Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Can a homosexual author accurately depict heterosexual women?
Anytime you get involved with Tennessee Williams' characters, you are sure to find yourself at 3 AM in the dark night of someone's soul, when the last waltz has already been danced. But that someone is not necessarily a "real" person. Rather, it's a "creation" by an author whose own life was so "unquietly desperate" that reality had not much meaning for him, a fact which is reflected in his "unreal" characters. These "people" of Williams' certainly give and have given a number of actresses considerable work over the years, and Helen Mirren is surely one of the best. This novella is one of Williams' darkest tales, but should not be regarded as in any way a look at reality, unless you conceive that most of the people of this world are certifiably insane, a condition which Mirren limns admirably. Williams, I think, was intent on delineating a world, which he thought of as real, but which probably derived from his worst nightmares, waking or otherwise, could not actually be realistic. A look at this world is not necessarily an "entertaining" experience, and I doubt that Williams intended it to be. So why bother? Well, you can enjoy the work of the actors, if not the story, and you can speculate about the author as I have been doing. As he was a homosexual, I have considerable doubt that Williams can be taken seriously when he deals with women. Yet almost all his protagonists are women. I wonder why. Oh, I haven't even discussed the story, and I don't think I will, except to say it involves a woman whose actions will seem absolutely incomprehensible to us "normal" folk. My rating of 9 reflects mainly my admiration for Helen Mirren's work. Otherwise, the film offers many irritations, which you can select for yourself.
I'll offer no comment on the story line: I couldn't discern one.
There's no question of including a spoiler. Frankly I didn't find a discernible understandable story line, so how could there be a spoiler. The only reason this film got a "1" rating from me, is because I think any glimpse of Helen Mirren, however unpleasant, is worth something. Not much, though, in this case. Helen must have needed the money to take part in this fiasco. As others have said, this is easily one of the worst films ever produced. It masquerades under false colours for one thing.
Really, it should be marketed as pornography and sold only in porn shops. I can conceive that some pornography might not be considered entirely offensive to some people, but this film seems determined to offer something offensive to everyone. If you are a Helen Mirren fan, as I am, my advice is to forget this one. I reran one of her DVI Joan Tennison (Prime Suspect} films to take the bad taste out of my mouth. So why did I check the "spoiler" box? Some folks might interpret this entire commentary a "spoiler"!
Spring Parade (1940)
Only a dedicated Durbin fan would bother with this waltzarama!
Since I am a "Durbin freak", I do bother, but it's never much of a pleasure. The "spoiler" box is checked, but I am not sure there is anything to "spoil". Based apparently on one of those usual mittel-Europa authors' Vienna romances, this glitzy romantic comedy quickly becomes close to farce. Deanna is "Ilonka", a peasant girl from a small village far out in the boondocks, with the "hayseed" still literally sticking to her. A hawker at the village fair sells her a "fortune" which predicts she will marry an "artist" in Vienna, meet the Emperor, and other nonsense which "Ilonka" swallows whole. Arriving in Vienna almost by accident, she immediately starts rubbing her hayseed customs up against the sophistication of the city, with close to disastrous results in some cases, and situations the writers seem to have thought funny in others. Witness the scene in a ritzy Vienna café when "Ilonka" haggles with the waiter about the price of a serving of asparagus, and the waiter gives in! This kind of humour palls rather quickly. One could go on as "Ilonka" pursues her "fortune", but you get the idea. If this isn't enough for Deanna to deal with, there is the constant sabotage from those two most annoying brats of all cinema, sometimes known as "Butch and Buddy". This is something of a departure for Deanna, who tries valiantly against heavy odds, especially having to sing a succession of boring waltz songs! And contend with Bob Cummings boisterous performance at the same time.
One doesn't know how well this did at the box office when in general release, but since Universal never issued a VHS or DVD they must have written it off as a regrettable mistake. Not even in the UK, where the rest of the Durbin "canon" is available in PAL format, is a good VHS or DVD available. This is a shame, for the movie is beautifully and lovingly photographed despite its shortcomings.
A good example of "theatre of the absurd" applied to film noir
I will try hard not to spoil any of the surprises Patricia Highsmith springs on you in this dark story, but you have to appreciate that her view of the world we live in is badly skewed from the standpoint of most folks. You really can't trust any one or any of the institutions supposedly created to protect us. Briefly, a psychopathic Polish émigré is bitterly envious and resentful of a contented couple he knows of. To harass them, he kidnaps their pet poodle "Tina" and demands a small ransom. When that is paid, he demands another and gets it. I hardly need say that "Tina" is never returned. Not content with that harassment, the fellow continues with some really loathsome tricks, which the police refuse to investigate. After all, it all started over a dog, so who cares, eh? One rookie policeman, though, does attempt to investigate and identify the culprit. The only real result of this is that he is suspended as a police constable, and his girl friend does "kick him out". This is only the minor tragedy though, there is worse to come, but I think I have told you enough. You won't like what Highsmith relates, but it's difficult to break away from her.
