Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932)

“Even though he disgusts me, I did save his life.”

Boudu Poster

Synopsis:
A well-meaning bookseller (Charles Granval) rescues an indigent man named Boudu (Michel Simon) from drowning and brings him to his house, where his wife (Marcelle Hainia) and mistress-housekeeper (Severine Lerczinska) are both initially perturbed by Boudu’s uncouth presence, but slowly seduced by his animal-like “charms”.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “comic tribute to Paris’s bums” — directed by Jean Renoir, and based on a play by Rene Fauchois — is “not great Renoir” but remains a “perceptive social comedy” which isn’t “nearly as bad as critics contended in 1967 when it received its first American release”. He points out that “Simon’s movements remind some of Charles Laughton”, and notes how interesting it is that Boudu “is such an unsentimentalized slob — rather than the lovable tramp of the Chaplin tradition”. However, while modern critics delight in the way Boudu subverts expectations by anarchically refusing to express appreciation for what he’s given, he ultimately comes across as simply an annoying cipher. We learn nothing about his background, and — because he’s such a lout — we care little about him or his future. In fact, this is a rare instance where I prefer the remake — Paul Mazurky’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), starring Nick Nolte — to the original, given that both Nolte’s character (as scripted) and performance are more nuanced. While the cinematography in Boudu… is beautiful (see stills below), this one is only must-see viewing for Renoir fans.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lovely cinematography and framing
    Boudu Cinematography1
    Boudu Cinematography2
    Boudu Cinematography3

Must See?
No, though film fanatics interested in Renoir’s work will likely be curious to check it out.

Links:

Ordinary People (1980)

“When I let myself feel, all I feel is lousy.”

Ordinary People Poster

Synopsis:
In the aftermath of his brother’s accidental death, a teenager (Timothy Hutton) with a repressed mother (Mary Tyler Moore) and a loving father (Donald Sutherland) seeks help from a therapist (Judd Hirsch) as well as solace from his sweet new girlfriend (Elizabeth McGovern).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “Best Picture Winner” — Robert Redford’s debut as a director — is “an extremely successful adaptation of Judith Guest’s prizewinning first novel about the deterioration of an [upper] middle-class family due to the death of the firstborn teenage son and the inability of the mother — the symbol of the family — to love anyone else”. He argues that at times, Redford’s direction “is so precise and cold that the mother… might have directed it”, yet notes that “he’s sensitive toward his actors, and gets several outstanding performances” — particularly from Hutton, “who got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar although he is the film’s star”. He writes that the “Oscar-winning script by Alvin Sargent is perceptive, powerful, emotionally resonant” and “also tender”, with “the scenes between McGovern and Hutton… particularly sweet”. However, he asserts that while “Moore received much praise for her cinema debut as a woman who has repressed her emotions for so long that they no longer exist”, “it has turned out that she plays most of her movie characters with extreme restraint” — indicating that he’s not terribly impressed with her work here.

Interestingly, in his Alternate Oscars, Peary writes that he’s a bigger fan of “the now underrated Ordinary People” — which “received much praise from critics and moviegoers when it was released” — than the critical darling Raging Bull (which he nonetheless gives the Best Picture award to in his book). He notes that while Ordinary People‘s “reputation has… diminished, so that it’s now thought of as a mainstream family drama”, it actually deals “with difficult ‘mother-love’ themes not handled in other films”. I’m in full agreement with this latter assessment. Redford’s direction — despite Peary’s (incorrect) assertion that at times it’s too “precise and cold” — is simply masterful: he captures the dynamics of this deeply troubled family in such a way that we immediately sense the depth of their hurtful dysfunctions. Regardless of Moore’s future roles, her work here as a cold, narcissistic mother is spot-on; scene after scene between Moore and Hutton is heartbreaking in its bitter authenticity. We’re left with no doubt that she openly preferred her older (deceased) son, that she resents her younger son for being the survivor, and that she is solely interested in maintaining a life of appearances and surface pleasures (with her husband, not her child) while repressing any trace of genuine emotion.

