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Month: November 2022

What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

“I know you don’t mean any harm; you’re just — different!”

Synopsis:
A bumbling musicologist (Ryan O’Neal) competing with an obnoxious Croatian (Kenneth Mars) for a grant from a wealthy donor (Austin Pendleton) gets into trouble with his whiny fiancee (Madeline Kahn) when a wacky college dropout (Barbra Streisand) decides she likes him and aggressively pursues him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbra Streisand Films
  • Madeline Kahn Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Peter Bogdanovich Films
  • Professors
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Ryan O’Neal Films

Review:
Peter Bogdanovich’s remake of — or affectionate homage to — Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby (1938) was co-scripted by Buck Henry, David Newman, and Robert Benton and featured perhaps the only person wacky enough to compete with Katharine Hepburn in the original: Barba Streisand (in her fifth starring role).

Unfortunately, O’Neal is no Cary Grant, and the film is a mixed comedic bag which tries to cover way too much territory in its 94-minute non-stop running time (though audiences at the time loved it, and it made a boatload of money).

The opening sequences — in which we first meet Streisand’s Judy and she finds all sorts of creative methods for weaseling her way into the life of staid Howard Bannister (O’Neal) — are the best, particularly as we see her ably charming Pendleton’s toothy philanthropist:

… and infuriating O’Neal’s insufferably stuffy fiancee (Kahn, in her film debut).

A central running gag about four matching plaid bags — which each contain something incredibly valuable to its owner, and get instantly mixed up — manages to incorporate a slew of supporting characters who will stop at nothing to get the bag they believe they’re looking for or own.

Among the film’s many comedic “situations” are Streisand dangling outside of a hotel balcony (it should be noted that this was the “first American film to credit the stunt people in the credits”):

… an elaborate (and destructive) car/bicycle chase through the streets, stairs, and wharfs of San Francisco:


… an interrupted reception in a fancy gallery space:

… and a court case with a pill-popping judge.

It’s easy to see why audiences had so much fun with this madcap comedy, but it’s not must-see viewing other than for Streisand fans.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Barbra Streisand as Judy Maxwell
  • Madeline Kahn as Eunice
  • Austin Pendleton as Frederick Larrabee
  • Colorful sets and cinematography
  • Fun use of San Francisco location shooting

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for Streisand’s performance.

Links:

Way We Were, The (1973)

Way We Were, The (1973)

“It was never uncomplicated.”

Synopsis:
Years after a Marxist anti-war agitator (Barbra Streisand) falls for a WASP-ish, politically neutral aspiring writer (Robert Redford) in college, the two meet up and begin a challenging love affair and marriage.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbra Streisand Films
  • Flashback Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Marital Problems
  • Robert Redford Films
  • Romance
  • Star-Crossed Lovers
  • Sydney Pollack Films
  • Writers

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand have truly amazing chemistry in this irresistible… deeply moving movie romance” in which “we come to really sympathize with their characters, to understand their need for each other, to realize that the reasons they aren’t totally compatible… can never be resolved.”

He points out that “the characters are believable and their problems are compelling;” indeed, “the two stars have never been better.” He notes that “as in the best romances, there are laughter and tears by the bucketful” — including “when the crying Katie (Streisand at her most lovable and vulnerable) calls Hubbell [Redford] to ask him to take her back”:

… “when they break up in the hospital”:

… and “when they meet years later in New York.”

In Alternate Oscars, Peary nominates this as one of the Best Pictures of the Year, nominates Redford as one of the Best Actors of the Year, and names Streisand Best Actress of the Year. He points out that she plays a woman “who has such heart, such sensitivity, such dedication to unpopular causes” and “never lets up for a minute, never relaxes just to enjoy life, never stops trying to better the world and their relationship, never stops prodding Hubbell to fulfill his early ambitions to be a novelist.” The result is that we “feel emotionally drawn to her every moment she’s is on the screen — after all, she’s always walking a high wire and Hubbell has taken away the net.”

He notes a few more of Streisand’s “wonderful, truly memorable moments” in the film — including “a scene in college writing class” as Katie “is ripped apart when the professor doesn’t choose to praise or read aloud her much-suffered over essay, yet despite her own disappointment she still listens to the professor praise and read Hubbell’s introspective story and looks at Hubbell with new appreciation and understanding.”

Later on, Peary writes he loves “Streisand’s expression when she realizes that the drunken Hubbell, whom she has not seen in seven years, has crashed in her bed” and “she daringly strips and climbs in next to him.”

