Lamont Johnson's sublime "Cattle Annie and Little Britches" (1981), Pauline Kael commented on Amanda Plummer's screen debut as being "scarily brilliant."

That was enough to whet the appetites of all cinéphiles - and also end Plummer's promising film career. No one wanted a starlet who was "scarily brilliant," least of all audiences in the early 1980s.

The similarly brilliant Kristy McNichol was also a victim of the times, although perhaps for additional reasons. Anyway, Plummer never had much of a film career. Our loss, indeed.

"Cattle Annie and Little Britches" is an eccentric little saddle-soap saga about two teenagers, 19th-century variety, in thrall of outlaws. Times haven't changed. I suppose that anarchic musicians have been contempoary outlaws for the past 50 years or so.

The girls, in this case, are Plummer's Cattle Annie and Diane Lane's Jenny, who is dubbed "Little Britches" by the leader of Doolin-Dalton gang, Bill Doolin himself - played by Burt Lancaster, no less.

In what is clearly a teenage girl's wet dream, sagebrush-style, Cattle Annie and Little Britches play a crucial role in helping Doolin-Dalton gang save Bill from jail time before being sent off to a reformatory themselves.

This is essentially "The World of Henry Orient," only with horses, and it's irresistible.

The supporting cast includes Rod Steiger, John Savage and, of course, Scott Glenn, but the real driving force here is director Lamont Johnson, who paid his dues doing TV movies (including the fine televison film version of the play, "My Sweet Charlie") before seguing into films with such titles as "The Mackenzie Break" (1970), "A Gunfight" (1971), Jeff Bridges' "The Last American Hero" (1973) and "Somebody Killed Her Husband" (1978), starring Farrah and Bridges and criminally underrated.

Johnson passed on October 24, 2010 at 88.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

façade: aldo ray

The husky-voiced, thick-necked Aldo Ray, née Aldo DaRe, was one of the more atypical, fascinating leading men of the 1950s.

He had his only conventional leading-man role opposite Judy Holliday in his offical debut film, George Cukor's affecting "The Marrying Kind" (1952), in which he was introduced (oddly) as "Judy's life of love." 

Prior to Cukor's film, he acted as Aldo DeRa in two 1951 films, David Miller's "Saturday's Hero" and Mickey Rooney's "My True Story."

Although he starred in another Cukor film, 1952's "Pat and Mike," and in Alexander Hall's "Let's Do It Again" (1953), he never really caught on as a leading man or a light actor, despite his considerable talent.

Aldo Ray, who passed in 1991, was way too aggressively masculine, burly and no-nonsense - intimidating actually - for romantic comedies.

Or for romance in general.

Ray's career-defining roles were in perhaps two Raoul Walsh war epics, "Battle Cry" (1955) and "The Naked and the Dead" (1958), and in two by Anthony Mann, "Men in War" (1957) and "God's Little Acre" (1958).

This limited but pleasing display of his work provides a rare opportunity to become familiar with a criminally neglected actor.

Monday, December 01, 2014

neil and craig's excellent adventure

Allison Williams - More Diane Keaton than Peter Pan
Neil and Craig would be Neil Meron and Craig Zadan who, beyond other endeavors, are committed to keeping the film musical alive, whether it's in movie theaters or on television.  Bless them.

They've been obsessed with this project for at least two decades now and, arguably, their most commanding triumph was the live telecast of "The Sound of Music" on NBC in 2013.  Fooling all skeptics, that telecast, starring a game Carrie Underwood, was a ratings sensation.  It's something that NBC would like to repeat with the Meron/Zadan-produced "Peter Pan," which the network will air - again, live - Thursday night.

Of course, show business being show business, it will not be enough if the ratings for "Peter Pan" equals those for "The Sound of Music."  It has to top them.  That seems to be the expectation behind the relentless promotion for "Peter Pan" that's been laced through all of NBC's prime-time shows for the past two weeks or so.

My hunch is that "Pan" will come close to "Music," in terms of ratings, but won't overtake or even equal it.

For one thing, there's the source material.  "The Sound of Music" has become something of a religious experience for most Americans.  They can't get enough of it.  The original 1965 film opened to mixed reviews but it went on to win an Oscar (as best picture, among others) and it has grown in stature in the past 50 years.  Just ask the management of San Francisco's Castro Theater where the sing-along "Sound of Music" is screened regularly - and regularly brings in enthusiastic crowds.

"Peter Pan," on the other hand, is a Broadway antique which means little, if anything, to modern audiences.

Then, there's the stars.  Carrie Underwood, who toplined NBC's "Sound of Music," has a huge -and hugely loyal - following.  And it didn't hurt that Meron and Zadan were shrewd enough to cast "True Blood's" Stephen Moyer (for sex appeal) opposite Underwood.

"Peter Pan," on the other hand, has Allison Williams in the lead, an appealing actress known largely, and only, for her role on HBO's "Girls."  And her leading man is Christopher Walken, one of our top character actors but certainly not one to lure in a sizable audience.