As Peary writes, Hutton does indeed offer a powerful, Oscar-worthy lead performance. He portrays a young man not only dealing with immense survivor guilt, but a lifelong legacy of being “second-best” in his mother’s eyes. Redford’s judicious use of brief flashback scenes — showing Hutton’s smiling, blonde, god-like brother (Scott Doebler) interacting with his adoring mother, as well as the tragic boating accident — help us to understand exactly why Hutton was damaged enough to attempt suicide (only to learn that his mother was primarily distressed about her bathroom rug being destroyed by his blood). This type of intense subject matter shouldn’t be easy to watch, yet Sargent’s masterful screenplay carefully balances heavier scenes with uplifting ones — such as Hutton beginning to date McGovern (wonderfully natural in her debut), and Hutton receiving loving, realistic support from his new therapist (convincingly played by Hirsch).

Sutherland also does impressive (if less front-and-center) work; as DVD Savant points out in his review, he makes “you forget all of his previous performances” in his portrayal as “a caring and sensitive father whose tolerant nature may not have been the best thing for his relationship with his wife”. Savant’s review nicely summarizes many of the film’s overall strengths, so I’ll cite him some more. He notes that the film “has some good lessons to teach about divorces and messed-up families, which in real life come less from cruel betrayals or sinful transgressions, but simply grow from our basic natures.” He further writes that “psychological movies have tried to show the miracle of the psych cure, usually with dismal or laughable results” (see my recent review of The Three Faces of Eve for a case study of this cinematic tendency), “but through a lot of give and take, we do see something of a credible turning point occur for Timothy Hutton’s character”, who “recognizes truths he hadn’t before, and sees that though he’s not cured, things are not hopeless.” While the film ends on a somewhat downbeat note, the final scene serves as a valuable reminder that challenging family dynamics are not “a rationalization for chucking all relationships as worthlessly fragile”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Timothy Hutton as Conrad
    Ordinary People Hutton
  • Donald Sutherland as Calvin
    Ordinary People Sutherland
  • Mary Tyler Moore as Beth
    Ordinary People Moore
  • Judd Hirsch as Berger
    Ordinary People Hirsch
  • Elizabeth McGovern as Jeannine
    Ordinary People McGovern
  • John Bailey’s cinematography
    Ordinary People Cinematography
  • Alvin Sargent’s screenplay
    Ordinary People Screenplay

Must See?
Yes, as a powerful, finely directed family drama.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Color Me Blood Red (1965)

“What kind of a vampire are you, painting with blood? Are you a painter or a butcher?”

Color Me Blood Red Poster

Synopsis:
A mediocre but well-known painter (Don Joseph) finds himself gorily inspired by the use of human blood in his works.

Genres:

Review:
This third entry in Herschell Gordon Lewis’s “blood trilogy” — preceded by Blood Feast (1963) and 2000 Maniacs (1964) — is a vastly inferior homage to Roger Corman’s B-grade classic Bucket of Blood (1959), and offers nothing of interest to those not smitten with the uniquely tasteless genre of “splatter films”. Given that the directorial and acting skills here are superior (it’s all relative) to those shown in Blood Feast, its camp potential is much lower — though you may chuckle a bit at how truly terrible Joseph’s paintings are (and for a humorous blow-by-blow analysis by a critic who refers to this as Lewis’s “worst film”, click here). Be forewarned that whenever a tedious Beatnik duo (Patricia Lee and Jim Jaekel) show up on screen, presumably for comic relief, you’ll need to have your fast-forward button easily on hand.

Note: Of mild interest is the incorporation of Aqua Cycles into several sequences; this sporting activity is something you just don’t see anymore, in real life or the movies, probably for good reason.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A glimpse at (now antique) Aqua Cycles
    Color Me Blood Red Aqua Cycles

Must See?
No; definitely feel free to skip this one unless you’re a fan of Lewis’s work. Listed as a Cult Movie and Trash (a.k.a. non-essential viewing) in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Blood Feast (1963)

“Well, we’re just working with a homicidal maniac — that’s all.”

