Saturday, March 24, 2018

stage→film: dacosta, prince & lapine

Theater directors rarely receive much recognition from critics and movie purists when they venture into filmmaking. It's as if they don't count.

They're clearly out of their league. I mean, how can they possibly have any affinity for the camera or the medium itself? How dare they?

Case in point: Morton DaCosta did wonders with the film versions of two plays that he originally directed for the stage, "Auntie Mame" (1958) and "The Music Man" (1962). Both movies are noteworthy for their utter fidelity to their stage predecessors and yet are impressively cinematic.

And both were also nominated for best picture Oscars but, true to form, the Academy overlooked DaCosta in the director cartegory both years.

DaCosta would direct only one other film, which was not an adaptation  - "Island of Love" (1993), with Robert Preston, Tony Randall and Walter Matthau, a movie that was so mishandled by Warners that it's almost as if it wasn't made.

Harold Prince made what I thought was an auspicious film directing debut with the delicious 1970 Angela Lansbury-Michael York black comedy, "Something for Everyone," one of those
sophisticated sex comedies in which the randy young hero (York) sleeps his way through every member of a wealthy family (shades of Pasolini's "Teorema" with Terence Stamp).

The film is just about impossible to see nowadays, although Prince's second (and last) film, a 1977 truncated version of the Stephen Sondheim musical, "A Little Night Music," starring Elizabeth Taylor, has been available on home entertainment for decades.

The estimable James Lapine, meanwhile, made one of the best films of 1991 - now also forgotton, of course - namely "Impromptu," a randy farce about the affair between Frederic Chopin (Hugh Grant) and George Sand (the fabulous Judy Davis in one of her greatest film performances).

Emma Thompson, Julian Sand, Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters round out the cast. I can't think of anything wrong with this film.

Like DaCosta in the 1960s and Prince in the 1970s, Lapine has only a couple other film credits. He subsequently filmed the very good 1993 Michael J. Fox-Nathan Lane show-biz comedy, "Life with Mikey" and, for HBO, a 1999 adaptation of the Anne Tyler's "Earthly Possessions," starring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff.

If rep houses still existed and had resourceful bookers, "Something for Everyone" and "Impromptu" would make a great double-bill.

Notes in Passing:  James Lapine, of course, directed his "Impromptu" co-stars, Patinkin and Peters, on Broadway in the 1984 Sondheim musical, "Sunday in the Park with George." Terry Hughes directed the same cast for American Playhouse in 1986.

And it's rarely noted, but Morton DaCosta provided the voice of Edwin Dennis reading his Will during the opening moments of "Auntie Mame."

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* * * * *
(from top) 

~Poster art for "Something for Everyone"

~Morton DaCosta with Ronny Howard during rehearsals for "The Music Man"
~photography: Warner Bros. 1962©

~Harold Prince with Angela Lansbury on the set of "Something for Everyone" 
~Lansbury with Michael York in a scene from "Something for Everyone"
~photography: Cinema Center 1970© 

~ Poster art for "Impromptu"

~James Lapine on the set of "Impromptu"
~ Bernadette Peters and Judy Davis in a scene from "Impromptu"
~photography: Hemdale 1991©


Chris said...

Is it a sign of being over-the-hill when one remembers seeing "Something For Everyone" in the theater?

I remember thinking that it was a great *idea* for a film, but that it didn't really work -- Harold Prince's cluelessness as to what to do with a camera being a prime factor. I wanted it to be a combination of "My Man Godfrey" and Joe Orton's "Entertaining Mr. Sloan," which the Prince-directed film never *quite* became.

I saw it in a revival house on a double-bill with the Fosse-directed "Cabaret," and I remember that both films -- along with all their other elements in common -- featured seduction scenes where the two lovers were surrounded by candles and candles.

As for the phenomenon of stage directors turned movie directors ... where would, say, Nicholas Hytner or Des McAnuff fit into this?

And I remember seeing Walter Matthau on Dick Cavett's show (are we dating ourselves sufficiently?) talk about "Island of Love." Apparently his character used a funny voice, and it was directly modeled on that of director DaCosta ... but neither DaCosta nor anyone else got around to acknowleding it

joe baltake said...


Frankly, my memory of "Something for Everyone" has dimmed but I recall liking it a good deal, its directorial shortcomings nothwithstanding. (BTW, I can barely tolerate "Cabaret.")

I had no idea that Matthau modeled his vocal performance in "Island of Love" after its director Morton DaCosta. I'll have to listen closely - if I ever get to see the film again. Trivia: DaCosta is the voice of Patrick's father, narrating the contents of his will at the beginning of "Auntie Mame."

Re the two directors you mention, I expected more from Des McAanuff in terms of movies by now, and I think that Nicholas Hytner has an interesting, if limited, filmmography.

Alex said...

"Something for Everyone" is one of guilty pleasures. Got a VHS copy of it on eBay about a year ago. This film should be seen by more people. It should be a cult film by now

j. russo said...

I haven't seen "Something For Everyone," but I very much liked "Impromptu" when I rented it many years ago - most probably in 1992, when it would have been released on video. As I recall, it even got good reviews, so I wonder why it's never made it to a DVD release. It's nice to see it spotlighted here, in any case.

Kenny said...

I'm a fan of "Impromptu." Nice to know there are others.

"Something for Everyone" used to show up at rep theaters in NYC around 1980. Now I wish I'd taken the time to see it.

Jennifer Banks said...

I thought Judy Davis would become a major star after "Impromptu." What happened? I only see her in supporting roles and on TV.

Jean-Pierre said...

IMPROMPTU is available on DVD, and has been for years: it's gone through several changes in cover design, but, aside from that, it's available from MGM.

I also loved the movie, and it's the kind of movie which, if it had been a big success, would have made Judy Davis a big star. But it didn't happen.

Cassie said...

Love, love, love "Impromptu," definitely Judy Davis' movie. Brilliant screenplay by Sarah Kernochan (spouse of Lapine) that uses Davis' butch and femme qualities. I could live without Hugh Grant's painfully awful Polish accent, but Lapine also teases out his femme qualities in an interesting way.

D said...

I have very fond memories of Something For Everyone, I remember seeing it a few times when it first came out ( and I did as well) . I bet it probably hasn't aged well but it does offer a chance to see Ms Lansbury in her sleek decadaent phase and I remember well here sensual and hurried devouring of a serving of fresh strawberries. I think you can add Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, and Peter Brook to the list of theatre directors who didn't make an easy transfer to films. McAnuff tried and was given a few opportunities (Cousin Bette?) but his films lack the energy and inventiveness that he is (sometimes) able to bring to the stage. Hytner has publcly acknowledged that he's not a natural filmmaker. I think Lapine could probably have made a transition to film but both Imprmptu and Life with Mikey weren't hits and that makes that sort of career transition difficult.

Mike Schlesinger said...

Isn't Sam Mendes considered a stag director?

I finally saw ISLAND OF LOVE about a year ago. It's the textbook example of "staggering waste of talent." When you've made a comedy with Preston, Randall and Matthau and NONE of them are funny, it's time to take up fishing.

joe baltake said...

Mike- touché! Yes, Sam Mendes definitely counts as a stage director who made credible films. I still can't quite grasp the animosity leveled at "American Beauty." As for "Island of Love," yes, I'm sure Morton DaCosta went fishing after that one. Still, with those stars, it's not completely unwatchable. BTW, DaCosta would later go back to Broadway to direct Judy Holliday in an ill-fated musical titled "Hot Spot." Another fishing trip. -J

Mike Schlesinger said...

"Stag director?" Oy, my proofing skills are declining.

Kiki said...

As for Impromtu - brilliant casting. First time I ever saw Hugh Grant and still think it's the best movie he ever did.

Daryl Chin said...

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE was (finally) available on DVD and BluRay, put out by Kino Lorber at the end of 2016. So it has become "available".

Orson Welles, of course, was the classic example of a theater prodigy who became a movie director. Elia Kazan had a notable career as both a theater director and a film director. (It should be noted that the "auteur" critics, such as Andrew Sarris and Robin Wood, used this fact as a way to denigrate Elia Kazan, opposing him to Nicholas Ray, who was supposed to represent "pure" cinema, except for one little irksome fact which they always ignored: Nicholas Ray had started his career in the theater as an assistant to Elia Kazan, and then went to Hollywood with Kazan.) But a lot of entertaining movies have roots in the theater, and people shouldn't forget that.

joe baltake said...

Daryl- Thanks for the heads-up, re "Something for Everyone." Good News, indeed. Now, about Elia Kazan... Yes, you are correct about his making the successful transition from stage to film - and also about Sarris writing him off because of it. However, as noted, I focused on DaCosta, Prince and Lapine because their filmmaking careers were all truncated, each having made only 2-3 films. They never enjoyed Kazan's multi-film success on screen. There's still time for Prince and Lapine to dabble in film again but, alas, DaCosta is gone - and without ever receiving the recognition that he so richly deserved. -J

Paul Margulies said...

Unfortunately, the "home video" version of "A Little Night Music" is of horrendous quality. There is a region 1 (U.S. and Canada) and a Spanish region 2 version (with a dubbed Spanish soundtrack included as well) called "Dulce Viena". Both feature the same awful print, full of scratches and dirt, looking almost like it was a bootleg.

As I recall, Joe, wasn't this originally intended as the first Dinner Theater Movie, then cut horribly for what little release it ever had. I remember you screened it (after Smokey and the Bandit) on Saturday morning a lifetime ago (in the wonderful screening room in Philly). I don't see anyone ever restoring it, since your audience is probably the only group left who know it.