Back in January of 2014, Robert Greenblatt, the director of entertainment for NBC, opined that his dream Peter Pan was Mylie Cyrus.  I agree.  She has the right bearing and the right voice (read: husky).  But, reportedly, Cyrus wasn't interested and it didn't help that a bunch of yahoos got on the internet to protest the idea.  All in all, a missed opportunity.

Allison Williams, for anyone who has seen her on "Girls," is ready to carry on the Diane Keaton tradition.  She's a charming, edgy light comedienne.  From the few clips I've seen of her as Peter, she comes across as a Valley Girl in drag.  And, unlike Cyrus, her singing voice is decidedly feminine.

Finally, there's the uncertain future of NBC's live musicals.  The network has painted itself into a corner, given that it's become rather painfully apparent that all primetime musicals must be "family friendly."

I say this based on the web's first two efforts and the reported third, which will be "The Music Man" (a property that Meron and Zadan have already brought to TV in 2003 with a miscast Matthew Broderick in the the lead role).  Who on earth will be tapped to play Professor Howard Hill this time around?  It has to be a pop-culture personality, that's for sure.  Maybe Seth MacFarlane, who can sing and who, perhaps not coincidentally, hosted one of the Meron/Zadan-produced Oscar shows.

But after "The Music Man," what's left? "Annie" will be back in movie theaters soon (and Meron/Zadan already did a TV version of that chestnut).  Disney certainly wouldn't permit anyone but ABC to produce any of its properties. So "The Lion King" and "Newsies" are out.  Maybe "The King and I."  That's family-friendly.  Or perhaps "Oliver!"

Beyond that, I can't think of too many musicals that are suitable for mom, dad and the kids.

Friday, November 28, 2014

reversal of fortune - from screen to stage?

The cast of Christopher Guest's "Waiting for Guffman."  Why hasn't any one adapted this natural into a stage musical?

The immediate previous essay comments on Broadway's current penchant of adapting popular movies, mostly recent ones, into lavish stage musicals.  Not a bad idea, except that most of the choices have been slightly wacky.  "Rocky"?  "The Bridges of Madison County"?  Oy.

Not every Broadway musical derived from a successful film makes sense.  Not every past movie lends itself to singing and dancing the way a "Hairspray" or a "Kinky Boots" does.  Not every old film is as natural a musical as "The Producers."

The new musical version of Andrew Bergman's 1992 movie, "Honeymoon in Vegas," which begins previews in two weeks and opens January 15, is one of those rarities that makes complete sense.  Bergman himself did the adaptation and he's come up with a delightfully wonderful show, an old-fashioned musical comedy, along the lines of "Bye Bye Birdie."  The New York Times' Ben Brantley said as much in his rave review when the show premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey in October, 2013. A natural musical.

Anyway, here are my picks for ten films that would make terrific musicals.

I think. 

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" - This 1993 masterwork, directed by Henry Selick under the eye of auteur Tim Burton, contains one of the screen's best original song scores - a symphonic blend of the elegant and the eccentric by Danny Elfman.  Disney has been so astute and so aggressive in refashioning its animations into surefire stage musicals that it's quite curious that the studio has managed to overlook this one.


"True Stories" - The talented David Byrne made his directorial debut in 1986 with this inventive new-style musical, which he co-wrote with playwright Beth Henley and Henley's then-boyfriend, actor Stephen Tobolowsky, and then seemingly retired.  Too bad because he had an original vision.  This film bristles with idiosyncrasies and terrific songs and its eclectic cast - John Goodman, Swoosie Kurtz, Spalding Gray, Annie McEnroe and Byrne himself - operates in an apt alternative space.

"Elmer Gantry" - Sinclair Lewis' novel was already the basis of a powerful and hugely entertaining movie - filmed in 1960 by Richard Brooks - as well as a stage musical.  Yes, as mentioned in the previous essay, it was staged in 1970 with the late Robert Shaw in the title role and Rita Moreno as Sister Sharon, directed by choreographer Onna White.  The rest of the creative team was lesser known  (book by Peter Bellwood; music and lyrics by Stanley Lebowsky and Fred Tobias, respectively) and the show closed after only one performance. Ouch.  But there's still potential for a great musical here, particularly if cast with someone as dynamic as Burt Lancaster, who brought a musical lilt to his showstopping performance in the film.  One problem: The subject of lay preachers was the basis of the recent flop, "Leap of Faith," also based on a film.


"My Sister Eileen" - Richard Quine's highly regarded 1955 musical version of Ruth McKenney's perennially popular stories about life and a career in New York/Greenwich Village of several decades ago already comes with a great script by Quine and Blake Edwards and a nimble song score by Leo Rubin and Jule Styne.  It would be ill-advised to update the material.  "My Sister Eileen" is comfortably ensconced in the past and should remain a period piece. And keep the Bob Fosse choreography.