Blood Feast Poster

Synopsis:
A detective (William Kerwin) seeks clues to a mysterious rash of bloody killings across Miami, while the mother (Lyn Bolton) of his beautiful girlfriend (Connie Mason) arranges to have a party catered by a crazed Egyptian (Mal Arnold), who is obsessed with reenacting a sacrificial feast for the goddess Ishtar.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this first entry in “goremeister” Herschell Gordon Lewis’s “blood trilogy” — followed by 2000 Maniacs (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965) — as “vile trash” and “one of the sickest, most inept films ever made”. He notes that “the acting is ghastly”, “the casting abominable”, and the “camera work clumsy”. (He also adds that “ex-playmate Mason wears too much clothing”, but I’ll let that opinion pass.) He writes that “ten minutes into the film [he] stop[s] laughing at the picture’s badness and start[s] to get a migraine”, and he argues that while the “picture has camp value, to be sure” he “wonders about Lewis cultists who thrill to no-holds-barred violence and disgusting images”. He ends his review by noting that “if you detest horror films that show how many shocking ways a creative sadist can do away with young women, then Lewis is the man you’ll want to blame and this is the film you’ll want to burn”.

While Peary’s points are all valid, I believe this flick holds more camp value than he gives it credit for. Its ineptitude on multiple levels is so extreme that personally, I couldn’t help giggling throughout its short (60-minute-plus) running time; and while the graphic violence against women is reprehensible, it’s all so shoddily done that — unlike with more recent/modern fare — you simply won’t believe any of it for a second. Along those lines, I’m genuinely puzzled by Peary’s assertion that cultists “want to know exactly how Lewis accomplishes the famous effect” — considered to be “the picture’s highlight” — in which “Ramses rips a tongue out of a woman’s mouth”, given that we simply see Ramses (Arnold) putting his hand in a screaming woman’s red-paint-filled mouth, then a separate shot of Ramses holding up a (sheep’s) tongue covered with red paint. Where’s the mystery, exactly, in how this shoddy “effect” was achieved?

Ultimately, this movie is on a par with what today’s 12-year-olds could easily achieve — and whether it should still be considered “must see” viewing is a point of debate. However, I’m leaning on the “yes” side simply due to its historical relevance for ushering in the era of “splatter films” (a dubious distinction to be sure, but a notable one). For much more information on the film’s Z-grade production history, be sure to listen to the director’s commentary on Something Weird’s DVD release — or, as I did, read the copious notes taken by the reviewer at B-Movie Central.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Laughably terrible acting, special effects, and direction
    Blood Feast Tongue
    Blood Feast Lecture
    Blood Feast Letter
    Blood Feast Face Cast

Must See?
Yes, once, simply for its cult status and historical relevance.

Categories

Links:

Mask (1985)

“Hey, kid — why don’t you take off your mask?”

Mask Poster

Synopsis:
A teenager (Eric Stoltz) with extreme facial disfigurement is raised by his loving but drug-abusing mother (Cher) and her gang of motorcyclist friends.

Genres:

Review:
Peter Bogdanovich made a short-lived directorial comeback with this affecting tale of a deeply disfigured yet preternaturally optimistic teenager (based on the real-life story of Rocky Dennis and his biker chick mom, Rusty). Stoltz — perhaps best known by film fanatics at the time for his role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) — is marvelous if unrecognizable in the lead role; we can’t help feeling authentically inspired by this resilient kid’s ability to joke about his appearance and then quickly move on to demonstrate his wit, intelligence, and all-around likability. The script is primarily concerned with showing Rocky’s everyday life: he argues with his mom (a sad-eyed, feisty Cher) about her drug use; dreams of going on a motorcycle tour of Europe with his best friend (nicely played by Lawrence Monoson); bargains for tutoring money from his classmate; and, in the movie’s most touching scenes, falls in love with a beautiful blind girl (Laura Dern) he meets at summer camp. We watch him struggle with his appearance and his disability (which, he’s been told for years, means imminent death), but it’s remarkable how many of his daily concerns could easily be those of other teens in a slightly different context.