This is a well produced episode of the "Armchair Thriller" TV series with a convincing cast and good production values. The director has not softened the harshness of the story one bit. Unlike another Patricia Highsmith novel, "Strangers on a Train", brought to the screen filtered through Alfred Hitchcock, in this one Highsmith is given you undiluted. The actor playing a senior detective who resents the rookie, really knows how to be totally revolting! He's a man you learn to "love to hate" quickly. Likewise, the actor limning the rookie treads the line skilfully between looking like he might really be "girlie", but at the same time actually being very manly. Don't go out for popcorn or to fill up your glass. You might miss something really dreadful!
Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958)
It's "Theatre of the absurd" made very entertaining
The french writer Camus and his cohorts postulated a universe that was totally incomprehensible and unpredictable. The dramas some of them created came to be known as "Theatre of the Absurd". Some of this stuff was very good, if a little trying on the psyche of the viewer. Try "No Exit" for an example. Some writers produced "Theatre of the Absurd" without possibly meaning to, or realising the fact. I don't think Noel Calef, the author of the source novel, was one of these, though.
It is difficult to discuss more than the mere beginning of this film without giving away info that some viewers would prefer to discover for themselves. If so, abandon me after the first few sentences, but let's give it a start. A man plots to murder his boss, because he is in love with the wife of the boss. He has an elaborate, fool-proof plan, involving climbing up a rope one floor to avoid being seen to use the elevator. So far, so good. Or bad, depending on the point of view. Up on the boss's floor, the murder is carried out and made to look like suicide. Our man climbs down the rope and takes the elevator to the street, only then remembering that he has left the rope dangling. Well, back up in the elevator, and here's where things start to go monumentally wrong. The building custodian shuts off the main power, immobilising the elevator between floors, and stranding our "hero". If you think this is all that can go wrong, you don't know "theatre of the absurd".
Better leave me now, but if you don't mind a bit more info, here it is. At street level, a teenage couple who know our man, whose name is Tavernia, steal his car and his identity to some extent. The crimes they commit in his name make his original crime look like a peccadillo. I'm going to leave you now, but I hope you will go on to the bitter end of this excellent film noir.
Some good views of USS Los Angeles if you can tolerate the sickening romantic sub-plot
I have about 3 feet of shelf space in my library devoted to books about airships, and I don't think any of them use the term "dirigible", except derisively, in referring to lighter-than-air flying machines. "Dirigible" comes from the French "dirigible ballon", meaning "steerable balloon". For English speakers, the proper term, and the one used by the U.S.Navy, is "airship", but apparently the director and writers for DIRIGIBLE didn't know that. "Airship" is not used once throughout this interesting, if seriously flawed, film. There's a lot about airships the director and writers didn't know. For example, in one part of the story, USS Los Angeles, in her proper persona, is shown flying over the South Pole to rescue some downed aviators from a Ford Trimotor crash. Since the pole lies in excess of 10,000 feet above sea- level, and since none of the Navy's four rigid airships were designed to fly higher than 3,000 feet high, such a project would have been totally impossible. The Germans in WWI had some ships designed for as high as 20,000 feet, but our Navy never did.
Well, despite all the wrong-headedness of the story, USS Los Angeles manages to be the star of this movie and upstages all of the human cast. In the course of the film, USS Los Angeles plays a dual role. First as the fictional USS Pensacola, which was destroyed in a hurricane while flying on a hare-brained project to the South Pole. This was no doubt inspired by the real fate of USS Shenandoah, which was destroyed over the U.S. middle-west while on an equally hare-brained project. Later in the story, as herself, USS Los Angeles is sent to the South Pole on the already mentioned impossible rescue mission. Some of the events involving the downed aviators seems to have been suggested by the real troubles of the ill- fated Scott expedition to the South Pole of 1912. There, one of the explorers who was being almost literally carried by the others, went out of the tent and died to spare his comrades. Incidentally, Ford Trimotors were used by the early U.S. polar expeditions, but there were no crashes involving them. There was one air crash, but it occurred near the shore, and was not a Ford Trimotor.
There were a number of great scenes, possible and impossible, in the film, but inevitably we come back to poor Fay Wray in the thankless role of the wife who can't abide her husband's adventurous career as a Navy pilot. While her romantic entanglements are boring us silly, we are also given the impression that the U.S.Navy had a whole fleet of rigid airships. In a scene near the beginning we see what looks like a number of airships flying in formation. If this didn't involve camera trickery, those other airships were blimps, not the big rigids. In a brief scene, it might be hard to tell the difference. At no time during the roughly ten year period beginning about 1924 did the U.S.Navy have more than one rigid airship in commission. The Congress kept such tight purse strings on the Navy that they could only afford enough helium to keep but one flying!
Divorce Wars: A Love Story (1982)
An examination of different ways women prefer life with their husbands
Clearly different women are willing to put up with different behaviour from hubby. This film takes a look at some of the ways. There are respectable performances all around as the story takes place against a background of the very successful and busy divorce lawyer's work in court, which keeps him away from home, children and wife. Under the circumstance that the wife comes from a wealthy family, her dissatisfactions with her marriage may make her seem like a spoiled brat. Which, as a matter of fact, she is. Hubby's attitude is not all that endearing either, especially when he takes up with a little chippy, who is also a newly minted lawyer. Hardly any of the people, except "ol' Max", are folks you can be expected to empathise with. Jane Çurtin, Joan Bennett and Tom Selleck limn their various characters very well. If you are a fan of Lilliam Hellmann's work, you might almost suspect this film derives from some of her work, but apparently this is not the case.
Philip Marlowe, Private Eye (1983)
Not very close to Chandler's originals, only fairly well acted and produced.
Really dedicated fans of Raymond Chandler may be disappointed that the writers for this series didn't see fit to stick to Chandler's stories without serious deviations. All eleven episodes either added characters, deleted characters, changed the stories to varying extents, or all of the above. Since I suspected this might be the case, having seen what was done to Edgar Allan Poe in a similar series on DVD recently, I made a point of re-reading each of the stories before viewing the movies. Only four of the episodes came moderately close to following the original story line: "Nevada Gas" (although this was not originally a Marlowe story), "Finger Man", "The King in Yellow" (also not a Marlowe story), and "Pickup on Noon Street" (not Marlowe either). Most of the stories used were not originally about Marlowe, but at least were about Johnny Dalmas, a Marlowe prototype.
I suppose my view of the series is jaundiced by my long term enthusiasm for Raymond Chandler, having read the "canon" through at least half a dozen times since first meeting Philip Marlowe in FAREWELL MY LOVELY in 1943. Imagine my resentment when these writers presumed to "improve" on the master. As for the quality of what was produced as compared to what might have been produced if Chandler has been followed, it isn't "bad"; just not good enough. Powers Boothe clearly tries hard to be Marlowe, but he really doesn't fit my physical conception of the "good man who walks the mean streets". I pictured Marlowe as rather tall, well built, not fat but with sufficient bulk to over-awe the sleazy characters he went up against. Robert Mitchum filled the bill in THE BIG SLEEP. Burt Lancaster would have also if he had ever essayed the role. Kathryn Leigh Scott ("Annie Riordan") and Billy Kearns ("Lt. Violets M'Gee", as Chandler spelled the name) impressed me most favourably. You won't be bored watching this series, but if you are a really fanatic Chandler addict, you will be chagrined.
Everybody seems to think they can write his stories better than Poe!
Well, the only real spoiler I am going to contribute is this. If you were hoping to see screen adaptations here that really present Poe's stories more or less as he wrote them, forget about it. True, some of these episodes come a lot closer than did any of Vincent Price's efforts, but that doesn't say much. The Price flicks went very far afield, but they were entertaining. Some of these 12 episodes are not. Some are. The general pattern with this series seems to be: keep Poe's characters; keep a semblance of the original plot; extrapolate with both plot and characters to get as much crude sex innuendo in as possible. The worst offender in this regard is the two part "The Masque of the Red Death", in which Christopher Lee plays "Prince Prospero". Oddly, the most spectacular aspect of Poe's story is his lengthy description of the seven colourful chambers at the Prince's great "gala" masque party. Don't hold your breath waiting for it, because it is completely omitted!
The best renditions on the DVD, to my taste at least, were "Mr. Valdemar" (note the shortened title), "The Cask of Amontillado", and "The Fall of the House of Usher". It's generally down hill from these. Acting and production values vary considerably, and the fact that filming and other production operations were carried on as far apart as South Africa and somewhere in the former Jugoslavia may have been a factor. I suppose it's nice that they made the effort, but the feeling may grow on one that the producers were exploiting Poe more than "realising" him.
When a Man Loves (1927)
Considerably rewritten to feature Barrymore, but still recognisable as Prevost's novel
All opera lovers will have no trouble recognising WHEN A MAN LOVES as Abbe Prevost's novel "Manon Lescaut". Massenet set it in opera form as "Manon", Puccini as "Manon Lescaut", and both took about as many liberties as did the screen writers for this film. Those of you who viewed TCM's recent showing probably noticed an oddity in the screen credits. No mention whatever was made of Abbe Prevost! Considering they didn't have to pay anyone for the rights, you would think they could at least have given the old Abbe one credit line. Those "genius" producers, though, hated to give anyone credit in the "good old days" of movie making. Up and coming Myrna Loy has a minor role, for example, but nary a credit.
TCM deserves credit for finally bringing this gem out into the open. With any luck, it may even show up as a DVD one of these days. It is very well acted and photographed. Silent screen acting mannerisms are frequently annoying when seen today, but that kind of thing is mercifully absent in WHEN A MAN LOVES. The film, like Puccini's "Manon Lescaut", takes us all the way to Louisiana. If you haven't seen the film yet and don't know the story, STOP HERE, or I may be about to spoil the surprise ending.
Old Abbe Prevost, like Hollywood in the bad old days of the Production Code, evidently thought folks who had led dissolute lives ought to die for their sins. His "Manon" dies in her lover's arms somewhere in the Louisana swamps. Warner's, though, gives them a chance to row off to freedom when their convict ship is taken over by mutineers. They don't exactly disappear into the sunset, more like a fog bank, but maybe sunny days are at last ahead for the unfortunate lovers.