"The Landlord" - Hal Ashby's 1970 seriocomedy, based on the book by Kristin Hunter, remains one of the best films about race relations, alternately comic and tragic.  It has just the right number of characters for an intimate stage musical and already comes with a selection of evocative songs that Al Kooper wrote as background for the film.  I could see Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Williams taking on the Pearl Bailey and Diana Sands roles, Harriet Harris doing Lee Grant's bit and Jeremy Jordan in for Beau Bridges. Bill Gunn's movie script should adapt well.

"A Face in the Crowd" - Budd Schulberg's cautionary (and prescient) fable about corrupting power, directed in 1957 by Elia Kazan, is a natural for a stage musical, given that its lead character, the hillbilly Lonesome Rhodes, ingratiates himself with the public with his twangy singing. True, Andy Griffin is indelible in the film but country superstar Blake Shelton could easily fit Griffin's boots. He could be a knockout  if anyone is inspired to turn the material into a full-scale musical.

"Raise the Red Lantern"- Yimou Zhang's splashy 1991 melodrama about the pecking order and rivalries among the four wives of a wealthy lord in 1920s China is so fascinating and so accessible because one could read the material as being about office politics in the workplace.  With virtually an all-female cast, this would make a great Stephen Sondheim musical and not atypical at all for the legendary composer who tackled similarly difficult subjects in "Pacific Overtures" and "Passion."

"One-Trick Pony" - Paul Simon's music never ages and the fabulous songs he wrote for Robert M. Young's 1980 film (for which Simon also wrote the screenplay) would sound wonderful sung live - on a New York stage.  Simon is now too old to recreate his autobiographical role on Broadway, but his story about a singer trying to navigate the details of a tour while putting out an album remains as contemporary as ever.

"Waiting for Guffman" - This one could be the next "The Producers."  Christopher Guest's tale of an awful centennial show - being done by an amateur cast (including a dentist and a couple who work as real-estate agents) from Blaine, Missouri and under the direction of a clueless "off-off-off-off-off-Broadway" character named Corky St. Clair - is ready-made for the Broadway stage. And the songs, of course, are appropriate idiotic.  It remains a mystery why Guest hasn't done this himself.

"Mike's Murder" - James Bridges' ill-fated and misunderestood 1984 film is about a young woman who becomes obsessed with the memory of a one-night stand after the guy is murdered.  Bridges, who also wrote the script, originally told his story backwards and used a song score by Joe Jackson in lieu of the usual instrumentals.  When the film failed in previews, it was re-edited and made chronological and the Jackson songs were scrapped for a John Barry score. During the film's delay,  A&M Records released Jackson's soundtrack in 1983, a solid year before the film's release, and it became something of a sensation.  And with good reason.  It's terrific.  The story, with Jackson's marvelous songs, would make a fine small musical.

So there you have it.  My nominations.  What are yours?  Any Ideas?

Share!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

reversal of fortune - from stage to screen?


Robert Shaw was a singing Elmer Gantry

The on-going trend of Broadway depending on movies for source material has not gone unnoticed, at least not by The New York Times which regularly runs updates detailing which popular film, usually a relatively recent one, is being refurbished for the stage, and always as a musical.

However, no one has picked up on the fact that the movie industry no longer depends on Broadway for "product."   A curious crisscross, a surprising reversal, has taken place, but more about that a little later.

Perhaps the best of the Times' reports on the ubiquity of musical stage adaptations of successful movies was Patrick Healy's title-packed essay, "Like the Movie, Only Different," which ran a little more than a year ago, timed to coincide with the opening of a song-&-dance version of "Rocky."

In it, Healy noted that musical versions of movies are not exactly a new idea:  "Big," the Tom Hanks film, came to Broadway as a musical back in 1996.  It was a flop but it was predated by such successes as "Wonderful Town," "The Most Happy Fella," "Sweet Charity," "A Little Night Music" and "Promises, Promises," all based on films but with notable title changes.

More obscure were musical versions of "Georgy Girl," "Alfie," "Lilies of the Field," "Lolita" (with songs by Alan Jay Lerner and John Barry!), "The Miracle on 34th Street" (by stalwart Meredith Willson, who titled his version "Here's Love"), "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" (by Stephen Schwartz), "Exodus" (yes, "Exodus," retitled "Ari"), "East of Eden" (renamed "Here's Where I Belong"), "The World of Henry Orient" (reborn as "Henry, Sweet Henry") and "Gantry" (starring the late, great Robert Shaw, no less, as Elmer Gantry, and Rita Moreno as Sister Sharon), to name but a few.

And, of course, let's not forget the infamous - "Carrie" or "Holly Golightly" (aka, "Breakfast at Tiffany's," starring Mary Tyler Moore, Richard Chamberlain and Sally Kellerman). I could go on.  But won't.

If some of these titles seem a bit odd for musical treatment, that's a curiosity that has continued - and become much weirder.  "Big Fish, "Far from Heaven," "Hands on the Hardbody," "Love Story," "Catch Me If You Can,"  and "The Bridges of Madison County" have all come and gone as musicals.  And there's been talk of doing "Misery," "Diner," "Chariots of Fire," "The Bodyguard" and "Tootsie." Well, "Tootsie" admittedly makes some sense, as did the musical versions of "Hairspray" and "Kinky Boots."