Unfortunately, Bogdanovich — working from a script by Anna Hamilton Phelan — pads his storyline with extraneous material regarding Cher’s romance with a stoic biker named Gar (Sam Elliott, wasted in an undeveloped role) and Rocky and Rusty’s participation in a close-knit motorcycle community. While it’s refreshing to see motorcyclists portrayed in such a positive light — I particularly like the scenes showing a biker named Dozer (Dennis Burkley) dropping Stoltz off at school like a protective mama bear — their presence ultimately eats up too much screentime. With that said, more scenes could easily have been prioritized for Stoltz’s touching romance with Dern, who does a fine job portraying a sweet girl deserving of Rocky’s affections. This one remains worth a one-time look for Stoltz’s performance, as well as the impressive, Oscar-winning make-up (which seems to emulate the real Rocky’s face quite accurately).

Note: Click here to read an archived People magazine article about the film’s real-life inspirations. Also, be sure to check out TCM’s article for more insights into Bogdanovich’s struggles during the making of this film, particularly regarding his fight to include songs by Bruce Springsteen; they’ve been restored in the recent Director’s Cut, though they don’t really come across as integral to the storyline.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Eric Stoltz as Rocky
    Mask Stolz
  • Excellent make-up
    Mask Makeup
  • The touching romance between Stoltz and Dern
    Mask Romance

Must See?
Yes, once, for Stoltz’s performance and as a sweet tale of a remarkably empowered young man. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

Links:

My Dinner With Andre (1982)

“We can’t be direct, so we end up saying the weirdest things.”

My Dinner With Andre Poster

Synopsis:
When a struggling playwright (Wallace Shawn) meets an old friend (Andre Gregory) for dinner, a surprisingly rich conversation ensues.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary begins his review of this Louis Malle-directed film (co-written by Shawn and Gregory) by admitting he’s “0 for 2 at staying awake through the entire talk-a-thon”, but he eventually admits that “the two men are engaging, and much [of the] conversation is funny and/or incisive”. He writes that “anyone who has been to a party of artistes can identify with Shawn”, who at first “feigns interest” and “asks follow-up questions so he doesn’t have to contribute to the conversation”, but eventually “joins the intellectual discourse”. I’m only partially in agreement with Peary that it’s “hard to maintain interest through Gregory’s long monologues”, and in general am more enthusiastic about the film than Peary seems to be. The friends’ conversation feels both authentic and provocative, representing the type of perspective-shifting discourse that one occasionally longs for. Gregory’s soul-searching adventures (oh my, the stories he tells!) are perfectly indicative of the Baby Boomer “me” generation run amok, and nicely balanced by Shawn’s more grounded philosophy of finding joy in seemingly mundane moments. By the end of this meaty discussion, you can’t help feeling like you’ve been asked to take a deep look at your own perspective on life, happiness, and the search for meaning.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A fine screenplay and natural, engaging performances
    My Dinner With Andre Gregory
    My Dinner With Andre Shawn

Must See?
Yes, once, as an oddly compelling cinematic venture.

Categories

Links:

Dr. No (1962)

“East, West — just points of the compass, each as stupid as the other.”

Dr No Poster

Synopsis:
British secret agent James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to Jamaica to investigate the mysterious death of a colleague, and soon learns that a villainous Chinese scientist named Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) is secretly working on a plan to prevent American rockets in Cape Canaveral from launching.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “the James Bond series started in great style with this cleverly conceived adaptation of Ian Fleming’s enjoyable spy thriller“, directed by Terence Young; in hindsight, seeing “how much the series has changed” over the years, it’s clear (as Peary notes) that “bigger isn’t better”. Peary points out that “little-known Sean Connery became a superstar as the dashing, debonair British agent 007″, who was “a great new type of hero”, a man who “knew judo; was a well-educated gentleman; had great taste in clothes, food, and wine; … traveled to exotic locations; didn’t panic when the fate of the world rested on his shoulders; [and] had charm and a subtle sense of humor” — all in addition (naturally) to bedding beautiful women and causing “John Barry’s famous Bond theme song to play just by giving his name”. Indeed, Connery is — as many have argued over the years — simply the best (and perhaps the most handsome) Bond around; he’s consistently compelling to watch onscreen.