The Singer Not the Song (1961)
Extremely interesting and emotion packed film
Some seem to regard this film as a put-on, or a subtle story of repressed homosexuality, or what-you-will. I was more impressed by the story of a battle of wills between a determined priest and an equally determined and wily "bad man" (El Malo) boss in a remote Mexican village. "El Malo", or "Anacleto", dominates and exploits the village through fear. When crossed, he orders his minions to kill, but always in such a way as to make it look accidental. The police are not powerless, but without evidence they cannot act. The old priest has been reduced to a lump of terrified jelly, but the new one, "Father Keogh", is made of sterner stuff. Right away, though, his task is complicated by two factors. Å young girl, "Locha", shows signs of infatuation with the new ;priest, and "Anacleto" against his better judgement, begins to like the priest. Maybe this is where the homosexual element, if any, comes in. This is not an unmixed blessing, for the priest becomes obsessed with saving the soul of "Anacleto" more than with contesting his rule of the village. "Anacleto" is a complete apostate, who has been taught to hate the church from youth. During Mexico's various revolutions of the early 20th century hatred of the church was often a central motivation and indeed the rule of the Çatholic Çhurch in Mexico was mostly broken. Priests and Nuns were not allowed to wear traditional habit in public for many years.
In the end, "Father Keogh" must choose between the welfare of the village and his goal of bringing "Anacleto" back to the Çhurch. When "Locha" is more or less kidnapped by "Anacleto", as a plot to force the priest into ceasing his "warfare" against him, "Father Keogh" promises to "speak to the congregation" favourably about "Anacleto" in return for his releasing "Locha". It's a bit more complicated than that, for "Locha" declares her love for the priest openly, and he admits that he loves her as well. When "Anacleto" comes to the church expecting the favourable sermon, "Father Keogh" instead denounces him and brings in the police to arrest him. A gun battle ensues, during which both "Father Keogh" and "Anacleto" are killed. The dying priest kneeling without sight or hearing over the dying "Anacleto" implores him to an "act of contrition", and to press the priest's hand if he is doing so. "Anacleto" does press his hand, but murmurs, "It's the singer, not the song".
It's powerful stuff and powerfully acted by Sir Dirk and Sir John. Mylene Demongeot makes an impression as the youthful and mixed-up kid "Locha". The rest of the cast are equally up to the mark. Most of the Mexicans are played by non-Latino actors, but there are at least a couple of Latinos on hand. "Old Uncle", one of the most vicious adherents to "Anacleto", is played by Laurence Naismith very effectively, even though not a Latino. There is a furious hand to hand fight and gun battle, in which a drunken "Old Uncle" tries to shoot the priest, but is shot himself by "Anacleto" to prevent the killing. I said it was a complicated affair, didn't I. This event, though, was important to the story, for it gave the police the opportunity to drive "Anacleto" from the village temporarily. It's well produced and exciting throughout. How some critics could call it "plodding" escapes me entirely. And if you persist in seeing hidden meanings and nuances, that's just so much lagniappe!
Edipo Re (1967)
Pasolini has taken both Homer and Sophocles as his source, but with a difference!
I have heard some say this film, as far as it interprets the old legend, is "a piece of c***". I would not go that far, there are some good bits, but Pasolini's approach to telling a story on film is definitely not to my taste. The editing is rough, some of the actors just seem to walk through, like Silvana Mangano as Iocasta, others, like Pasolini himself as Oedipus seem in a constant manic state. You have to look fast to see Alida Valli as Merope, but her performance is the one I remember with the most pleasure. The camera work is unrelentingly stark to the point of boredom. And why, in the name of Pete, that modern "book-end" at the beginning and the end? No sense at all to it, unless Pasolini is trying to say "this is a story for all ages", but, heck, I already knew that.
The story as Pasolini tells it follows Sophocles fairly well, with touches taken from Homer, but he doesn't mind going off on his own once in a while. If there is anyone who doesn't know the story, don't read any more until you have seen the film (there's an excellent DVD). In Sophocles, after Oedipus finally realises he has killed his father and fathered four children with his mother as his wife, he blinds himself. Pasolini leaves us there by going back to his modern conclusion. Actually, in the legend, his two daughters, Ismene and Antigone (subjects of another play by Sophocles) guide him on his way to Athens where he ultimately dies. I wish Pasolini had at least given us a glimpse of the girls and this journey. Oh, well, just call me a philistine who doesn't appreciate "real art".
The Iceman Cometh (1960)
An exultation of guilt!
It is well known that Eugene O'Neill on more than one occasion expressed a feeling of guilt about events in his life. Notable among these was his regret at his treatment of the character representing his brother James in LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. This play, with the scene laying in 1912, was actually written at least a decade and a half later, when O'Neill may have been suffering pangs of guilt. His was not a happy or uneventful life! In THE ICEMAN COMETH every character is obviously suffering pangs of guilt in various ways and to various degrees. Some express it openly, like the young man who turned in his mother to California police. An apparent anarchist, she was suspected of involvement in a bombing. Some, like Larry, are silent as to what they feel guilty about, but are clearly not easy in their mind. One could go on, there is the owner of the bar pretending to grieve for the last 20 years after the death of his wife, but concealing that he actually detested her.
Finally, there is the supremely guilty Hickey. I won't tell you what he is feeling guilty about, just in case you haven't seen the play or the filming of it. But it is consuming him to the point of completely changing his habits of the past in relations to the habitués of the seedy bar which is the scene of action. Hickey tells them that he has finally realised what they all must do to make their lives, if not happy, at least tolerable. They must give up all the lies they tell themselves about why they are leading such depressed lives. He doesn't mention guilt, but if you look at what the play has told you about these characters, the implication is clear. They have become alcoholics as an anodyne for the pain of their guilt.
This is a staged filming for TV of a play, so the fact that it is not cinematic should not be held as a defect. With an exception or two, the cast is excellent in limning this menagerie of misfits. Young Robert Redford gives a distinguished performance as the young man who turned in his mother, gradually making his guilt more overt as the play progresses. The centerpiece performance, though, is Jason Robards, Jr., as Hickey. He carries out this lengthy and difficult role, delivering long speeches with never a hesitation or misstep. Bravura, I would say is the word.
This looks like a virtually complete rendering of the play, with material often cut from stage or film realisations included. For one, the title may puzzle some viewers. It derives from the fact that Hickey has in the past regaled the drunks of the bar with tales about his wife disporting herself with "the iceman". Other versions I have seen have omitted, or greatly downplayed, this. It takes patience to stick with this version for the full 3 hours and 25 minutes, but it is worth it.
A Moon for the Misbegotten (1975)
Eugene O'Neill's "apology" to brother James
Coleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards, Jr. maintain their reputations as titans of the theatre in the roles of "Josie Hogan" and "James Tyrone, Jr." I found Ed Flanders a tad flat playing the father of "Josie", although others have praised him. Direction and editing in transferring this stage play to the TV screen are both excellent. The aim was clearly not to be cinematic, but to give the viewer the illusion of watching a play on stage. It works very well. "Josie" refers to herself more than once as "a big cow of a girl", and Dewhurst makes no effort to "pretty-up" the character. The beauty that "James" finds in her comes from character within, perhaps some might say "soul". Whatever, the lady puts the idea across wonderfully well. Robards tends a little more to bombast in portraying "James", but that works well too for a character portrayed in "Long Day's Journey into Night" as more-or-less a "loud mouthed drunk".
Eugene O'Neill has said that he felt he denigrated his brother too much in "Long Day's Journey into Night". This play was supposed to right what he felt was a wrong. Alas, it seems to me that "James" still appears a weakling, although he seems to hold his liquor well enough. What O'Neill created here was a Chekov style "comedy". There are no yucks, but how else can you interpret the obvious "fake" feud of father and daughter that goes on all through the play. They obviously love each other very much. There is one oddity in Collen Dewhurst's performance that I remarked. Close your eyes during some of her speeches and you will swear it is Katherine Hepburn talking! Watching this play for 135 minutes is a rewarding experience on more than one level. How do "Josie" and "James" make out at the end? Although I checked the "spoiler" box, I am not going to tell you. Get the DVD and find out.
Where is Cecil B. DeMille now that we need him?
This outing of the Moses and the Ten Commandments mythology tale offers us a more human Moses than some of the others. He exhibits self-doubt on a number of occasions and wavers a bit here and there, which I suppose will offend the true believers of all faiths that take the Bible and the Quran as the inspired word of "God". For myself, a life-long free thinker and skeptic, the Moses story is an exciting one, but is after all mythology. Most of the old Greek mythology tales are equally exciting, but I don't regard them as fact either.
Ben Kingsley (Moses), Christopher Lee (Ramses), and others of the cast give lively performances which I would describe as satisfying, if not exactly great. My most serious quibble is the uninspired direction and hectic editing, characteristic of most made for TV productions. As to the episodic editing, though, perhaps it isn't reasonable to be too critical. After all, the three hour movie covers about 80 years of "history". You surely are not going to mistake this "Moses" as a made for the theatre production. Wouldn't you really like to see a resurrected C.B.DeMille direct a modern Moses in wide-screen Panavision and full rich Technicolor. The colour process used for this one is not even barely adequate. Don't read any further if you don't want to know the outcome in advance.
I promised you a "spoiler". Guess what. Moses doesn't get to enter the "promised land" after all his 40 years in the wilderness. Are any of you surprised? He attributes this to having struck the rock twice to make it spew forth water. Was that really in the Bible? I don't seem to recall it. Not the rock and the water, the striking twice.
Well known actors and actresses read from O'Neill's plays and discuss his life
Eugene O'Neill has been called America's greatest playwright. He wrote about 38 plays, most of which were produced to great acclaim by critics and public alike. He did get some criticism here and there in his earlier days, but his last three or four plays are universally called some of the best ever written. "Mourning Becomes Elektra", "Long Day's Journey into Night", "The Iceman Cometh" and "A Moon for the Misbegotten" will be known to most of you, even the youngest, for they are sill being produced in theatres worldwide today. A good many of his plays have been made into films as well.
Despite his success as an author, O'Neill had a very unhappy life, stemming it seems from family troubles in his early life. This documentary details much of that using actors to speak for O'Neill and those who knew him in life. Readings from his plays are given by Jason Robards, Jr., Blythe Danner and others. Colleen Dewhurst talks at length about the effect of his plays on audiences and the direction of American theatre generally. It is very well done and edited and avoids the repetitiveness of the a recent 2006 documentary about Eugene O'Neill. Running about and hour and twenty minutes, it is well worth a watch. Finding a tape or disc may be difficult, though, since it aired as part of a PBS series circa 1983-1985.
Interesting survey of O'Neill's life and mental state, but repetitive of various points.
This well produced survey of the tormented life of a man whom many consider America's greatest play wright suffers perhaps from the zeal of the director and writer. O'Neill's biography is constantly interspersed with repeated descriptions of his tormented mental state, sometimes using the exact words of a previous commenter. There are a number of film clips of various actors reading from O'Neill plays, and these are sometimes repeated verbatim. It looks like a bit of re-editing would have created a shorter documentary with the same impact.
If you have the patience to tolerate what I have described above, and found annoying, it remains a documentary well worth viewing. It could lead to a better understanding of the psyche of Eugene O'Neill. If you would rather let O'Neill speak for himself, just view his latter day great plays, especially MOURNING BECOMES ELEKTRA, A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, and A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN. Another alternative is to view the 1985 PBS documentary "Eugene O'Neill: a Glory of Ghosts". Since it was part of the American Masters series, beginning in 1983, it may be hard to find.
It's a comedy a la Chekov, more somber than most of Wilde.
True, there are a lot of Wilde's usual quips downgrading late Victorian society to the ridiculous, but one senses that here he is being much more serious than usual. We get a look at dirty politics, people who are willing to gain wealth by any underhanded means, and air-heads who only deign to look at the corruption around them when it touches themselves too closely. One of the characters is even guilty of the crime of "insider trading". Some things never change! There is also a look at people with a better character, but perhaps too much better. They set impossibly high standards that make no exceptions for human frailty. And then there is the villainess hoist on her own petard, as they say, whom in the old melodramas we would be invited to hiss. Not here, though. Read on only if you don't mind having some of the denouement revealed.
We are given a very competent cast, beautiful sets colourfully photographed, in fact the best, to my mind, of the "Play of the Month" series. But the star of the piece, is the totally unscrupulous manipulator played by that great British actress, Margaret Leighton. "Mrs. Cheveley" is surely a total sociopath. We learn she stole from her classmates at school, she has in the not too distant past stolen a valuable broach/bracelet from a hostess she visited, she accumulated wealth by conspiring in unscrupulous schemes with an international financier, and at present she is blackmailing an MP to force him to advance in Parliament a fraudulent canal building scheme. Can you countenance such an one without nausea? Well, Margaret portrays this hussy so charmingly and beautifully, I found myself actually hoping she would succeed! She doesn't of course, but if she isn't hailed into court and prosecuted, she won't exactly be living in chill penury. The lady just likes the best for herself. Doesn't everyone?
Invites comparison with the 1945 film with Hurd Hatfield and George Sanders
In dramatising Wilde's novel, John Osborne has condensed events, eliminated a number of characters, and generally implied rather than shown Dorian's essential wickedness. If you want a more explicit rendering, see the 1945 film. Wilde and Robert Louis Stevenson lived in about the same time frame, but were certainly vastly different men and writers. This story really treats of a theme similar to Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", but note that Wilde chose to treat his story as fantasy, whereas RLS took the scientific route. Both the protagonists are men in whom good wars with evil, with evil winning in the end.
The actors in this BBC movie, take a different route, too, from those in the 1945 film. John Gielgud says all the same caustic and cynical quips as George Sanders, in his role really projecting Wilde himself, but with a subtle difference. You'll suspect that Sanders really believed what he was saying, but Gielgud may be saying what is expected of him rather than what he sincerely believes. Peter Firth, too, shows the two sides of his character in restrained fashion, but then we don't get to see as many of his escapades as Hurd Hatfield had a chance to display.
It's a very good production, with the dramatisation reflecting the essentials of the novel, if not all of its ramifications.
Probably the wittiest of Wilde's plays
This appears to be a very complete TV presentation of "The Importance of Being Earnest". It includes a scene in Act 2 which has been omitted in all the stage and screen versions I have previously seen. "Algernon" in order to woo "Cecily" is impersonating the non-existent "profligate brother" of "Jack". A solicitor appears on the scene with a bailiff in tow to arrest "Ernest", the non-existent brother, for a 750 pound debt to a restaurant. This is actually a debt "Jack" owes. It is not a particularly funny scene, which is likely why it is omitted mostly, but it is an interesting commentary by Wilde on a facet of late Victorian society. The well-to-do were always chronically late in paying bills. Only the threat of debtor's prison helped tradesmen in collecting bills. Probably it was an expression of the contempt of the upper classes for people "in trade". Add to this that people in good social standing, but who were not well-to-do, had no compunctions against running up outrageous bills they could not pay. Maybe "Jack" didn't pay in order to emphasise the "profligate brother" image he was building up about the fictional "Ernest". In any case, it's interesting to see this rarely presented scene.
"The Importance of Being Ernest" is arguably the wittiest and most light-heartedly satirical of all Wilde's plays. Almost every statement by every character illustrates some absurdity of the life and attitudes of the "upper crust". "Gwendolen" says, "Sugar is not being taken in tea in society". Not much different from today, eh? "Sweet and Low" anyone? If your preference in acting styles runs to the understated and restrained, you may be disappointed. This cast doesn't ham it up or chew the scenery, but they certainly don't hesitate to reflect every passing emotion or attitude in noticeable fashion. The general presentation is that of a staged play, but some cinematic elements are introduced, such as many close-ups, where you can see those emotions I just mentioned. Joan Plowright, playing "Lady Bracknell", you will remember, was closely associated with Laurence Olivier. Perhaps you will notice the same oddity that I did. She not only resembles Olivier in facial expression and appearance, she talks like Olivier as well. Interesting, eh? All in all, it is a decent and worth watching realisation of the famous play. Available in a BBC Oscar Wilde collection on DVD with three other works.
It's just as Wilde wrote it!
This literal translation to the screen of Wilde's play is rather stiffly acted, but otherwise presents it well. As for the play itself, Wilde indulges in his usual caustic and cynical quips about the life he saw around him in late Victorian England, so it can be called a comedy. That's in the same sense that Chekov called his plays comedies, and Saroyan called one of his "The Human Comedy". The difference is that Wilde didn't mind putting in a lot of "yucks" in his plays. But here, also, there is a sense of bitterness not found in, say, "The Importance of Being Ernest". Well, at least, he provided a "happy ending" for everyone, unconvincing as it may seem, but then "Mrs. Erlynne" was very clever as well as good.
The Royal Family (1977)
Excellent translation of the stage play to the small screen.
I know that's true because I happened to see the play produced on stage by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland recently. It's no secret that this excellent family drama was suggested by the antics, tribulations and frantic life of the Barrymore clan of thespians. Lionel isn't included for some reason, but the rest of them are all there, agonising about not getting parts, planning an extensive tour even at advanced age, frantically escaping to Europe to avoid lawsuits, and planning to leave the stage to get married. One of them does, the youngest, but obviously regrets it later on. Another plans to marry, but at the end she obviously isn't going to.
The principal people we see beyond in-laws and such are the matriarch played by Eva LeGallienne, "Julie", who presumably represents Ethel Barrymore, played exquisitely by Rosemary Harris, and the daughter of "Julie", limned rather petulantly by Mary Layne. Rosemary doesn't much resemble Ethel, but when we come to "Tony" we get a surprise. He looks one heck of a lot like John Barrymore, and acts like him, too. Pay attention to the scene near the end when "Julie" realises the big business tycoon she plans to marry is a shallow nincompoop aside from business. That settles it, she stays in the theatre. Don't worry that this looks like a filmed play. That's what it is. The set used in the Ashland production looks almost exactly like the one in this made-for-TV filming. It's a lot of fun.
Cassavetes always has a good cast but he is a careless filmmaker.
Thanks to TCM I have recently viewed 3 of John Cassavetes' films: A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, A CHILD IS WAITING, and FACES. The last mentioned is the subject of this comment. I am not amazed that critics loved it, nor that audiences generally ignored or hated it. The film, to those who adore the avant garde willy nilly, looks as arty as all get-out. Hence critical approval. To audiences who live in the real world, it was apparent that Cassavetes had not managed to say anything really relevant to their lives. Oh, sure, a good many people have marital troubles galore, but the "solutions" which the film seems to offer look rather ugly as Cassavetes presents them. On the basis of the 3 films mentioned, it looks obvious that Cassavetes was a "convert" to the notion that "theatre of the absurd" was the ideal medium to convey his notion of meaningful cinema. I am sure he was a dedicated and sincere filmmaker. The problem is that to "Joe and Jane Doakes" and to the likes of me, he made lousy movies.
What is "theatre of the absurd"? It more or less started with Albert Camus, who asserted in "The Myth of Sisyphus" sometime during WWII that mankind's situation vis-a-vis the universe is "absurd". Considering the world conflict that was raging and destroying mankind by the multi-millions, it would be difficult to disagree with him. Camus himself, I don't believe, ever wrote in the genre that came to be known as "theatre of the absurd", but a number of names still well remembered today did: Becket, Albee and Pinter come to mind. Some of these gradually abandoned the style, but echoes remained in their later works. Consider WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?. It isn't strictly "absurdist", but some aspects of "absurdism" remain. The characters are surely not "in phase" with life as most of us know it. Later, Albee wrote the screen play for Carson McCullers' "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe", a novel which was certainly in the "absurdist" tradition.
Well, how about FACES?. The characters in this film seem to be "out of phase" with the rest of us. They are surely unhappy with their lives, but unable to formulate any real solutions. They don't really understand what is happening to them. They talk gibberish a good bit of the time. In fact, in some sequences, I was unable to make any sense of what was being said. I don't think this was accidental. Cassavetes was an "absurdist" author for sure. Now, that's not necessarily bad. I just don't think Cassavetes had the skill at this stage of his directing career to bring it off. His characters and dialog are too improvisational to be easily understood by the viewer. His editing is outrageously chaotic. Witness the scene when "Maria" appears to be dying of an overdose of something. The previous scene of "Maria" and "Chet" suggested nothing of this kind, and it is only later that an explanation of sorts is offered. If that is good film-making, you could fool me! Perhaps Cassavetes learned his trade better as time went on. I would like to see some of his post 1974 films to find out. Note that Becket, author of "Waiting for Godot", one of the best known "absurdist" dramas of all time, would have nothing to do with improvisation. In fact, directors who want to produce his plays are rigidly controlled by the executors of his estate and not allowed any deviation from dialog and stage directions as Becket wrote them. The "absurdist" authors were not sloppy! It may be that Becket was a true genius of the genre. I don't think Cassavetes was.
The plusses of this flawed film all seem to come from the cast. Gena Rowlands and John Marley are magnificent in doing what they are asked to do. If it seems that what they are saying was made up as they went along, I suspect that's because it was. If they seem to be talking nonsense, they were talking nonsense and doing it very well. But it was still nonsense. In one scene, lasting a minute or two, I began to suspect I had maybe suffered a little "cerebral accident". I could see the scene perfectly, but understand not a word of what the sounds might mean. Then suddenly it all snapped back into the comprehensible again. Cassavetes may have intended this phenomenon, but it may just have been poor sound equipment or incompetent technicians. After all, we know he was short of funds and had to do everything on the cheap!
A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
Cassavetes has good objectives, but often a poor way of telling.
John Cassavetes' films surely justify the adjective "idiosyncratic". This film borders on "theatre of the absurd" in fact. What Cassavetes shows us must be what he intended us to know about the thrust of his story, since he both wrote and directed. I harbour the notion that he was intending to tell a story of both physical and mental abuse practised by a pig of an ignorant lout of a husband on a wife far above him in intelligence. Alas, her zest for life and general liveliness infuriates the guy. His abuse leads the wife into behaviour that could be interpreted as mental illness, so on the solicitation of the husband and his mother-from-hell, poor "Mabel" is committed to six months in an asylum. Now, I submit that if anyone in this story is "insane", it is "Nick". Hardly any of his notions about his wife have any basis in reality. You could say he really isn't living in the real world, but in an "absurdist" world created by his limited intelligence and lack of logical perceptions. Isn't that what we usually mean by "insanity"? So far, so good, but Cassavetes doesn't really present a picture as coherent and logical as I have capsuled above. The editing is so chaotic that once in a while I harboured the notion we are seeing a "rough-cut" of the film, not a finished product. It could be,of course, that such editing is just part of the "absurdist" philosophy of the presentation. The world isn't logical, so why should its literature be? Is that it? None of the ancillary characters in the drama behave much better than "Nick", even those sympathetic to "Mabel". We really are looking at a dysfunctional world, not just a dysfunctional marriage. Reviewing the action mentally, it looks to me like the three kids and "Mabel" are the only really "sane" people around that "world". How long they will survive the return of "Mabel" from the asylum is problematical, in spite of the up-beat final scene.
What is the origin and meaning of the title? Surely not that "Mabel" is an alcoholic, though she is shown as drinking a couple of times. "Under the influence" of the brutal treatment by her pig of a husband seems the more likely meaning. Whatever, Gena and Peter, aided by a cast including most of the family and friends of Gena and John (they are married) certainly give bravura performances above the ordinary. You ought to see this film for that reason and for the story of wife abuse, even if, like me, you don't care for the cinematic style.
El ángel exterminador (1962)
It's surreal all right, but less interesting than a Dali painting .
This is only the second Bunuel film I have seen. The other was BELLE DU JOUR, and I didn't like it much either. At least, that film featured Catherine Deneuve, which would be a definite plus for any movie. This one has no one I ever heard of before, but I will admit that these presumably Mexican actors, especially the women, did a very good job at the thankless task asked of them by their surrealist, ultra left wing director.
It's as surreal as a Dali painting, and just as boring. Well, Dali is a little less boring, because you are wondering just what the hell he means. Bunuel leaves you in no doubt about his meaning. He hates anyone who isn't living in filthy squalor, and isn't as ignorant as your average scurrying beetle. Sure, a good many of the more economically advantaged people on the planet lead disgustingly meaningless lives, and are more-or-less sponging on the rest of us. Bunuel seems to think they are also leading lives of not-so-quiet desperation as well, and haven't sense enough to come in out of the rain, or at least out of a dining room where they haven't had too much fun. I admit there have been interesting stories told on themes like this, but Bunuel didn't do it for me in this film. It starts off interestingly enough, while we are wondering why all the servants of a large house are leaving, like rats scurrying off a sinking ship, just before the start of a big dinner party. Only the butler elects to stay. The interest quickly evaporates into boredom as we get repeated views of guests descending into lethargy when they find they can't bring themselves to leave the dining room, which gradually begins to resemble a pig sty.
Now, I, personally, have a reputation as leaning strongly to the left, so my lack of appreciation of Bunuel doesn't stem from opposition to his political orientation. The people he portrays in EL ANGEL EXTERMINADOR may be parasites, but they are not the worst "enemies of the people". Those enemies are folks like those portrayed in BARBARIANS AT THE GATE, about the notorious corporate takeover of RJR Nabisco. THE HUCKSTERS shows another sort of up-scale scoundrel at work, and there are many other films that display the villainy and lack of any moral integrity of upper class types in a manner far more interesting and meaningful than folks of the ilk of Bunuel and Berthold Brecht ever did. When it comes to denouncing powerful, wealthy scoundrels, I prefer concrete, straight-from-the shoulder expositions, not fanciful allegories like this one.