There was once talk a few years ago of doing "Marty" with John C. Reilly in the title role.  It has yet to happen but I wouldn't count it out too quickly.

In one way, all this is great for Broadway.  Let's face it: There's a bottomless pit of movies to be turned into stage musicals.

On the other hand, stage plays are rarely gobbled up anymore by the movie industry.  This tradition is all but dead.  That revenue is gone. The Times could easily run a companion piece – or at least a sidebar – on how dramatically the Hollywood/Broadway relationship has changed.

There was a time when stage productions were a major source for the movie industry.  But not anymore.  Quick!   Name the Broadway shows that have been made into movies recently.  Off the top of my head, I can think of only six major titles – “Les Miserables,” “Rock of Ages,” “Rabbit Hole,”  "August: Osage County" and two by Roman Polanski - “Carnage” (“God of Carnage” on stage), and "Venus in Fur."

And coming up are "Into the Woods" and a remake of "Annie."

But, after that, I come up empty.

Successful stage plays like “Mister Roberts,” once routinely filmed, rarely make it to the big screen these days.

The marketing tool, “Soon to be a Major Motion Picture,” has become obsolete, replaced by “Soon to be a Major Broadway Musical.”

A reversal indeed.  But why?  Any theories?  Share!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

que sera

There are hundreds - nay, thousands - of movie blogs on the web.  Too many.  It can be overwhelming to those film freaks compelled to sample them all.  Personally, I reduced my movie-blog perusing to one, Vienna’s Classic Hollywood, which is hands-down, inarguably, the best.

Vienna's goal is simple - to treat us to an array of movie stills, posters and especially rare production shots, such as the one above of Vera Miles in a costume check when she was getting ready to star for Hitchcock as Madeleine/Judy in "Vertigo."  Vera left the production, of course, and Kim Novak came on board, turning in an iconic breakthrough performance.

It's difficult to separate Novak from"Vertigo," and one can only imagine how Miles would have read the role(s) if her pregnancy hadn't intruded.

I hope Vienna doesn't mind that I "borrowed" this shot from her site, but what better way to introduce you to Vienna's most essential blog?

Saturday, November 01, 2014

indelible moment: "The Graduate" (1967)

It's 1967. The movie is Mike Nichols' "The Graduate," adapted by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham from Charles Webb's novel.

Dustin Hoffman, as recent graduate Benjamin Braddock, is talking with Elisabeth Frazer, as Joanne, a friend of his parents, when they are interrupted by Mr. McQuire, played by Walter Brooke.

Mr. McQuire's one-word recommendation to Benjamin brought gales of laughter in theaters - and still does, even though that word has proven to be eerily prophetic.

Joanne: "What are you going to do now?"
Ben: "I was going to go upstairs for a minute."
Joanne: "I mean with your future - your life."
Ben: "That's a little bit hard to say."
Mr. McGuire: (interrupting them) "Ben."
Benjamin: (to Joanne) "Excuse me."
Benjamin: (turning away from Joanne) "Mr. McGuire!"
Mr. McGuire: "Ben."
Benjamin: (voice trailing off) "Mr. McGuire."
Mr.McGuire: "Come with me for a minute. I want to talk to you. Excuse us, Joanne?"
Joanne: "Of course."

(pause)

Mr. McGuire: "I just want to say one word to you. Just one word."
Benjamin: "Yes, sir."
Mr. McGuire: "Are you listening?"
Benjamin: "Yes, I am."
Mr. McGuire: "Plastics."
Benjamin: "Exactly how do you mean?"
Mr.McGuire: "There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?"
Ben: "Yes, I will."
Mr. McGuire: "Enough said. That's a deal."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

cinema obscura: Charles Chaplin's "A Countess from Hong Kong" (1967)

“The Girl,” the recent HBO film about the tortured relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, makes it clear that while Hitch may not have succeeded in breaking the spirit of his star, he did leave her with a broken career.

The movie quotes Hitchcock (brilliantly incarnated by Toby Jones) telling Hedren (Sienna Miller)  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 uneventfully popped up on home entertainment without much enthusiasm from Universal, is ripe for the same attention and consideration.

Friday, October 17, 2014

façade: bob rafelson

Bergin and Shaw in Rafelson's "Mountains of the Moon"

In the early 1970s, when he was part of the exciting "new generation" of filmmakers and at the top of his form, Bob Rafelson reportedly told an interviewer, "I'll consider myself happy if I direct ten films in my career."

That comment, perhaps said glibly, has proven to be somewhat prescient because, some forty years later, Rafelson's filmography of theatrical releases adds up to ... ten titles.  Which makes one wonder.

Why?  Why only ten?

Rafelson emerged at a time - a rare time - when directors were permitted to dominate and chart the course of the film scene.  The moguls stepped aside for Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and William Friedkin, the young auteurs who commanded most of the attention, from both the studios and the media.  Woody Allen, Mike Nichols and Arthur Penn, I suppose, blazed the trail for them, making what were essentially independent movies for mainstream distribution.