He also calls out the emotional “screening-room scene, when Katie confronts Hubbell about his affair and his trashy movie” and finally says, “Oh, I want… I want… I want us to love each other.”

Indeed, The Way We Were may be the ultimate film about a couple who love each other, but mutually recognize they simply can’t stay together as romantic partners; anyone who’s been through this will surely resonate with the storyline here, and feel gratitude that neither individual is ever demonized for their stance. These are simply radically different people with divergent goals, who also happen to be attracted to and care for one another. Theirs is a sweet, heartbreaking story that hasn’t aged, and remains compelling.

Note: Watch for James Woods in an early supporting role as Streisand’s college prom date.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Barbra Streisand as Katie Morosky
  • Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardiner
  • Harry Stradling, Jr.’s cinematography
  • The haunting title song

Must See?
Yes, as a still-powerful romantic drama.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic

Links:

Othello (1965)

Othello (1965)

“Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him.”

Synopsis:
When evil Iago (Frank Finlay) finds out Cassio (Derek Jacobi) has been promoted ahead of him, he seeks revenge on his Moorish military commander, Othello (Laurence Olivier), by convincing him his wife Desdemona (Maggie Smith) has been having an affair with Cassio.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cross-Cultural Romance
  • Homicidal Spouses
  • Jealousy
  • Laurence Olivier Films
  • Maggie Smith Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Race Relations and Racism
  • Shakespeare

Review:
Stuart Burges’ faithful screen adaptation of the British National Theatre Company’s staging of Othello was the first cinematic version of this play to be filmed in color, and remains notable for featuring Olivier in a disturbing form of blackface.

Indeed, Olivier’s choice of characterization (he also lowered his voice, developed an accent, and shifted his walking gait) caused controversy that persists today; see here to read about a music professor who was censured for showing this film at the University of Michigan. Olivier’s appearance is shocking at first — but the larger problem is that his critically lauded performance (Peary nominates him as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Alternate Oscars) is far too overbearing. While Finlay nicely underplays, Olivier comes across as positively apoplectic and childish.

Faring much better is Smith as Desdemona, projecting just the right amount of love and loyalty injected with righteous confusion and fear.

Overall, the film suffers from being too much of a filmed play; regardless of what one thinks of the performances, the storyline remains as stagy as it was designed to be. In contrast, Orson Welles’ low-budget adaptation is a revelation of cinematic possibilities.

Watch for Derek Jacobi in his screen debut as Cassio.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Maggie Smith as Desdemona
  • Frank Finlay as Iago
  • Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Olivier fans or Shakespeare-on-film aficionados. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Funny Girl (1968)

Funny Girl (1968)

“Hello, gorgeous!”

Synopsis:
Broadway phenomenon Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) reflects back on her legendary rise to fame work for Flo Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon) while engaging in a troubled romance with her gambling husband (Omar Sharif).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbra Streisand Films
  • Biopics
  • Gambling
  • Marital Problems
  • Musicals
  • Omar Sharif Films
  • Romance
  • Singers
  • Strong Females
  • Walter Pidgeon Films
  • William Wyler Films

Review:
Barbra Streisand tied with Katharine Hepburn and earned an Academy Award in her cinematic debut as Fanny Brice, a role she had inhabited previously on Broadway. While she was purportedly a challenge to deal with on set, Streisand’s performance throughout is top-notch, and she clearly knew how to portray herself in the best light (literally).

Sharif (despite much controversy over being Egyptian during a tense time in world politics with this nation) is nicely cast as her handsome husband, who appreciates her talents while understandably wanting to make his own way in life.

Their scenes together are never uncomfortable, despite knowing the ultimate trajectory of their marriage. Pidgeon is appropriately old-school as Ziegfeld (thank goodness Fanny stands up to him in a pivotal early scene):

… and Oscar-nominated Kay Medford is fine if underused as Fanny’s Jewish Mama.

More egregious is the severely truncated presence of Anne Francis as Fanny’s friend Georgia James (seen below on the left) — though at 2.5+ hours long, the film does already feel lengthy enough.

Film fanatics will surely want to check out this beautifully produced musical (directed by William Wyler) for its historical relevance, and to see Streisand in the role that defined but never constrained her.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice
  • Fine musical numbers
  • Harry Stradling’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Streisand’s breakthrough cinematic performance.

Categories

  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

Links:

Alfie (1966)

Alfie (1966)

“You’ve got to live for yourself in this world, not for others.”