The film itself — despite what Peary refers to as a “slow stretch in the middle” (I’m not sure I agree) — is great fun and “works marvelously”; it may be “material for an old-style serial” but never deteriorates to a “juvenile level”, and marvelous use is made of location settings in Jamaica. With plenty of “sex, violence, wit, terrific action sequences, and colorful atmosphere”, one can’t help staying happily engaged throughout — especially since “Connery, bikini-clad Andress (who became a sex-symbol star), and Wiseman all give memorable performances”. In his review, Peary accurately points out some of the film’s most notable highlights, which “include the ‘three blind mice’ opening, Bond having a tarantula crawl on him, Honeychile’s [Andress's] first appearance, [and] Dr. No’s demise”. Speaking of Honeychile, bodacious Andress in her skimpy white bikini is a true stunner — a cinematic goddess whose character may be a bit too calculatedly primitive, but is ultimately a fitting companion for Bond as he navigates his way through Dr. No’s lair. Though Bond beds two girls before her — including the alluring Eurasian “Miss Taro” (Zena Marshall) — she wins full points as the first official “Bond girl”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sean Connery as James Bond
    Dr. No Connery3
  • Ursula Andress as Honeychile
    Dr. No Andress
  • The iconic title sequence
    Dr. No Opening Sequence
  • The tense “three blind mice” opening sequence
    Dr. No Three Blind Mice
  • Monty Norman’s unforgettable theme music

Must See?
Yes, of course — for its historical relevance and cult appeal.

Categories

Links:

Three Faces of Eve, The (1957)

“Sometimes I don’t know whether you’re crazy or think I am.”

Three Faces of Eve Poster2

Synopsis:
A meek housewife (Joanne Woodward) who suddenly starts acting strangely is taken by her husband (David Wayne) to see a psychiatrist (Lee J. Cobb), who diagnoses her with Multiple Personality Disorder.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his review of this “enjoyable but often silly” film — directed, produced, and written by Nunnally Johnson, and based on a non-fiction book about Chris Costner Sizemore — Peary notes that “Joanne Woodward won a deserved Oscar for her portrayal” as three separate facets of one woman: “dowdy Eve White, a dull and passive wife and mother”; “Eve Black, who’s sexy and hedonistic (and unmarried)”; and “Jane, a third, more confident, intelligent, and calm personality”. He writes that “the most interesting aspect of the film is how Eve Black is presented as a manifestation of Eve White’s rebellion against the sexual repression her simpleton husband (David Wayne) subjects her to”. He argues that while “this film [now] seems tame”, “when it was released, it was like a horror film that scared even adults”, and “held fascination for individuals who imagined that everyone has a second personality somewhere inside”; he notes that perhaps it mirrors “the fascination we felt at the time — because of the Bridey Murphy case — about the possibility of having been reincarnated”.

In retrospect, TTFOE does come across as both quaint and somewhat silly, with a couple of scenes in particular straining credulity. Early in the film, Eve Black tries to strangle her daughter with a curtain pull (a truly freaky scene to witness, as we see the girl with the cord around her neck), but no consequences emerge other than Eve being taken to the doctor. Then, during her initial meeting with Dr. Luther (Cobb), Eve mentions having lost a second child four months earlier; Dr. Luther pauses for nary a second before launching into another topic, without even a cursory, “I’m so sorry for your loss”, let alone exploration of how this might be contributing to her current state of psychological affairs. Meanwhile, the film’s denouement — when we learn through flashback why Eve is so damaged — is simply laughable in its implausibility (and nowhere close to the truth of what actually happened to Sizemore).