Following closely behind were Paul Mazursky, Brian DePalma and James Bridges.  And then there were Hal Ashby and Rafelson who initially weren't given as much of the spotlight that the others enjoyed.

It's interesting that Rafelson and Ashby shared a similiar career trajectory in that their first halves of their respective careers are rich with edgy, original films, while the second halves are much less so. (I can't think of one movie aficionado who links Ashby with "The Slugger's Wife.")

After having directed several episodes of "The Monkees" TV series and making his feature-film debut with the Monkees movie, "Head," in 1968, Rafelson went on to direct "Five Easy Pieces" (1970), "Stay Hungry" (1976), the remake of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1981) and, arguably, his best and most idiosyncratic film, "The King of Marvin Gardens" (1972).  One word: Wow.

He took a break for several years (six to be exact) and then tried his had at a commercial thriller with two interesting actresses - Debra Winger and Theresa Russell - and the result was "Black Widow" (1987).  Something changed.  It was difficult to pinpoint, but even Rafelson's most ardent fans were unenthusiastic about "Black Widow" and the last three films he directed - "Man Trouble" (19092), "Blood and Wine" (1996) and "No Good Deed" (aka, "The House on Turk Street,"2002). (In 1998, he made "Poodle Springs," a Philip Marlowe film with James Caan, which played theatrically in Spain but was sold as a TV movie here.  I never saw it.)

Smack-dab in the middle of all this, Rafelson directed his most ambitious, atypical movie - 1990's "Mountains of the Moon," a detailed period piece about Captain Richard Francis Burton's and Lt. John Hanning Speke's arduous trek to find the source of the Nile river that also works as an intimate study of an intense friendship and its disintegration.

The excellent film features Iain Glen as Spek and a riveting Patrick Bergin as Burton, who shares a powerfully adult love story with Fiona Shaw who plays his wife, Isabel. Which brings me to another subject - Patrick Bergin.  He followed "Mountains of the Moon" a year later with an equally commanding performance as Julia Roberts' demented/dangerous husband in Joseph Ruben's "Sleeping with the Enemy" and he seemed poised to become a major film force.  But that never happened.

Anyway, "Mountains of the Moon," much like its director and star, is largely forgotten today.  IFC screened it a few time in 2008 and now, the resourceful people at Turner Classic Movies have claimed it, airing the film tonight (Saturday actually) @ 12:15 a.m.

Turner's brand, of course, is American and English-language narratives made between 1930 and 1960, but it's been expanding to include more foreign-language films, silents, documentaries and post-1970 titles.  (Animation is still under-represented.)   Turner has screened Rafelson's "Five Easy Pieces" several times (usually in graveyard time slots)  and, I believe, "The King of Marvin Gardens" at least once. The first impression is that "Mountains of the Moon" is a far cry from those two films, but the relationships in it are not that unlike those in Rafelson's seminal films.

It's at once old-fashioned and quite modern. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

arguably

Credit: Warner Bros. 
Annabelle Wallis as Mia in John R. Leonetti's "Annabelle"

Given the unruly number of movies made available for review - The New York Times covers a whopping 25 titles today - and the ever-dwindling number of critics to review them, it's no surprise that some (well, actually a lot) are shunted or simply fall through the cracks.

Exacerbating matters are tight deadlines that often necessitate hastily-written critiques.  And, of course, there's the matter of prejudgement of which all critics are guilty but which speeds things along so that one can move on to the next movie and the next review.

Not surprisingly, Warner Bros.' "Annabelle," ostensibly an "evil doll" thriller, is a movie that first-string critics avoided and that second- and third-string reviewers handily dismissed.  And why not?  Much like animation these days, there's a new thriller or two coming off Hollywood's relentless assembly line seemingly every week.  Reduced to a brief synopsis, "Annabelle" is about a young pregnant woman whose husband buys her another antique doll for her collection and all hell breaks loose.

But, frankly, the wicked doll is the least necessary element in the film, as are the images of walking dead that the heroine seems to hallucinate.

Strip them away and, at its deepest core, "Annabelle" plays like a nifty 99-minute reference to "Repulsion."  Yes, "Repulsion" - Roman Polanski's "Repulsion."  And it's just as artfully done in its intense focus on a young woman who's easily spooked and possibly being driven mad.

And that's the real theme of "Annabelle."

John R. Leonetti, the cinematographer making his directing debut here, examines his heroine's descent in images and gliding camerawork that are eerily dreamy but never nightmarish or even unpleasant.

And his work is abetted and complemented every step of the way by the assured, nuanced and very serene performance of Annabelle Wallis (the British actress from "The Tudors") in the lead role. It's no accident, I suspect, that Wallis captures the placid cool of Catherine Deneuve here.

As if to reward her, Leonetti even named the film after Wallis, a conceit that has escaped everyone who has reviewed it.  No, Annabelle is not the name of  the grotesque doll.  Fact is, the darn doll has no name.

The director also pays homage to another Polanski film - Wallis's character is named Mia, after the star of "Rosemary's Baby" - and to the California Lumière/crazy lady thrillers of Robert Aldrich ("Baby Jane"/"Charlotte") by setting his film first in sun-struck Santa Monica and then Pasadena.

"Annabelle" opened on October 3 in tandem with David Fincher's bravura 149-minute ”Gone Girl” and nearly matched it at the box office, taking in $37,134,255 to "Gone Girl's" $37, 513, 109.  I'm not about to overrate "Annabelle."  It doesn't match the Fincher film in any other way and is, in fact, its polar opposite - tight and uncomplicated. Rather simple.

But it's so much more than its advertising and reviews have implied, largely because of Annabelle Wallis, whose work here is equally on par with Rosamund Pike's breakthrough performance in "Gone Girl."

Note in Passing: Turner Classic Movies will air "Repulsion" @ 6:15 p.m. (est) on Friday, October 31 - Halloween!

Catherine Deneuve as Carol in Roman Polanski's "Repulsion"

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

the. worst. production. number. ever.


When did Bob Fosse's "Sweet Charity" (1969) become so cheesy?  Or was it always cheesy?

I liked this musical - a lot- when Universal released it 45 years ago.  (Forty-five years?  Yikes!)

It's become one of those films that gets worse with each viewing, so much so that I finally gave in and gave up my DVD of it.  But not before watching it one more time to try to figure out exactly what went so wrong.

More than four decades later, one is aware of all the unfortunate decisions that Fosse (in his movie directorial debut) made.

One dubious decision after another.

There are the arty, sepia-toned still shots that occasionally dot the 149-minute film and that are utterly pointless and way pretentious.

There's the "Rich Man's Frug" number - a triptych of gratuitous dances that's set in a glitzy disco, circa 1969 and overburdened with Fosse's annoying choreographic mannerisms. Along with the cringe-worthy Sammy Davis, Jr. number, "The Rhythm of Life," this number immediately dated the film. Badly.

There's the casting of Shirley MacLaine, a personal favorite, who on paper seemed perfect for the title role and who actually has some great moments in the film.  But in retrospect, her reading of the lovelorn heroine, Charity Hope Valentine, is a little too much of a rehash of Ginny Moorehead, the equally lovelorn (more pathetic) character she played ten years earlier in Vincente Minnelli's "Some Came Running..." (1958).

Lots of self-pitying tears here. Too many tears.

There's the transparent ploy of toning down Charity's "floozie" qualities whenever the character has a scene with Oscar (John MacMartin), the nice guy who could rescue her from her nowhere life. (Sorry, that's cheating.)

And then there's that big production number, "I'm a Brass Band" (music by Cy Coleman, lyric by Dorothy Field) that is not only jaw-droppingly bad but makes no sense whatsoever.  Why would anyone, much less Charity Hope Valentine, equate being in love with marching with a brass band?  Huh?  The number, staged in the courtyard of Lincoln Center, no less, and with dozens of chorus boys, goes on and on and on, with Shirl huffing and puffing, screeching and straining her ligaments to little avail.

It stops the film.  Cold.  And the film never recovers.

On its way from stage to screen, "Sweet Charity" lost several songs, including at least one good one ("Baby, Dream Your Dream") and gained a few new ones, including one great one ("My Personal Property").  Cy Coleman also wrote a new - and improved - melody for the title song.

Universal released it as a big roadshow production which failed to engage both the media (it received scant coverage) and audiences (poor box-office returns).  After its lackluster reserved-seat engagements, the studio punished the film, so to speak, by chopping out 30 minutes for its general release.  (Paramount did the same thing to George Sidney's 1967, 143-minute "Half a Sixpence" after it underperformed as a roadshow.)

Gone, among other elements, were those sepia still shots and the second of those three deadly disco numbers. (The Davis number remained intact.)

The re-edited version of "Sweet Charity," pared down to two hours, was actually an improvement (while "Sixpence" was unnecessarily harmed by its cuts).  Too bad Universal didn't airbrush out most of Charity's tears.

"Sweet Charity" will be screened by Turner Classic Movies @ 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, October 12 and again @ 8 p.m. on Sunday, November 16 and @ midnight on Friday, January 30, 2015.  Judge for yourself.

Note in Passing: The DVD of "Sweet Charity" contains an alternate - happy - ending in which Charity and Oscar reunite.  The theatrical release of the film ends sadly but, as a title card promises, "hopefully."

Friday, October 03, 2014

fincher's "persona"

Credit: Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises

Crime films that detail how a murder or robbery is planned are nothing new, and in the past few years, David Fincher has come up with two of the best - "Zodiac" (2007) and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011), both of which brought exacting detail, and intelligence, to the formula.

But few modern police procedurals have veered away from the norm as daringly as Fincher's film version of Gillian Flynn's on-going best-seller, "Gone Girl," in which victim and victimizer continually swtich places until their personalities seem to meld together into a kind of rorschach-like blur.

One could say, and without exaggeration, that "Gone Girl" is the "Persona" of policiers.  To make matters even more Bergmanesque, there is a hint of "Scenes from a Marriage" in Fincher's depiction of the lengths to which both Amy and Nick Dunne (Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck) will go to deal with a marital arrangement that has become more rancid than stale.

And it is, indeed, every bit of an arrangement.

The layered,psychology-tinged performances of Affleck and Pike make it difficult not only to empathize with either, but also to fully dislike them.  Pike's Amy had disappeared even before she physically departed from their home, and Affleck's Nick was never really there to begin with.  The so-called "crime" that drives the film is much less commanding than the narcissistic motivations of a couple trying to,well, consciously uncouple.  

With "Gone Girl," the crime film becomes post-modern.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

janet

"Who are your favorite actresses?"

That's one of the stock questions that I was inevitably asked during my years as a working critic.  It's also a no-win question because the person asking it usually expects your choices to mirror his/hers or expects, at the very least, a litany of all the usual suspects - you know, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Meryl Streep, yada, yada.

But mine have always been Shirley MacLaine (a sentimental, childhood favorite), Ginger Rogers (for her amazing versatility in every genre imaginable) and ... Janet Leigh, admired because she was such a pleasing screen presence and a particularly unassuming actress.  I sensed that her success had something to do with being a damn good team player.

Which made her even more pleasing.  And affecting.

Her evolution from a scrubbed, sweet-faced starlet to a no-nonsense woman with an abrupt comic manner and tough resilience was one of genuine growth. Her sexual appeal was the real deal - she's what James Agee would have called "a dish" - and she never trivialized it, her credibility as an actress being more important to her.

She had grace. Style.

This came through when we shared a podium at a book fair sponsored by the Sacramento Public Library so many years ago.  Leigh was there to talk about her new career as an author (she had written two books - a novel and a reminiscence of the making of Hitchcock's "Psycho") but mostly about her former career as a studio-schooled actress  - the tough moguls who gave her orders and roles (some choice ones) and the actors and directors who taught her the craft of movie acting.

None of her comments was negative.  I brought up "Bye Bye Birdie" because I had read that she was not so much disappointed by the film but by its director, George Sidney, who betrayed her. Leigh had worked with Sidney immediately prior to "Birdie" on two films - the all-star extravaganza "Pepe" and the hilarious "Who Was That Lady?" - and, once he coaxed her to do "Birdie," he became smitten with its ingénue, Ann-Margaret, turning the film into a showcase for her, at the expense of the material and the other stars.

Her response was simple: "Of the movie musicals I made, I prefer 'My Sister Eileen.'"

That said, we moved on to discuss a filmography that included unexpected turns by Leigh under the direction of  a collection of mighty auteurs - Alfred Hitchcock ("Psycho"), Anthony Mann ("The Naked Spur"), John Frankenheimer ("The Manchurian Candidate") and Orson Welles ("Touch of Evil"), among others.  She made a Martin-and-Lewis comedy ("Living It Up") and pretty much came of age on film in a string of titles with her ex-husband, Tony Curtis.  Janet and Tony - they were very much an item.
Leigh certainly deserved more credit and acclaim during her lifetime than she received. "I don't know what it is I exude," Leigh once quipped. "But whatever it is, it's whatever I am." 

I wish she could have read what critic Carrie Rickey had to say about her in a 2010 essay on Carrie's Flickgrrl blog for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"One of her distinctive features was the chorus-girl bod that was such a startling contrast to her woman-of-the-world voice," Rickey wrote.

That pretty much encapsulates Leigh's singular appeal.

Note in Passing:  Although not generally known as a singer, Janet Leigh vocalized - and pleasingly - in a few film musicals, among them "Birdie," "Eileen" and "Two Tickets to Broadway."  She also sung in Jack Webb's "Pete Kelly's Blues" (1955).  And she proved herself a pretty good dancer, too, especially in "My Sister Eileen," where she held her own against the likes of Bob Fosse, Tommy Rall and Betty Garrett.

*   *   *

Janet Leigh is being celebrated throughout October by Turner Classic Movies as its Star of the Month with a list of 34 Leigh films including everything from her debut vehicle, Roy Rowland's"The Romance of Rosy Ridge" (1947) to a later work such as Mel Stuart's unfortunate Trish Van Devere vehicle, "One Is a Lonely Number" (1972) to Blake Edwards' lost ”The Perfect Furlough” (1958), one of her films with Curtis (below).

On tap are Stanley Donen's delightful "Fearless Fagan" (1952) and the aforementioned "My Sister Eileen," Richard Quine's original 1955 film musical, which boasts a solid score by Jule Styne and Leo Robin and clever choreography by Bob Fosse (then billed as Robert) - who also co-starred in the role that Quine played in the Roz Russell version of the material.

And, yes, "Bye Bye Birdie" is in the mix, too.

The ensemble cast of Richard Quine's fabulous "My Sister Eileen": (from left) Richard York (aka, Dick York), Lucy Marlowe, Robert Fosse (aka, Bob Fosse), Janet, Jack Lemmon, Betty Garrett, Kurt Kasznar and Horace McMahon, all atop a marquee

Sunday, September 28, 2014

cinema obscura: Blake Edwards' "The Perfect Furlough" (1958)

"The Perfect Furlough," circa 1958, is that rare Blake Edwards movie that has unaccountably disappeared.

And it doesn't help that no one remembers it.  With reason.

Written by Stanley Shapiro, the films is a mash-up of service farce and sex comedy and, as the latter, anticipates the material that Shapiro would subsequently whip up for Rock Hudson and Doris Day, beginning a year later with "Pillow Talk."  Standing in for Rock and Doris here are Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, who were very much happily married at the time.

Anyway, the plot is about an enlisted sex addict, Paul Hodges (Curtis), who wins an Army-sanctioned three-week "date" in Paris with Sandra Roca (played by Linda Crystal), a notorious sex symbol - a dubious idea dreamed up by Army psychologist Vicki Loren (Leigh) to help buoy the morale of enlisted men.  But the catch is,  Paul and Sandra can't sleep together and so Vicki is also dispatched to Paris to keep things platonic.

Shapiro would also collaborate again with Edwards and Curtis on 1959's "Operation Petticoat," a film that unaccountably has never disappeared.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

cinema obscura: Ken Hughes' "Wicked As They Come" (1956)

The joys of moviegoing/moviewatching can be neatly divided into two camps.  First and foremost, there's the guaranteed joy that comes from watching a favored film over and over and over and over again.

No less important, however, is the joy of discovering a new movie - not something current that just opened at your local cineplex but an older title that's been around for some time, without your even knowing about it.

Falling cozily into the latter camp is a little (and little-known) 1956 gem from Columbia Pictures, "Wicked As They Come," directed by British filmmaker Ken Hughes, whose diverse résumé includes Peter Finch's "The Trial of Oscar Wilde" (1960), The Sherman Bros. musical, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968) and the Alan Price remake, "Alfie, Darling" (1972).

"Wicked As They Come" aired on Turner Classic Movies during its annual Summer Under the Stars outing in August as part of a day devoted to its star, Arlene Dahl.  I caught it quite by accident.  My viewing was totally unplanned.  For the life of me, I can't remember how or why I started to watch it - the film was an unknown entity to me - but I'm glad I did.

It's a keeper.

Filmed by Mike Frankovich's production company largely in London with a British crew and a cast of  Anglos and Americans, "Wicked As They Come" casts Dahl as Kathy Allen, née Allenborg, a restless Boston woman from a deprived background with an indifference to all men.


Kathy sets out to rebuild her life, starting with her eye on Miss Stylewear, a local newspaper-sponsored beauty contest that's conveniently fixed in her favor.

She shrewdly exploits the affection that the newspaper's editor feels for her and, once the contest is over and won, she abandons him and, with her cash winnings, moves to London, where she flits from man to man, each progressively older, wealthier and more prominent, scamming them all.

Kathy's advance is witnessed by another American expat, advertising man Tim O'Bannion (Phil Carey), who is both fascinated and repelled by her transparency. O'Bannion at once wants to expose Kathy, punish her, rehabilitate her and ... ensnare her.

His fascination inevitably turns into obsession.

Sound remotely familiar? Well, the basic core of "Wicked As They Come" is nearly a dead ringer for Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie" from 1964.

"Wicked As They Come" isn't nearly as accomplished as "Marnie," and, true, there are major differences. Still, there are so many small narrative similarities here that it's difficult to believe that Hitch wasn't a fan of Hughes' modest little film from eight years earlier. ( It should be noted, however, that Jay Presson Allen's script for "Marnie" was based on a novel of the same title by Winston Green, while "Wicked As They Come" was adapted from another book, "Portrait in Smoke," by Bill S. Ballinger.)

Dahl and Carey could be playing prototypes for the characters ultimately essayed by Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery in "Marnie."  Like Connery in "Marnie," Carey's character keeps popping up in the heroine's life, and there's a sequence in which Carey shows up at the office where Dahl is working that could be a template for the same scene in "Marnie." "Wicked As They Come" even comes with a Hitchcock specialty - the final-curtain psychological explanation, a theory for Kathy's troubled behavior.

Not surprisingly, like Marnie, Kathy's damage was caused by a sexual trauma from earlier in her life.

It's gratifying to see the terrific Carey at last in a rare leading role, and Dahl, an actress who was made for Technicolor, is even more beautiful in black-&-white.

The cinematograher Basil Emmott (a name new to me) achieves a soft, smokey  image here that is gorgeous, and hugely flattering to Dahl, absolutely first-rate.

A little symmetry here:  While "Marnie" is one of those aforementioned favored films that I'd gladly watch over and over and over and over again, and have, its modest doppelganger, "Wicked As They Come," is a decidedly new favorite. Someday, these two will make a terrific double-bill.