Synopsis:
An inveterate womanizer named Alfie (Michael Caine) seduces and then abandons or neglects one “bird” after the other — including a fun-loving married woman (Millicent Martin), a subservient young woman (Julia Foster) who becomes pregnant with Alfie’s child, a red-headed runaway (Jane Asher), a beautiful nurse (Shirley Anne Field), a middle-aged American (Shelley Winters), and the wife (Vivien Merchant) of a man (Alfie Bass) Alfie meets during his time at a sanitorium.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Study
  • Michael Caine Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Shelley Winters Films
  • Shirley Anne Fields Films
  • Womanizers

Review:
Michael Caine earned his first Oscar nomination performing the title role in this adaptation of Bill Naughton’s 1963 stage play, about a deeply self-serving man who objectifies women and lives purely for his own pleasure. Alfie refers to women as non-gendered “birds” (“She or it — they’re all birds.”) and genuinely believes that “any bird that knows its place in this world can be quite content.” He turns and talks directly to the camera throughout the film, as though everyone watching will be deeply interested in every detail of his life:

… and he possesses absolute confidence in his words. He explains to us, for instance, why he sees no problem in having a secret affair with a married woman, given that, “We’re having fun. Why hurt him? You like to see everybody happy. I don’t believe in making anybody unhappy or in making an enemy. You could be crossing the Sahara desert, and he’d be just the bloke you’d meet.” Indeed, Alfie knows all the tricks of enjoying life without getting into too much trouble — which includes simply dumping his latest fling-on-the-side (Martin) without telling her he’s about to do so.

Meanwhile, back on the home front he lives with a submissive woman (Foster) whose primary care in life is ensuring her man is happy: “Did you enjoy yourself? That’s the main thing.”

When Foster gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby, we can’t help cheering for her tentative courage, while also making note of Alfie’s dismissiveness — until a boy arrives and he decides he likes at least the fun portions of parenthood.

A particularly challenging entanglement occurs when Alfie seduces the lonely wife (Merchant) of his sick friend (Bass), and she gets into a type of trouble that can’t simply be ignored away; her predicament leads to a chilling sequence (featuring Denholm Elliott in a key role) that was kept out of the 2004 remake with Jude Law.

Another interlude shows Alfie slyly picking up a beautiful but sad young woman (Asher) who gets through her grief at losing her previous lover through staying busy with cooking and cleaning; she puts up with everything Alfie throws at her until he finally reads her journals — “You ain’t entitled to your secret thoughts, not living with me!” — and she realizes she’s had enough.

So it goes with each of the women in Alfie’s life. He does finally meet his match in Winters’ brash Ruby, who enjoys commitment-free sex as much as him — but he comes to realize that his position with her isn’t as secure as he realized. If you don’t mind spending two hours with a narcissistic womanizer like Alfie, you’ll surely enjoy this nicely photographed flick (directed by Lewis Gilbert) — but I don’t believe it’s must-see for all film fanatics.

Note: That painting on the wall to the left in Winters’ apartment — “Green Girl” by Vladimir Tretchikoff — turns out to be one of the most famous mass-produced prints in art history; it’s also seen in Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Michael Caine as Alfie
  • Julia Foster as Gilda
  • Vivien Merchant as Lily
  • Shelley Winters as Ruby
  • Otto Heller’s cinematography
  • Sonny Rollins’ score

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look for Caine’s performance, if you can stomach it.

Links:

Ugly American, The (1963)

Ugly American, The (1963)

“You always make dictators strong, then wonder why you are not loved!”

Synopsis:
An American ambassador (Marlon Brando) in the troubled southeast Asian nation of Sarkhan is surprised to learn that his former war buddy (Eiji Okada) is now a Communist, though Okada professes he is simply longing for national self-determination on behalf of his people.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cold War
  • Marlon Brando Films
  • Pat Hingle Films
  • Political Corruption

Review:
This unusual entry in Marlon Brando’s oeuvre — directed by his friend George Englund — is loosely based on a 1958 political novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, about “the failures of the U.S. diplomatic corps in Southeast Asia.” Indeed, the fictional country where this film takes place (shot largely in Thailand) is a thinly veiled depiction of Vietnam, and the tale aptly showcases the complexity of politics in such a nation, which is far from as black-and-white (i.e., Communism vs. Democracy) as Ambassador MacWhite (Brando) naively believes. Some of the initial sequences are quite effectively done — as when an American foreman overseeing construction of “Freedom Road” is murdered while giving a patronizing lesson to a local about the difference between a wrench and a “lench”:

… and the scene when Brando’s arriving car at the airport is seriously mobbed by a crowd of violent anti-American agitators.

