Friday, July 31, 2020

Frances Farmer Still Fascinates

Frances Farmer, whose myth and reality still compete 50 years after her death.

When I watch the real Frances Farmer on 1958’s This is Your Life versus Jessica Lange as a lobotomy-dazed Frances from 1982, it sums up for me the dichotomy between the real woman and the misery myth that’s been sold for five decades. Just type ‘Frances Farmer’ in a You Tube search and see what comes up. At least half the results are the most sensationalistic clips from the ’82 film bio or “tributes” that focus on the negative facts and fictions of Farmer’s life.
The infamous episode of 'This is Your Life.' At least Frances Farmer showed class & dignity!

Frances’ appearance on This is Your Life is composed, considering all that she had gone through, and then obliged to relive it in front of a TV audience. Frances Farmer comes across as articulate, thoughtful, and responsive—not the spooky zombie Jessica Lange portrays her as in the final scenes of Frances. And considering her rough ride in life thus far, Farmer looked lovely at 45.
Jessica Lange as a ghostly 'Frances,' after appearing on 'This Is Your Life.'

Frances Farmer died of esophageal cancer at age 57 in 1970. From then through 1982, Farmer’s life was the subject of a memoir that was completed by a friend, a later biography that made even more sensational claims, and finally, the nearly-total fiction film bio that launched Jessica Lange as a dramatic actress. The cherry on top of this showbiz soap opera sundae was when another misunderstood Washington-born artist, Kurt Cobain wrote the myth-inspired song, “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.” An eerie coincidence is that the Frances film bio came out a year after another movie myth buster, Mommie Dearest—a film that also buried and cemented a movie star image for decades to come. And Joan Crawford’s “horror” myth also inspired a rock tune, Blue Oyster Cult’s “Joan Crawford Has Risen from the Grave.”
Paramount found Frances Farmer's "difficult" personality problematic.

For me, the big question regarding the career of Frances Farmer is this: Did she get written off merely because she was “difficult?” I’m not talking about when she hit bottom in the early ‘40s, I’m referring to the late’30s, after Come and Get It. Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn faced similar battles with their respective studios—pushing back on foisted upon images, fighting for good roles and fending off bad ones, resisting inane publicity stunts, etc. During that same time, Davis sued Warner Brothers and Hepburn, labeled box office poison, fought to go back to Broadway, too. Yet, Bette and Kate persevered, and eventually prevailed. Frances often fought these battles, but didn’t emerge the ultimate victor because she didn’t have the stability or steel-willed self-confidence of Davis and Hepburn.
Frances Farmer, whose great beauty shown more when Paramount's
hair & makeup department work was subtle and not slathered on.

Frances Farmer certainly had all the gifts to be a great movie star. Frances had the similar beauty of fellow Paramount star Carole Lombard, the husky voice of a Dietrich, talent and intensity, and she could sing, to boot. And Farmer was very serious about her career as an actress. So what if she was “difficult” over her career and image? That didn’t stop a lot of other actors who went on to great careers. It seems strange to me one aspect of a Farmer negated all the good things about her. Perhaps the problem was like this quote made about Elizabeth Taylor, in terms of ET surviving stardom: A fighter when she had to be, a diplomat when it paid to be. With Farmer, it was certainly the latter that was problematic.
Frances Farmer in college, looked very contemporary & natural.

I remember a Hollywood anecdote, when news of Marilyn Monroe’s firing and subsequent death rocked the movie biz. If memory serves, it was Walter Wanger who recalled at Paramount, when B.P. Schulberg had fired fragile Clara Bow from a film, and never forgot studio boss Adolph Zukor’s reaction: “Our job is to make stars, not fire them.”
This led me to do some research on Paramount and Clara Bow. Paramount had just gone through great turmoil with Bow, one of their greatest female stars. Despite her huge audience, Clara’s emotional stability, dramas, and scandals came at a time when Paramount itself was in dire financial straits. The studio survived, Clara was fired and soon retired, but I wonder if studio head Zukor and the ‘suits’ just didn’t want to go through all that drama again with Frances Farmer.
Frances Farmer became a hit in her second movie, as leading lady
to Bing Crosby, in 1936's 'Rhythm on the Range.'