With all that said, TTFOE remains worthy viewing for Woodward’s impressive performance. In his Alternate Oscars, Peary agrees with the Academy that Woodward deserved her award as Best Actress of the Year, and writes that regardless of the foolish script, “Woodward is still compelling, whether she is quiet, hysterical, naughty, flirtatious, creepy, sweet, weak, or strong”. Apparently Woodward “wasn’t fond of her own performance because she felt she couldn’t devote enough time to any of Eve’s three personalities”, but the role was nonetheless “an ideal showcase for this versatile actress whose talents [at the time] were still a secret”. As Peary points out, “it’s significant that [Woodward] even makes us feel sorry for Eve Black when she starts to fade away”, given that “whatever her faults, [she] was essentially a real person, with fears and worries of her own” — a woman who, when she “wasn’t destroying Eve White’s life”, was “actually helping her” by rebelling against her “unhealthy marriage” and terrible husband (Wayne). Speaking of Wayne, I’ve never really been a fan of his work, but find his character here entirely plausible; it’s frighteningly easy to imagine a man reacting exactly as he does — with both hostility and confusion — to his wife’s breakdown.

Note: It’s interesting and a bit odd that Peary doesn’t mention the other film about multiple personalities released that same year: Hugo Haas’s Lizzie, starring Eleanor Parker and based on a novel by Shirley Jackson. It’s a worthy, must-see film in its own right.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joanne Woodward as all three Eves
    Three Faces of Eve Woodward
    Three Faces of Eve Woodward3
  • David Wayne as Ralph
    Three Faces of Eve Wayne
  • Stanley Cortez’s cinematography
    Three Faces of Eve Cinematography
    Three Faces of Eve Cinematography3
    Three Faces of Eve Cinematography2

Must See?
Yes, for Woodward’s performance.

Categories

Links:

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

“I ate garbage for dinner last night, Barbara — and I liked it!”

Down and Out in Beverly Hills Poster

Synopsis:
A suicidal homeless man (Nick Nolte) befriends a wealthy hanger manufacturer (Richard Dreyfuss) and eventually becomes a part of his Beverly Hills household — which consists of his neurotic wife (Bette Midler), his cross-dressing son (Evan Richards), his eating-challenged daughter (Tracy Nelson), and his sexy maid (Elizabeth Pena).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, Paul Mazursky’s “remake of Jean Renoir’s 1932 classic Boudu Saved From Drowning” (based on René Fauchois‘ 1919 play) has been updated, transplanted, and “injected [with] many ingredients”, including “the nice but screwy family from My Man Godfrey“. He argues that while “the acting by Nolte, Dreyfuss, and Midler is the picture’s main plus”, the “humor is so erratic that Mazursky repeatedly cuts to dog reaction shots to get easy laughs”. He adds that while “the entire family is obnoxious at the beginning”, “Mazursky obviously likes them and simply assumes that we’ll soon share his warm feelings just because they grow more tolerant of each other and Nolte”. Indeed, the film’s narrative trajectory depends upon each member of Dreyfuss’s household becoming humanized and/or liberated due to Nolte’s influence — and the running message seems to be that a caring outside perspective is often enough to function as a catalyst for personal growth and increased self-confidence.

I agree with Peary that the film’s humor is often overly broad (those dog shots certainly feel gratuitous and repetitive) — but overall I find this to be a rare example of a (mostly) successful updated remake. There are quite a few scenes that ring true and seem to respectfully highlight important nuances in class relations. In one scene, for instance, a cleaned-up Nolte is having lunch with Dreyfuss at a swanky Beverly Hills restaurant when he notices his homeless buddy Al (Felton Perry) walking by. Perry and Nolte are thrilled to see each other, and Perry comes inside to join them — but, to Dreyfuss’s astonishment, he politely refuses an offer of lunch (though he does steal bread rolls from various tables on his way out). Dignity of a sort is maintained, with Nolte openly acknowledging his humble origins (rather than maintaining a new facade of wealth), and Perry demonstrating self-sufficiency in the face of charity.