Brando’s friendly reunion with an old war buddy (Okada) is less convincing, and quickly turns melodramatically sour, as we get to the gist of the narrative: Brando becomes convinced Okada has “turned Commie”, while Okada tries to explain that the construction of Freedom Road simply represents additional power for the prime minister, Kwen Sai (Kukrit Pramoj), courtesy of “the tanks that Wall Street sells.”


Meanwhile, we see do-gooding Americans like Pat Hingle’s Homer Atkins and his wife Emma (Jocelyn Brando) attempting to bring Western medical practices to the poverty-ridden nation:

… and Brando’s loyal wife (Sandra Church) ready and willing to provide him whatever support he needs.

DVD Savant describes this Universal Studios-produced film as “a noble stab at reality”, and that just about sums it up. It’s not must-see viewing but will likely be of interest to Brando fans.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Marlon Brando as Ambassador MacWhite
  • The impressively filmed riot sequence

Must See?
No, though Brando fans will likely want to check it out.

Links:

This Sporting Life (1963)

This Sporting Life (1963)

“She’s the one thing that makes me feel wanted; I can’t lose her.”

Synopsis:
A miner-turned-rugby player (Richard Harris) aggressively woos a young widowed mother (Rachel Roberts) whose house he’s boarding in.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Domestic Abuse
  • Flashback Films
  • Lindsay Anderson Films
  • Richard Harris Films
  • Sports
  • Widows and Widowers

Review:
Lindsay Anderson’s feature-length directorial debut was this adaptation by David Storey (a one-time professional rugby player) of his own novel, starring Richard Harris in his breakthrough role as a pugnacious player struggling to manage his newfound fame. The first half of the film is structured as a series of flashbacks, with Harris sitting in a dentist’s chair reflecting on the beginning of his new career (he’s recruited after participating in a nightclub fight).

He quickly shows his tenacious merit on the field:

… and is soon aggressively pursued by the predatory wife (Vanda Godsell) of the team’s owner (Alan Badel).

He remains obsessed, however, with winning over his landlady (Roberts) — a depressed and seemingly unflappable widow who he eventually rapes. It’s challenging to feel much sympathy for Harris after this scene, given that he clearly feels the world is his to take, and his violent nature shows no sign of abating. Indeed, Harris’s character is most certainly an “angry young man” of his cinematic era; interestingly, this film marked the end of the “kitchen sink” drama, perhaps because it was simply too challenging to relate to these authentic but decidedly unlikeable protagonists.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Richard Harris as Frank Machin
  • Rachel Roberts as Mrs. Hammond
  • Denys Coop’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing for Harris’s performance if you can stomach it. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Billy Liar (1963)

Billy Liar (1963)

“He can’t say two words to anybody without telling a lie.”

Synopsis:
A young man (Tom Courtenay) with a verbally abusive father (Wildred Pickles) and a worn-out mother (Mona Washbourne) lives a rich fantasy life, nurturing grandiose dreams of being a famous writer while romancing two young fiancees — Barbara (Helen Fraser) and Rita (Gwendolyn Watts) — at the same time. When his old flame (Julie Christie) suddenly arrives in town, will Billy (Courtenay) find the courage to leave for London?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Studies
  • John Schlesinger Films
  • Julie Christie Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Tom Courtenay Films
  • Womanizers

Review:
John Schlesinger directed this adaptation of a novel-turned-play by Keith Waterhouse, about an undertaker’s assistant in Yorkshire who dreams of a much more glamorous life, and routinely retreats into fantasies, both grandiose and gruesome.


From its opening scenes in Billy’s oppressive household (he still lives with his parents and grandmother), we can see how and why Billy might want to find an escape route — and also why his parents are fed up with him.

His delusions are a way to cope — but the mess he makes of his job and love life show how wide an impact his dysfunction is having. The fact that his tale is told with an overall air of insouciance — and that his girlfriends are either shrewish (Watts) or dim-witted (Fraser) — makes it a bit easier to feel some sympathy for him:


… though he’s still undeniably an immature cad who has a lot of growing up left to do. Fans of British New Wave cinema will want to be sure to check this one out, but it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Tom Courtenay as Billy
  • Helen Fraser as Barbara
  • Julie Christie in her brief screen debut as Liz
  • Denys Coop’s cinematography

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

Links:

Fine Madness, A (1966)

Fine Madness, A (1966)

“To hell with his poetry! I want to make him a useful, social human being.”