What’s interesting is that Farmer scored with flying colors as a lovely leading lady to Bing Crosby in Rhythm on the Range. Then Frances made a strong dramatic impression with Edna Ferber’s Come and Get It, in a dual role, as the tart with a heart mother and the good daughter. Howard Hawks adored working with Frances, but left the film in a dispute with Sam Goldwyn, and was replaced by William Wyler. Both were great directors, but whose styles were like night and day. Hawks worked fast and had a loose improvisational style, a bit like the later Robert Altman. Wyler on the other hand was painstaking and meticulous, like George Stevens. Willie was also inarticulate if he didn’t get what he wanted, calling for dozens of takes, to the frustration of his actors. Frances clashed with him, but so what? He wasn’t a Paramount director.
Frances in her breakout dual role, in 'Come and Get It.' Here she is, as the barroom mama.
And Farmer later, as the good daughter in 'Come and Get It,' with Joel McCrea.

With Cary Grant in 1937's 'The Toast of New York.'

After The Toast of New York with Cary Grant and Edward Arnold, why was Frances stuck in so many junky genre pictures? Some folks have pointed to the disappointment of costly Toast for Farmer’s career stalling. I don’t buy it, since co-star Grant had been kicking around in movies for five years, yet hadn’t broken out as a star, and nobody held it against him. Why didn’t Frances get to work with Paramount’s Mitchell Leisen or Preston Sturges or get scripts by Billy Wilder, like later Paramount girls Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake? Both women had their charms and they had to do junk, too. But Paulette and Veronica got far better star-making material, and even together, they didn’t have half the star potential that Frances possessed.
With Fred MacMurray in 1937's 'Exclusive.'

Ironically, Frances and Veronica had very similar career trajectories. Though Veronica was a decade younger, she swiftly took off as Frances did, with Lake barely past 20, as well. Like Frances, initial solid film work, Lake got stuck in genre garbage, and in less than a decade, her career was quickly over. Veronica, too, experienced pretty messy emotional ups and downs, and a drinking problem. Farmer died in ’70 at 56 and Lake passed at 50 in ’73.
With Tyrone Power in 1942's 'Son of Fury.'
This was Frances Farmer's last major motion picture.

A book could be written about the “what ifs” of the life and career of Frances Farmer. What if Frances had the wherewithal and opportunity to freelance like Barbara Stanwyck did? Barbara signed short-term contracts at Paramount as well as Warner Brothers. Yet, Stanwyck also did much of her best work freelancing. Carole Lombard left Paramount in 1937 to pursue dramatic roles, so there seemed to be paucity in the dramatic department at Paramount.
I can think of many movies that Frances Farmer might have given fine performances in. Disclaimer: the movies and roles I’m about to mention is not a knock on the actors who actually played the roles, but offering as examples of what Frances was capable was as an actress. Don’t light up your Internet torches, please!
Frances Farmer with Luther Adler in 'Golden Boy.'
WHY didn't Paramount option this property for their star?
It would have been good business sense and created good will with their star.

For instance, after Frances fought to go back to the stage and appear in Golden Boy, which was a hit and she received good reviews. Why didn’t Paramount buy the property for her? Imagine if Zukor had bought the property and borrowed new WB star John Garfield, in the lead role he longed to play? Instead they got stuck doing Flowing Gold a few years later at WB.
John Garfield, who amazingly lost the role of 'Golden Boy' to Luther Adler,
would have been perfect with Farmer in a screen version.
Instead they got teamed in 'Flowing Gold!'