Indeed, part of what makes Nolte’s character so oddly appealing is his refusal to “take advantage” of anything offered to him: he accepts Dreyfuss’s offer of food, clothing, and shelter, but it’s understood that he’ll leave whenever he pleases, and is unwilling to become the object of anyone’s pity or derision. He’s a refreshingly unique protagonist, and makes the film worth a one-time look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nick Nolte as Jerry
    Down and Out in Beverly Hills Nolte
  • Good use of The Talking Heads’ “Once in the Lifetime” to open and close the film

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable updated adaptation of a classic story.

Categories

Links:

Cocoon (1985)

“Men should be explorers, no matter how old they are.”

Cocoon Poster

Synopsis:
A man (Brian Dennehy) and his companions (including Tahnee Welch and Tyrone Power Jr.) charter a boat run by a down-on-his luck captain (Steve Guttenberg), intending to rescue alien-filled cocoons from the ocean floor and nurture them in the pool of a mansion near a retirement home. When a group of elderly friends (Hume Cronyn, Don Ameche, and Wilfred Brimley) go swimming in the pool, they find themselves mysteriously rejuvenated and healthy, and invite their partners (Jessica Tandy, Gwen Verdon, and Maureen Stapleton) to join them — but will they be able to keep their “fountain of youth” a secret from others?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “popular sci-fi fantasy” about “four friendly aliens who have come to earth to take back members of a crew that was left behind centuries before” is “well-intentioned and has an undeniable sweetness”, but feels “endless and disjointed”. He points out how problematic it is that “the original premise about rescuing the alien crew is… exchanged for [a] storyline in which old people go off with the aliens”, given that “we’re never convinced that these old people will be better off going out into space”. Indeed, while we come to care at least somewhat for the core group of elderly characters — who respectfully ask permission to share the life force generated in the pool — the remaining old-age home residents (who we know almost nothing about) simply act like selfish “jerks” with “a total lack of compassion”. Ultimately, Peary argues that this film is “not bad, but overrated and filled with Spielberg cliches” — though it was actually directed by Ron Howard after his blockbuster success with Splash (1984).

I agree with Peary’s review, and would that it’s troublesome how the script fails to sufficiently develop any of the lead elderly characters: we simply learn that Cronyn has cheated on his wife (Tandy) for years (a trait which becomes even more pronounced once he’s given renewed vim and vigor and is freed from cancer); that Ameche finally feels confident dating a sexy dance instructor (Verdon); and that Brimley — shown several times fishing with his doting grandson (Barret Oliver) — will regain his failing eyesight and be able to drive again. We also discover that Guttenberg, lo and behold, will fall for the sexy female alien (Tahnee Welch — Raquel Welch’s real-life daughter, who “looks like a young Ali McGraw with short hair) and will get to experience alien sex (imagine a special-effects laden version of Woody Allen’s Orgasmatron in Sleeper (1973), taking place in a pool). But, as Peary notes, all of this simply diverts our attention from the much more intriguing story of the aliens’ rescue mission; their lives and home context are glossed over quickly, with two of the aliens never even saying a word.

Speaking of the aliens, Dennehy gives the best performance in the film as a potentially formidable presence, bulky and domineering yet ultimately an intriguing and kind leader. Of the elderly folks, Cronyn’s performance as a man given a sudden second chance at life is the most nuanced (though we dislike him for fooling around on Tandy). Ameche won a Best Supporting Actor award, but I’m not exactly sure why he would be considered a better candidate for this than Cronyn. [On a side note, Ameche gives a wonderful lead performance as "Gino" in David Mamet's Things Change (1988) -- this is the film his fans should watch if they'd really like to see him in a worthy swan song role.] Ultimately, as Peary points out, “it’s great seeing so many fine veteran actors work together, all in good parts”, and “some of their scenes are perceptive and heart-warming” — but Cocoon itself is a minor disappointment.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Brian Dennehy as Walter
    Cocoon Dennehy
  • Hume Cronyn as Joe
    Cocoon Cronyn

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.

Links: