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California Suite (1978)
Enjoyable, but flawed execution
I'm biased - I'm a Neil Simon fan who loves the concept of the "Suite" plays (on stage, each act is a one-act play using the same set, with the actors playing different roles each act). Obviously, because the stories are intertwined in the film, they couldn't do that (they didn't do in "London Suite" either).
But, here's my complaint: the intertwining is sloppy. We'll sometimes spend twenty or so minutes with a plot, then get a quick cutaway with another (Walter Matthau's plot doesn't really kick in until an hour's passed; Alan Alda disappears after forty-five minutes).
Despite this balancing flaw, there are goodies to be found:
Visitors From New York: Alda and Jane Fonda have great chemistry (and, of course, she looks great!): one can really believe they were a couple. That being said, he's pretty weak, letting her get in a lot of bitchy lines, and barely sticking up for himself. Three stars.
Visitors From London: A lot of people think this is the best segment, and I'm one of them. Once again, Maggie Smith and Michael Caine give excellent performances (but there's a touch of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" throughout the whole scenario) - she deserved her Oscar (and I love that they filmed at an actual Oscars ceremony). Four stars.
Visitors From Philadelphia: First of all, Elaine May was reminding me so much of Louise Lasser. That being said, I could totally buy her and Matthau together, and I love how calm she was upon her discovery (she gets a great line regarding what she's gonna do). Three and a half stars.
Visitors From Chicago: Unfairly criticized. Sure, it's slapstick in the extreme (it gives us an idea how "The Out of Towners" may have looked if confined to "Plaza Suite," which it was intended for), but there's something quite cool about two very different masters of stand up, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, going up against one another ("clean" vs. "dirty"?). And, you just know that a few weeks later, the characters got together and had a good laugh about it. Three and a quarter stars.
Throw in a nice credit sequence, with David Hockney paintings, and you have a fine way to spend two hours.
The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979)
Very enjoyable, but not a classic
Let's begin with the good, shall we? First of all, the acting was top notch. Alan Alda, as many have noted, was perfect playing a liberal, sensitive, funny guy WITHOUT being "Hawkeye Pierce goes to Washington." From there, we have his ex-Broadway costar Barbara Harris once again giving a brilliant performance (love the cutaway from her fight to the speech she gives)as a woman who just wants to live her life. As well, Meryl Streep is on hand, about two seconds before she really hit it big, along with Melvyn Douglas, who, evidently, was 1979's go-to "aging gentleman." And of course, special mention must be given to Rip Torn, who stars in one VERY prophetic sequence.
Now, we move onto what keeps this film from the best of list. I'm sad to say, the story wasn't terribly interesting. To begin, we have the fight to get a racist off the Supreme Court. But, once that's said and done, we're stuck in a love triangle between Streep, Alda, and Harris, with extra plot dealing with Blanche Baker's growing pains. It's the story old as the hills, though the performances REALLY helped me stick to the very ambiguous end (Does she take him back? Does anyone know?).
But, I only saw this today. Perhaps a second viewing will help me decide.
Sweet Charity (1969)
I Really Did Not Care For This One
Perhaps it was a case of over-anticipation. I mean, on paper, the combo of a Neil Simon adaptation (of a Felini script), directed by Bob Fosse, with a bankable star such as Shirley MacLaine, sounds awesome. But, as I tuned in to see this on TCM a while ago, I grew progressively bored. The standards -"Big Spender," "If They Could See Me Now"- are handled nicely (there's a reason the latter's become Shirley's theme), but the whole Pompeii Club sequence seemed TOO MUCH (much like the Hermoisa Gardens scene in Hello, Dolly!, also released in 1969), and the story is quite weak. Even Sammy Davis Jr's cameo, singing "Rhythm of Life," isn't very impressive (again with the Hello, Dolly similarities: Satchmo's duet with Barbra was far better than Sammy's appearance, Sorry Sammy). Let's face it, everyone made better films.
The Towering Inferno (1974)
As Good as I Remembered, But with Some Flaws
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS What more is there to say? Obviously, this film could not get made today (heck, I felt uncomfortable watching it recently). But, if you put yourself in the mindset of thirty-two years ago, you can see what fun escapism this was. The main story (a building sets on fire)is sufficient, and the subplots run the gamut from enjoyable (Astaire and Jones' romance, Chamberlain's misdeeds) to ill-conceived (Newman and Dunaway's romance).
So what are the flaws? Well, namely, a lot of the actors are mere window dressing. Newman and McQueen are great together, and if the rumors are true and they didn't get along, well, that adds to the grudging relationship their characters formed. Dunaway, I'm sad to say, does very little of importance, just shows up to coo with Newman. The same goes for Blakely, Vaughn, Wagner (was he the P.R. guy? I never figured out his job.), and Simpson.
The real fun are Holden and Chamberlain, as well as Astaire and Jones. These two plots are well worth the price of admission. I mean, here we have Holden, who has trusted his electric work in the not-so-capable hands of Chamberlain (owner of one hell of a house), who just happens to be his son-in-law. And then, for sentimentality, there's sweetie pie Jones who not only cares for the moppets, but proves to be Astaire's shot at redemption.
All in all, a fun way to spend three hours, just as long as you have the right mindset.