I think Frances might have played a number of Barbara Stanwyck roles quite well, such as Double Indemnity, or The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. Farmer, with her husky voice, would have made a fine film noir fatale, such as Joan Bennett’s roles in The Woman in the Window or Scarlet Street. How about Frances as a '40s Hitchcock blonde? Or how about Farmer in some of Dorothy McGuire’s more serious roles, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Gentleman’s Agreement? Frances Farmer was just three years older than McGuire and had that intelligence and strength that Dorothy possessed.
Though Frances Farmer was heralded as major talent by the likes of
  Cecil B. DeMille and Howard Hawks, Paramount shackled Frances
to either glorified B-movies or merely decorative roles.

I can see Frances in the career women type roles that Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, and Katharine Hepburn played. Frances also had the rare quality of being physically beautiful but also intelligent and would have been quite believable as a professional or an artist type. And as Frances reached her 40’s in the ‘50s, Farmer could have played many roles in Tennessee Williams and William Inge film adaptations. And Frances, who preferred realism over glamour, could have fared quite well in the ‘60s and ‘70s as a character actress. I can totally see Frances working with Robert Altman, or like Kate Hepburn, going back to the stage while holding out for the occasionally good older woman roles in post-studio era Hollywood.
I was struck by this 1958 TV publicity photo of Frances Farmer. Despite decades
of hardships, 20 years later, Frances' strong beauty was still with her at 45.

As it stands, there are glimpses of what might have been in the brief list of Frances Farmer movies.  Frances is animated in Rhythm on the Range, versatile in Come and Get It, strong-willed in Flowing Gold, and gorgeous in The Toast of New York and Son of Fury. There are others, too, like Exclusive and Ebb Tide, and glimmers amidst the genre junk.
It's startling to see Frances, '40s-style, as most of her work was from the '30s.
What a great film noir fatale Farmer would have made.

Frances Farmer is almost always worth watching. Even in certain studio stills, Farmer’s eyes are alive with intelligence and intensity. As a person, like Monroe, Garland, and Clift, Frances Farmer struggled with emotional and substance issues in an era not yet empathetic or equipped to deal with them. As an actor, the great tragedy of Frances Farmer was that she was a modern star, trapped in Hollywood’s “golden” era.
The myths and what ifs of the life of Frances Farmer still intrigue movie lovers today.
FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

All About Olivia de Havilland: An Everlasting Legacy

Olivia De Havilland at the height of her classic and classy beauty.

Olivia de Havilland was one of Hollywood’s classiest golden era actresses. Olivia fought for substantial parts, stood up to studio heads, balanced a long career with raising her children, discreet about the distance between her sister Joan Fontaine, and married only twice. De Havilland did all this without scandals, breakdowns, drugs and alcohol, diva meltdowns, or tell-all books. So, just how did de Havilland have such a great career? Easy—Olivia worked hard and made challenging career choices. Here are 10 highlights of the life and career of Olivia de Havilland.
Olivia with one of many honors that she received in her long life & career.

Olivia de Havilland was born in Toyko on July 1, 1916 to British parents.
De Havilland became a naturalized citizen on Nov. 28, 1941, on the eve of Pearl Harbor. Stellar timing, Olivia!
Olivia made a marvelous Maid Marian in 'The Adventures of Robin Hood.'

Olivia left Hollywood to live in Paris in 1956. She wrote a best-seller, pre-dating David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty Some Day, called Every Frenchman Has One, a humorous look at learning the language and customs of France.
Olivia had an on-again, off-again relationship with actress sister Joan Fontaine for decades. Mostly off! Here’s a telling tale: A friend of mine who has long worked in L.A. told me his best friend is Joan Fontaine’s daughter, Deborah. His comment: “Deborah adores her Aunt Olivia and can’t stand her mother.”
Olivia sidesteps sister Joan after her first Oscar win. De Havilland
was upset over a catty remark that Fontaine made about her husband.

De Havilland is a two-time Academy Award winner for To Each Their Own and The Heiress, in 1946 & 49.
Olivia made 8 films with Errol Flynn. The first, Captain Blood, made them both stars. Their last, 1941’s They Died with Their Boots On, was a fictionalized bio-pic of George Custer. And their best film? IMO, 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, tons of fun in beautiful Technicolor. She and Flynn had a mutual attraction for one another, but de Havilland never acted on it, since Flynn was a notorious womanizer. Where do you think the old expression “in like Flynn” came from?
Olivia and Errol in their prime as Maid Marian and Robin Hood.

De Havilland had romances with such diverse men as eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes, beloved actor Jimmy Stewart, and macho director John Huston.  Olivia married twice, once to author Marcus Goodrich, and a much longer marriage to Pierre Galante, an executive editor at Paris Match. She had a son with Goodrich, and a daughter with Galante.
Olivia with her two Oscars, for 'To Each Their Own' and 'The Heiress.'

The actress sued Warner Brothers in 1943 to get out her contract—and won. Bette Davis had tried once—and lost. The studio system would put actors on “suspension” for turning down roles, without pay. Actors were not free to work elsewhere and the time spent on suspension was added on to the remainder of their contracts! De Havilland won the admiration of fellow actors, but was given the cold shoulder by studio heads for two years. This was an eternity, back when actors appeared in 3 to 4 movies a year. However, the unofficial blacklisting ended when de Havilland signed a two-picture deal with Paramount.
Olivia won her second Best Actress Oscar for the heartbreaking 'The Heiress.'

De Havilland only played evil characters twice in her long career: an “evil” twin in 1946’s The Dark Mirror and the two-faced cousin in 1964’s Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Olivia preferred playing heroines over villainesses, despite good reviews for both films.

Bette Davis wasn't the only one who played twins! Olivia x 2 in 'The Dark Mirror.'

Olivia de Havilland was the last principal surviving star of Gone with the Wind.  Olivia lived long enough to celebrate her 104th birthday July 1, 2020. Olivia died peacefully at her home in Paris July 26. Though she expressed hope to live to be 105, Olivia de Havilland lived a long, rich life and left us with a stellar film legacy. Cheers to Olivia for life well-lived!

A full life & satisfying career: Olivia de Havilland rode hers till the wheels fell off! 
 I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Faye & Falk are Flirtatious Fun in ‘Columbo’ 1993

Faye Dunaway & Peter Falk, as the socialite suspect & detective, may banter but know that 'It's All in the Game."

This second go-round of the Columbo series had one of its highlights with hi-octane guest star Faye Dunaway in the 1993 episode, “It’s All in the Game.” The plot, while fine-tuned, plays second fiddle to the flirtatious sparring of Dunaway as a L.A. socialite suspected of murder and the ever-dogged Lt. Columbo.
Faye Dunaway plays a socialite with a secret, and her gambler boyfriend is the key.
At 52, Dunaway looks divine in her 'Columbo' guest shot.

Dunaway is Lauren Staten, a vivacious society woman shown throwing a swanky party, when she gets a drop-in by her younger lover, Nick Franco. She urges him to leave, to go play poker, while she plays hostess. It turns out Lauren is in cahoots with another, younger woman, Lisa Martin, who’s also connected to Nick. They have teamed, in a plot to kill him, and make it look like a bungled burglary. All goes as planned until Columbo comes on the scene, and no detail ever escapes his squinting eye.
Peter Falk's Columbo, as rumpled as ever, is hiding his pajama top in this scene!

At first, Lauren is not overly concerned, but soon finds she’s underestimated the detective. She decides to use her feminine wiles on him, to a point, and charm him away. Columbo seems taken by this elegant woman’s attentions. As the story goes on, their respective tricks of the trade heighten, and you wonder if the much heard about Mrs. Columbo has something to worry about!
The society dame and the detective wine and dine each other.

No spoilers are given here, except the title of this episode tells you that Columbo will remain true to the Mrs. And while you are aware that the society dame and the detective are playing each other, you also sense they respect each other’s skills and ultimate motives. While Dunaway’s Lauren Staten and the younger woman’s motives remain ambiguous until the end, you come to realize Staten’s no heartless killer.
Dunaway and Falk at a police station line up; the 'Game' is just about up...

Usually, Columbo’s suspects start off cordial but become increasingly frazzled toward the detective’s increasing visits, designed to keep them off-kilter. Here, Faye’s wealthy woman is intrigued and finds him a worthy adversary, and vice-versa with Columbo. Compliments, gifts, and even kisses are exchanged. While their relationship intensifies, Falk’s detective eventually gets his woman, though the finale is a bit of a departure from most Columbo episodes.
While Claudia Christian and Armando Pucci are fine as Lisa and Nick, it’s Peter Falk and Faye Dunaway all the way.  Falk has his Columbo performance down to a science by now, a little less showy than the early years. Also, Falk wrote this Columbo episode!
Faye Dunaway won her lone Emmy in '94 for her 'Columbo' guest shot.

Faye Dunaway won a well-deserved Emmy for her guest shot on this ’93 Columbo episode. After 1981’s Mommie Dearest, Dunaway played mostly a series of baroque bitches, not unlike Elizabeth Taylor after she starred in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
How often have you ever seen Faye Dunaway look so light-hearted?
What a joy to see Faye in her later years looking fabulous and giving a restrained performance as an empathetic woman. In her scenes with Falk, Faye gets to have fun and be flirtatious, and Dunaway’s enchanting. As the plot unravels, you see Lauren Staten’s sincere motivations, and Dunaway is quite moving in the denouement. Faye’s fashion style here is so timeless; she could step off the screen and be perfectly in vogue nearly 30 years later. It’s a gem of a role, and Faye Dunaway rocks it! Enjoy Faye and Falk create some fine chemistry here.

The LA socialite gets roses from Lt. Columbo. This episode is a bouquet to Faye Dunaway.

Monday, July 13, 2020

‘Island in the Sun’ 1957

Only Dorothy Dandridge & Harry Belafonte rise above the soapy script of 'Island in the Sun.'

Island in the Sun, by British author Alec Waugh, made a huge splash, selling 900,000 copies in 1956. The novel mixed politics, race, and S-E-X. Former 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck, now the studio’s independent producer, envisioned Island as an international picture, with lush locations, torrid romance, and an unflinching look at interracial relations. Well, one out of three ain’t bad!
Darryl F. Zanuck's first independent production missed the mark depicting its subject matter.

The tensions between Island in the Sun’s characters stem from personal and power struggles over race in Santa Marta, a fictional Caribbean island. The Fleury family and their sugar plantation epitomize British power. David Boyeur is a black labor leader who wants to shake up the status quo and fight for the island people. Fleury scion Maxwell, an arrogant ne’er-do-well, decides to run against firebrand David for legislature. A news story reveals that the Fleurys have island blood mixed with their British blue blood. “I wanted to keep things as they were,” the Fleury father laments. This makes Maxwell even more insecure and his sister Jocelyn frets over her chances of marriage to the Governor’s son, Euan. Speaking of the Gov, his aide Denis Archer falls in love with black shop girl, Margot Seaton. Islander David is drawn to Brit aristocrat Mavis Norman. The consequences of all this, with added soap opera twists, causes the cast to drown in the ensuing suds.
'Island in the Sun' made a boatload of money in '57, but wasn't well-liked of by audiences or critics.

Zanuck thought that tough-minded director Robert Rossen was suitable to handle the racial/interracial themes. Either Zanuck or Fox copped out on that aspect. 20th Century Fox was especially good at the Hollywood shell game, promising scandalous controversy, but delivering mildly salacious soap opera: Peyton Place, The Best of Everything, and Valley of the Dolls are prime examples. The resulting glossy soap opera wasn’t really Rossen’s greatest genre. He made his mark with gritty films, writing A Walk in the Sun, and writing/directing Body and Soul, All the King’s Men, and finally, The Hustler.
Sold as a sexy movie, the couples of Island in the Sun rarely get up close and personal. David and Mavis barely touch each other, Margot and Denis only hug, and Jocelyn (whose racial background is questioned) and Euan first kiss just 30 minutes before Island is over! Despite the pussyfooting around, Island deserves credit for the finale, when David and Mavis break up, and he admits it’s easier for Margot to marry a white man, than for him to be with a white woman.
As close to interracial romance as 'Island in the Sun' got, with a fervent hug from Dorothy!

Still, Island in the Sun received great pre-publicity and became one of the year’s biggest hits. The sun-kissed soap also got the kiss-off by critics, which is why it’s not well-remembered these days. While the look at race and island life is surprisingly direct, interracial romance is handled very demurely, which made Island instantly dated. Still, movies like Island in the Sun took the first baby steps. There have been so few interracial film romances since, which still makes Island a significant footnote in Hollywood history.
Dorothy Dandridge should have been at the peak of a movie career, not dead at 42.

Island in the Sun possessed a great cast of veteran and then up-and-coming stars: James Mason, Joan Fontaine, John Williams, Diana Wynyard, Michael Rennie, Patricia Owen, Stephen Boyd, Joan Collins, John Justin, Harry Belafonte, and Dorothy Dandridge. What really let this solid cast down, aside from the watered-down story, is the soggy script and dialogue.
Dorothy Dandridge's spirit and beauty was a breath of fresh air in 'Island in the Sun.'

Two exceptions are Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. Their characters are no better written than the rest, but both have charisma to burn, and Dandridge in particular rises above the stale storytelling.
Dorothy Dandridge’s sweetly beautiful face belies her strong-willed personality. As Margot, she’s a shop girl who wants to better herself—shades of ‘30s Joan Crawford! Then Dorothy falls in love with the governor’s aide, routinely acted by British John Justin. Dandridge has that young Susan Hayward energy, all smart, snappy, and sparkling. Dorothy gets a hug from her white lover, though she demurely dodges a standard screen kiss, per censor cop out. She flies off with him at the movie’s end, just like a decade later, with Sidney Poitier and white fiancée Katherine Houghton in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? They kiss, though shown in a tax rear view mirror!
Harry Belafonte has a strong screen presence as David Fleury, the man of the people.

Harry Belafonte, as David Boyeur, is a naturally commanding presence. That he gets to sing the lovely theme song and a rousing “work” ballad with island fishermen is a bonus. Harry is best as the stubborn island labor leader, who wants to help his people, and is blunt regarding class structures. Belafonte’s David meets Joan Fontaine’s Mavis, a wealthy socialite who is kind but self-admittedly useless. Whatever draws these two to one another is ambiguous, so their romance goes nowhere.
However, Belafonte’s David gets in some pointed racial commentary that still rings true today. His labor leader candidate tells a reporter at a party: “One of the most important fights is against tradition. This island is shackled by tradition.”
After heated exchanges between Boyeur and plantation heir Maxwell Fleury, he tells David that his field hand father was treated well by the Fleurys, even when he was sick. Boyeur retorts, “That was charity, Mr. Fleury. What we want is equality.”
Stephen Boyd & Joan Collins don't kiss until the movie 3/4 over! Not the most sultry 'Island.'

Whereas Harry and Dorothy rise above the script, Joan Collins and Stephen Boyd barely stay afloat. Both are in the prime of their beauty and play their parts smoothly. And that’s the problem; they’re performing like graduates of a Hollywood charm school. For once, Joan wasn’t trying to play an American; here, she’s an English ingénue. Collins was in the middle of her Fox tenure and it was roles like this that buried her. Joan was not able to rise above the lackluster script, like other genuine movie stars. Stars that are born film actors connect with the camera, and are at home in front of the lens. Great stars can usually rise above bad scripts, dialogue, and uninspired directors. Joan Collins never could.
As an actor, Stephen Boyd shows off his best assets. 

Stephen Boyd is perfectly pleasant—mostly visually—as the son of the island governor who wants to marry Joan, no matter what her heritage. While relaxed and easygoing, Boyd is a dramatic void on the screen. Stephen Boyd never became a lasting leading man, despite the buildup, because he lacked real depth or charisma. Compare Boyd to Sean Connery, his fellow Scotsman from the same era, and the difference is obvious.
This is about as close to sizzling romance as Joan Fontaine & Harry Belafonte get in 'Island.'

