Friday, October 28, 2016

the donald is no bill mckay...

...but he's errily like Crocker Jarman

Bill McKay, of course, is the young politician played by Robert Redford in Michael Ritchie's superbly harsh (and accurate) political farce, "The Candidate"  (1972), and Crocker Jarman, so smoothly played by Don Porter, is the entitled (and monied) incumbent McKay hopes to unseat.

And does.

Of course, Croker Jarman isn't the lead character in "The Candidate" and Donald Trump is unlikely to welcome the idea of being a supporting character in any movie, especially one directed by Oliver Stone.  I'm getting ahead of myself here.  Oliver Stone has yet to not announce any film devoted to Trump, so why do I think such a prospect is a sure thing?

Because it's irresistible, that's why.

So while I eagerly await a Stone movie titled "Trump" or "The Donald" or "Trump Fights Back" (the most ubiquitous newspaper headline of the past few weeks) or perhaps simply "H" (for huge), I'll concentrate on films and characters already available that are, well, Trump-esque. Here goes...

Lonesome Rhodes in "A Face in the Crowd" - This Elia Kazan-Budd Schulberg classic remains absolutely prescient in its depiction of someone who, having become drunk on his status of being an unexpected media sensation, turns to politics in his quest for power.  No one can top Andy Griffin as this character, but I'm willing to see someone try. 

Gladys Glover in "It Should Happen to You" - Judy Holliday, perfect as a curiously ambitious, vacant young woman with no discernable talent of any kind, who becomes The Symbol of Nothing.  Say no more.

Chance in "Being There" - Peter Sellers, atypically restrained, as an idiot who speaks gibberish that everyone is ready to read as pure genius.

Raymond Shaw in "The Manchurian Candidate" - Laurence Harvey excelled as an outsider programmed to destroy a political party - only he destroys the wrong (the right?) one in the end.  His clueless acolytes, meanwhile, robotically chant, "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."

Professor Harold Hill in "The Music Man" - OK, this one requires singing - or at least speak-singing as perfected by Robert Preston in both the stage and film versions of this musical.  Hill is a natural-born con man who twists facts and tells outright lies to convince less astute people that "There's trouble - right here in (fill in any place of your choice)!"

What about Hillary, you say?  Well, she's a much less flamboyant, easy-to-spoof figure.  But given that we live in a political culture obsessed with equal time, I'll toss you this one:

Tracy Flick in "Election" - And, yes, Stone can recruit Reese Witherspoon to reprise her role.

Note in Passing:  I'm disheartened to share the information that (1) James Stewart reportedly was offered the role of Crocker Jarman in "The Candidate" and turned it down and that (2) James Stewart reportedly turned it down because it reflected poorly on conservative politicians.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

doris & gig & shirley & dean

There are screen teams - and then there are screen teams.

My interest is in those teams who haven't been aknowledged as teams.

Per se.

Let's take Doris Day, as an example. She is most identified with Rock Hudson, Gordon MacRae, Gene Nelson and James Garner but she actually appeared in more films with ... Gig Young:

-Gordon Douglas's "Young at Heart" (1954)

-George Seaton's "Teacher's Pet" (1958)

-Gene Kelly's "The Tunnel of Love" (1958)

-Delbert Mann's "That Touch of Mink" (1962).

These four titles would make a nice, tidy Saturday-afternoon film festival.

Then there's Shirley MacLaine, most closely linked with Frank Sinatra and Jack Lemmon.

Her most frequent co-star, however, was Dean Martin who shared seven - count 'em - seven films with her:

-Frank Tashlin's "Artists and Models" (1955)

-Vincente Minnelli's "Some Came Running" (1958)

-Joseph Anthony's "Career" (1959)

-Lewis Milestone's "Ocean's Eleven" (1960)

-Joseph Anthony's "All in a Night's Work" (1961)

-J. Lee Thompson's "What a Way to Go!" (1964)

-Hal Needham's "Cannonball Run 2" (1984).

