Thursday, August 31, 2017

adventures in movie reviewing: Schatzberg's "The Seduction of Joe Tynan" (1979)

It's funny how some things stay with you. It was Thursday, August 23rd, 1979 and the call came in about three in the afternoon. I was reviewing for a Philadelphia daily and was rarely ever in the office, let alone at 3 o'clock.

I've no idea why I was there. Kismet perhaps? The call was from the projectionist at a cineplex in Marlton, New Jersey and had to do with "The Seduction of Joe Tynan," a film that I had reviewed the previous Friday.

I'm paraphrasing now but the voice on the phone said, "Joe, we have a print of 'The Seduction of Joe Tynan' that we're not supposed to have. Universal just had a replacement print delivered for the rest of the engagement. So, if you want to see this version, I suggest you get here tonight." Great. I drove there just in time for the 5 o'clock show.

The print that the theater was showing turned out to be a longer version of the film that I reviewed - a  preview print containing footage that was supposed to be excised before it reached theaters for public viewing.

"The Seduction of Joe Tynan," a political drama a la Michael Ritchie's "The Candidate" (1972), is largely a forgotten movie now and, even when it first opened, was pretty much under the radar, despite compelling credentials.

It was directed by Jerry Schatzberg, a former fashon photographer who made a huge impression with his first three films - "Puzzle of a Downfall Child," "The Panic in Needlepark" and "Scarecrow." And it was written by its title star, Alan Alda, best known as a TV actor at the time ("M*A*S*H"), who would use the opportunity to pursue a modest career directing features ("The Four Seasons," the most noteworthy, and three others).

Alda's two co-stars in the film are the irresistible Barbara Harris, who was having a brief fling with films at the time, and an intimidating newcomer named Meryl Streep, who was taking movies by storm in the late '70s.

Harris plays the devoted yet independent wife of Alda's Joe Tynan, an ickily smooth liberal Senator with Presidential ambitions, and Streep is a labor attorney with whom he starts an affair and who is also married.

Then there's Melvyn Doulgas, as an aging senator and Joe Tynan's mentor whom Tynan will invariably disappoint. Douglas played a vaguely similar role in the aforementioned "The Candidate." Anyone who saw "The Candidate" will recognize it in "The Seduction of Joe Tynan." Alan Alda demonstrates that he saw the same Robert Redford movie that we all saw.

Douglas is a vital part of the movie but, when I reviewed it on August 17th, back in 1979, his character mysteriously disappears from the narrative, a situation that was left unquestioned by movie  critics.

The mystery was solved when I saw a different version of the film - the version used for "producer's sneak" previews - for a second time a week later. Douglas disappears from the storyline because his character, distraught by the dubious actions of Tynan, commits suicide. The footage revealing this, if I recall, didn't add up to much but it definitely altered one's perception of the Tynan character who, up to that point, is all charisma and who, despite his infidelity and other shortcomings, asks us to see him as a good, sensitive man.

It's not the first or last time that a character was rehabilitated in the editing room. Ever since its release in 1984, rumors have swirled around Jonathan Demme's "Swing Shift" - that producer-star Goldie Hawn had the film re-edited to make her character less unappealing. Hawn plays a woman in the film who cheats on her seabee husband (Ed Harris) while he is off fighting World War II. Writer Nancy Dowd took her name off the film.

But back to Alan Alda and "Joe Tynan"... Two years later, I interviewed Alda over breakfast at the Bellvue-Stratford. He was doing publicity for "The Four Seasons," which he wrote and directed and also stars in.

It was an affable interview; Alda was charming and responsive. I brought up "Joe Tynan," with the intention of complementing Alda for creating a character with a negative side. But when I mentioned that I had seen an early version of the film that included the suicide, he turned pale and the smile left his face. "No one was supposed to see that," he said.

Our interview continued, although he now seemed distracted. In my head, I saw Alan Alda making a call to Universal afterwards.  Just a guess.


~Meryl Streep and Alan Alda in a scene from "The Seduction of Joe Tynan"
~Alda with Melvyn Douglas in a scene from the film 
~photography: Universal 1979©


Kiki said...

Great story, Joe-- particularly when Alda loses the plot at breakfast. I was spending so much time out of the country in the late 70s, I had never even heard of this (or many other well-known films) that came out during my jet lag years.

Bill from Philly said...

Joe- Some of my best times was reading your review when you were in Philly. This story takes me back - The Marlton Eight!

Peter Warner said...

Yes, a forgotten film, one of the few forgotten films made by Streep. I can barely recall it but I'd like to see it again.

k.o. said...

Alda has always creeped me out, particularly during the time he was making movies like Joe Tynan. Romantic lead? Really? But Melvyn Douglas was such a good actor.