As for Joan Fontaine, what to say? I never thought Fontaine had much range—lots of limpid eyes, the raised eyebrow, and her ubiquitous small smile or smirk. Fontaine could perform well, in an extremely small range, whether as a repressed heroine or smooth villainess. However, her patrician manner is utilized well here and Fontaine seems fond, if not wild about Harry. A still-telling scene is when Mavis and David buy local children sodas and a white mother makes her little girl give the soda back. Of the racism, Fontaine’s Mavis says, “The children don’t seem to know about that, do they?” David responds pointedly, “Not yet.”
The only overt sex scene in 'Island' is when James Mason's Maxwell commits husbandly rape.

As Maxwell Fleury, James Mason has a field day as the drunken son from a wealthy family, much like Robert Stack’s character in Written on the Wind: Self-loathing, ineffectual, and abusive. Maxwell is the personification of white privilege, especially when things don’t go his way. When he announces to his parents that he plans to run for office against David Fleury, they are rightly not impressed. Maxwell has a hissy fit, capped with, “I’d been better off if I had been born black!” This is rejoined by a slap from his mother and his father offering him a drink. Talk about a dysfunctional dynasty.
Mason’s Maxwell is a drag in other ways, too. His fatal assault and subsequent guilt trip hijacks Island in the Sun from its more topical issues. Michael Rennie’s Hilary Carson comes to an abrupt end. Rennie, a solid actor, barely has time to introduce his character, when Maxwell causes his demise.
Joan Collins & James Mason play rich kids in 'Island,' despite a quarter of a century age difference!

This was veteran British actress Diana Wynard’s last film, and is used mostly for her class, as the wealthy Fleury matriarch with a few secrets. John Williams is on duty again as an inspector, out to solve the murder of Hilary. Patricia Owen is sympathetic as Mason’s extremely put-upon wife, Sylvia.
The location cinematography— in Grenada, Barbados, and Trinidad—by Freddie Young, is superb. Young made his name in Great Britain, then in the U.S. at MGM, and finally, Freddie freelanced to great acclaim, especially as David Lean’s favorite cinematographer. As a travelogue, Island is lovely, and the few romantic scenes are artfully framed.
Island in the Sun deserves credit for stating the unfair economic, political, and social system in the Caribbean. The film gets applause for Belafonte and Dandridge getting to play strong characters, without stereotype or condescension. Island is worth watching on several levels, but the film sadly missed an opportunity to portray interracial romance with any real honesty or passion.
Things were apparently more lively off-camera than on, regarding 'Island in the Sun!'
FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ 1968

Rod Steiger, as serial killer Christopher Gill, giving cop George Segal some high decibel guff!

Thrillers set in the Big Apple were big in 1968, like the somewhat forgotten sleeper, No Way to Treat a Lady. The Boston Strangler and The Detective were notable hits. The best of the bunch was Rosemary’s Baby.
Yet, compare the way No Way to Treat a Lady was filmed versus Rosemary's Baby, both made by Paramount Studios, in NYC. They are psychological suspense films, but Lady was filmed "realistically" versus Roman Polanski's mood-enhancing visual style in Rosemary’s Baby. Lady seems like a Universal TV movie in comparison. No Way to Treat a Lady was directed by competent but workmanlike Jack Smight and cinematographer, Jack Priestley. Both artists spent much of their career in TV and it shows. The same goes for screenwriter John Gay, as well.
It's in his kiss: the lipstick is the killer's trademark.

The strengths of No Way to Treat a Lady are the clever, engaging story by William Goldman and the appealing, well-cast actors. Goldman wrote some stories that are wonderfully entertaining: No Way to Treat a Lady, Magic, and Marathon Man are his best. More importantly, Goldman was considered one of the best screenwriters of his time. He was inspired to write No Way to Treat a Lady from the Boston Strangler headlines at the time. For awhile, it was thought that there might be two different killers, and Goldman wondered what would happen if the original killer became jealous sharing the headlines? In the film, this isn't at the core of the movie, but it offers a little levity. Several major points differ from book to film: the killer is much more prominent in the film; he also succeeds in killing the cop’s girlfriend; and the film is more about the killer and cop’s relationship. These changes are for the better, IMO. What is most amusing is that the cop and killer are both browbeaten mama's boys.
Lee Remick & George Segal have great chemistry as the free-spirited woman and the cop.

George Segal, as Morris Brummel, is winning as the cop who is driven crazy by his mama and the homicidal maniac, and finds his woes lightened when he’s smitten with Remick's free-spirited modern woman. Segal is a natural comic actor, but is also dramatically intense enough to be believable as a cop.
George Segal's Mo finds it isn't easy to be the killer's favorite, among the other cops!

Lee Remick is smart, funny, not to mention lovely, as Kate Palmer. A quirky charmer here, Lee reminds me of the late Carole Lombard in mixing playfulness with sexiness. Remick had a solid career as a leading lady in film and TV. Especially considering that beautiful actresses were falling out of style for the few serious roles for females as the ‘60s went on. For instance, Lee would have made a great Hitchcock blonde. Yet, while Remick was a top leading lady, she never made that top tier as a female star who could carry a movie on her own. This was illustrated when Lee Remick won a Tony for her 1966 Broadway performance in Wait Until Dark. Yet, when it was made into a film the following year, Audrey Hepburn was chosen to play Susy Hendrix, the terrorized blind woman.
Lee Remick as Kate Palmer catches the of cop Segal immediately. Hmm, wonder why?

Eileen Heckart has a field day as George's Jewish mama, Mrs. Brummel. The character is a total stereotype, but Heckart makes the mama good-hearted and fun, beneath the endless kvetching! Eileen was the next generation Thelma Ritter.
Eileen Heckhart as the Jewish mama of cop Morris Brummel, multi-tasking.

Rod Steiger has a field day as a would-be actor whose mother was the real talent in the family. His frustrated character, Christopher Gill, busts out every cliché in the book: the Irish priest; the gay hairdresser; the German plumber, etc. Steiger even offers an ear-splitting imitation of W.C. Fields—a film role he played later—and is so over the top that Segal’s Mo responds by wincing! Still, Jack Smight later wrote that while he had to remind Steiger to stop chewing the scenery, the method actor was totally committed to the role. Steiger gives it his all, and any Rod excess just benefits the character. Steiger as Christopher is funny, vain, scary, neurotic, sad, and just about everything in between. What’s especially interesting about Rod’s character is that he truly engages his victims that you hate that he’s going to kill them! Also, darkly funny, is when Gill follows his own press about the murders, like an actor reading his reviews.
Rod Steiger as killer Christopher Gill, keeping track on his press persona.

This film is filled with great character actors. Murray Hamilton seems to have been in every movie during this era, starting from ‘59’s Anatomy of a Murder through ‘75’s Jaws. Hamilton is Inspector Haines, Brummel’s no-nonsense boss. David Doyle, future Charlie’s Angels wrangler Bosley, is Lt. Dawson. The victims are very distinctive, real, and sympathetic: Sybil’s mom aka Martine Bartlett as Alma Mulloy; Ruth White as Mrs. Himmel; and Irene Dailey as Mrs. Fitts. The always quirky Barbra Baxley is the one who gets away, as the cat lady, whose sister is played by an unrecognizable Doris Roberts—until she speaks!—and scares Steiger off. Michael Dunn is hyper and amusing as the wannabe killer.
Steiger's killer as hissy hairdresser "Dorian," with fussy customer, a droll Barbara Baxley.

Lady is a great time capsule of NYC in the late '60s. Speaking of which, the ‘60s is when wigs went mainstream and between virtually every female character and Rod Steiger’s master of disguise, it’s like Wigstock!
Though not a classic thriller, No Way to Treat a Lady treats its audience to a gripping story with strong performances from its stellar cast.
FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page. 

Lee Remick's last supper? Steiger's killer zeroes in on the cop's girlfriend.