And, oh yes, Shirley and Gig teamed up in Charles Walters' "Ask Any Girl" (1959).

From top to bottom:
Doris Day and Clark Gable prop up Gig Young in George Seaton's "Teacher's Pet"; Young and Elisabeth Fraser surprise Day and Richard Widmark in Gene Kelly's "The Tunnel of Love"; Shirley and Dean team in "All in a Night's Work" and "Career," both directed by Joseph Anthony

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

cinema obscura: Terry Hughes' "The Butcher's Wife" (1991)

Very much a companion piece to Richard Quine's "Bell, Book & Candle" (1958), Terry Hughes' "The Butcher's Wife" (1991) is a cozy New York comedy about a compelling woman with what might be magical powers.

And like Gillian Holroyd, the seductive heroine of Quine's film, Demi Moore's Marina in "The Butcher's Wife" is something of a bohemian.

These two women are "different," unconventional.  For one thing, they both favor walking around barefoot. It's no surprise that each one ends up among the denizens of Greenwich Village. Gillian, of course, is a witch.  Marina is something more curious, possibly a landbound mermaid.

Marina is a clairvoyant from a tiny island off the North Carolina coast who makes her way to New York to meet the man for whom she is fated - a Greenwich Village butcher named Leo Lemke (George Dzundza). Or so she thinks.  They marry almost insouciantly and Marina ensconces herself in his shop where she meets - and counsels - people from the neighborhood.

Her penchant for giving homespun, often unsolicited advice (mostly to women) attracts the attention of  Dr. Alex Tremor (Jeff Daniels), the local psychiatrist whose clientele is identical to Leo's.  (As I said, this is a very cozy Greenwich Village.) Among the characters who patronize both the butcher shop and the local shrink are a couple played by Frances McDormand and Margaret Colin (both terrific), and reliable Mary Steenburgen as a wannabe singer who seems more appropriate for Leo than Marina.

That's because Marina was really meant to be with ... Dr. Tremor.

The character of the ethereal Marina seems ready-made for Daryl Hannah but Moore, cast against type in an atypical soft role, is at once disarming and appealing and demonstrates remarkable chemistry with every other actor in the film - Daniels, Dzunda, Steenburgen, McDormand and Colin.  It's a terrific cast that also includes Max Perlich as Leo's helper, veteran actresses Miriam Margoyles and Helen Hanft as two neighborhood snoops and the great cross-dressing actor-writer Charles Pierce in a quick bit.

Best of all, there's playwright Christopher Durang, a veritable scene-stealer, hands-down hilarious, as one of Alex's more confused patients.

In interviews at the time of the film's release, Daniels said he modeled his character on Jack Lemmon and, if you look closely, there are indeed a collection of subtle, astute Lemmonesque references in his winning performance. 

George Dzunda is as endearing as ever (and what on earth ever happened to him?), while Mary Steenburger is a collection of adorable 'tics.  She also gets to sing a sad, heartfelt version of Irving Berlin's singular "What'll I Do?"  And any film that includes the strains of Stéphane Grappelli on the soundtrack is instantly a friend.

Sadly, "The Butcher's Wife" is Hughes' only theatrical film. He's better- known as a TV hand who has helmed many successful sitcoms, among them, "Friends," and, sadly, this background was seemingly used against him at the time of the film's release by status-conscious critics.

But Hughes also filmed many stage productions, often working in tandem with their original directors, among them two Stephem Sondheim musicals, "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," and "Sunday in the Park with George," as well as "Hughie," "Barnum," "The Gin Game," "I Do! I Do!" and Bruce Jay Friedman's controversial "Steambath." He's good.

I'd like to see Terry Hughes direct another film.  He's way overdue. His charming debut movie, now nearly 25 years old, has panache to spare.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

indelible moment: "Sometimes a Great Notion"

Richard Jaekel's heartbreaking drowning/death in the 1972 film directed by and co-starring Paul Newman. Utterly unforgettable.