Synopsis:
The abused wife (Joanne Woodward) of a violent would-be poet (Sean Connery) hires a shrink (Patrick O’Neal) to try to cure him — but Connery’s womanizing ways and raging temper continue to wreak havoc on himself and the world.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Domestic Abuse
  • Jean Seberg Films
  • Joanne Woodward Films
  • Psychotherapy
  • Sean Connery Films
  • Womanizers
  • Writers

Review:
This inexcusable mess of a “comedy” is one of three GFTFF-listed films director Irvin Kershner made from 1964 to 1970 about delusional and/or self-absorbed men who cause misery for those around them; the other two are The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964) (featuring a noteworthy performance by Robert Shaw) and Loving (1970) (featuring an insufferable performance by George Segal). While it’s understandable that Connery wanted to continue to break away from his James Bond persona in the 1960s, this was a definite shift for the worst: his Samson Shillitoe (what a name!) is like a warped Bond on steroids, with none of the charm and all of the cockiness.

Poor Woodward receives the brunt of Samson’s anger at all turns — and watching the domestic violence taking place in their home is harrowing. It’s infuriating to see her portrayed as a resolutely loyal (albeit gritty and resilient) dame willing to put up with it all given her husband’s supposed “genius”.

Indeed, everything about this dated film smacks of misogyny and juvenile glorification of sex and violence, from an early scene in which Samson seduces a (what else) ditzy secretary (Sue Ane Langdon) while allowing a carpet cleaning machine to fill up an office with suds (funny – not):

… to his belittling words and demeanor at a women’s social event for which he’s being paid to present:

… to numerous sequences in which he either swings at or literally knocks out his wife:

… to his break-in and destruction of the office of the surprisingly unfazed therapist his wife has paid.

Naturally, he also manages to seduce women left and right as he continues to avoid being served process papers and being taken out by a few hitmen; among his conquests are Colleen Dewhurst’s silver-haired Prussian nurse:

… and O’Neal’s neglected, sexually frustrated wife (Jean Seberg).

This is all really a mess, and worth skipping.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Some fine location shooting

Must See?
No; stay far away from this one. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Darling (1965)

Darling (1965)

“Your idea of fidelity is not having more than one man in bed at the same time.”

Synopsis:
A fun-loving model (Julie Christie) in Swinging Sixties London has an affair with a BBC writer (Dirk Bogarde), then turns to bedding a handsome playboy (Laurence Harvey) before meeting an Italian prince (José Luis de Vilallonga) while on a work trip with her photographer-friend (Roland Curram) — but will she ever find lasting personal happiness?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Dirk Bogarde Films
  • Infidelity
  • John Schlesinger Films
  • Julie Christie Films
  • Laurence Harvey Films
  • Models

Review:
Julie Christie won an Oscar as Best Actress for her breakthrough leading role in this film by John Schlesinger, with a screenplay by Frederic Raphael based on an idea by British journalist Godfrey Winn. According to TCM’s article, Schlesinger noted that the story “started with the idea of the ghastliness of the present-day attitude of people who want something for nothing,” with “Diana Scott, the principal character, emerg[ing] in the script of Darling as an amalgam of various people we had known.” Unfortunately, while Christie does indeed effectively embody a beautiful, vapid, seemingly compass-less young woman, there isn’t a whole lot of inherent interest in seeing someone like this on screen for two-hours+.

We’re actually filled with distaste for both her and Bogarde — her first “conquest” in the film — from the beginning, due to both of them wantonly abandoning their spouses (and, in Bogarde’s case, two young kids). Perhaps Bogarde can be “excused” for (foolishly) following his lust and ego, but Christie simply comes across as spoiled, jealous, and even a bit vindictive.

Soon Christie seems meet her “match” in the equally arrogant “Miles Brand” (Harvey), and he does indeed take her down a notch.

However, once Christie settles down with a gay friend she happily refers to as her “brother” (Curram), she continues to exhibit ample signs of selfishness and careless disregard — as exemplified in the scenes in which she shoplifts, and then the pair kill her pet goldfish.

When in Italy (the location shooting is beautiful), Christie seems to finally have landed in a space where she feels at home: everything is regal, beautiful, and driven by surface values. However, her eventual acceptance of a role as de Vilallonga’s token wife (perhaps unsurprisingly) does nothing to eradicate the emptiness she feels at the core of her being. While I understand audiences at the time being charmed by Christie’s beauty — and perhaps appreciated feeling vicariously immersed in the hipness of her lifestyle — she’s no longer worth spending time with anymore.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Dirk Bogarde as Robert Gold
  • Julie Christie as Diana Scott
  • Ken Higgins’ cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look for its historical relevance (i.e., Christie’s Oscar win).

Links: