Sunday, September 11, 2011

cinema obscura: Dore Schary's "Act One" (1963)

The playwright-director Moss Hart co-wrote both ''You Can't Take It With You'' and ''The Man Who Came to Dinner'' with George S. Kaufman and won his Tony as director for Lerner and Loewe's ''My Fair Lady.''

He also wrote the autobiography, “Act One,” which was filmed for Jack Warner and Warner Bros. by the legendary Dore Schary in 1963.

The little-seen, now-forgotten film, which stars George Hamilton as Hart, dwells on the early part of Hart's career, before he met and married Kitty Carlisle, and boasts an impressive supporting cast – Jason Robards as George S. Kaufman, Jack Klugman as Joe Hyman, Eli Wallach as Warren Stone, Sam Levine as Richard Maxwell, George Segal as Lester Sweyd, Bert Convy as Archie Leach (who would, of course, become Cary Grant) and the great stage actress Ruth Ford as Beatrice Kaufman.

It’s not a particularly good movie, but it does capture the atmospheric New York theater milieu with impressive accuracy – the glittering New York life that Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle represented. Ambience.

You know - when life was all about the opening night on Broadway of “Auntie Mame,” a cocktail party on Beekman Place, a charity soirée at the Museum of Modern Art and a late-night supper at the Stork Club.

"Act One," like the golden era it depicts, was gone until Turner Classic Movies somehow unearthed it; it airs on TCM at 6 p.m. (est) on 13 September. That's your ticket for front row center.


Alex said...

Bert Convy as "Cary Grant"? Now that is odd casting.

Beryl said...

"Act One" may not be a great movie, but it attempted to capture some of the excitement people felt about the theater and was made atf a time when movies were adapted from Broadway plays with some frequency.

jbryant said...

Recently caught Convy's film debut in Phil Karlson's GUNMAN'S WALK, a superb Western. Convy played a half-blood Native American of all things. He was fine, but if you grew up watching Tattletales and the like, it's a bit of a disconnect!

Enjoyed him as the Werner Erhard parody in SEMI-TOUGH. A shame he died so young.

Douglas McEwan said...

I watched the TCM airing, and was mostly appalled. Convy of course was miscast, but not as miscast as George Hamilton, who was a terrible choice to play a great wit. He killed every laugh line he had with an unsure delivery and smirking at his own wittiness. He was awful.

The movie has one reason to be seen, but it's a very good reason indeed: Jason Robards Jr as George S. Kaufmann. Not only have they made him look just like Kaufmann, but Robards really captured Kaufmann, and really brought him to life. A biopic of Kaufmann with Robards might have been really good.

But apart from him, it's a deservedly-forgotten movie.

Dennis said...

I remember seeing ACT ONE when it was first released, and when you're a child, you don't think about whether or not a movie is well-directed. But it was an important movie because it attempted to capture some of the excitement people felt about the theater (Moss Hart, in this case), and it was indicative of a time when movies were adapted from Broadway plays (in the early 60s, these would include TOYS IN THE ATTIC, THE STRIPPER, A PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT, COME BLOW YOUR HORN, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH) with great frequency.

One important fact about Broadway was that there were some true theater stars in that period (Julie Harris is the biggest example) but there were also Hollywood stars who came to Broadway to reinvent themselves (Angela Lansbury, Lauren Bacall). Anne Bancroft hadn't been able to make a splash in Hollywood, but she went to Broadway and reinvented herself (TWO FOR THE SEESAW, THE MIRACLE WORKER). And TV was based from NYC, so that musical numbers from a Broadway hit would be shown nationwide on things like The Steve Allen Show or (of course) The Ed Sullivan Show.

I hate to say this (especially with the recent death of Ed McMahon) but it was Johnny Carson who helped to put the death kneel to Broadway. He (actually) was very uncomfortable with "sophistication". He didn't like having Broadway personalities on The Tonight Show. (Merv Griffin, on the other hand, revelled in it; he loved having people like Tallulah Bankhead, and he loved talking to Tennessee Williams or Gore Vidal.) When Carson moved the Tonight Show to the West Coast, he concentrated on movie people, and he slowly stopped having writers on his show (one classic instance when he did have a writer: he had Pauline Kael on in 1970, during the summer; she - as usual - was enthusiastic, and that summer, she wanted everyone to see McCABE & MRS. MILLER and THE CONFORMIST, and Carson was appalled at her fervor and cut her off). But before that, Merv Griffin and Steve Allen and David Susskind would always have people like Moss Hart on their talk shows, and so everyone KNEW about Broadway. But Carson helped to kill it.