I wonder if Otto Preminger died, of Altzheimer’s and lung cancer, mouthing the word “Rosebud”? Unlikely, I guess. But ROSEBUD, his second-last film, is the one where his critical rep really bottomed out, and it must have stung. If the ailing Preminger could remember anything from recent years, that failure might be it.
Although I’ve yet to experience ROSEBUD, I must admit I found his follow-up, THE HUMAN FACTOR, released four years later, pretty grim — Otto was reportedly already losing the plot, and it’s easy for me to believe. The volcanic Nicol Williamson seems miscast, and the model (and current Mrs. Bowie) Iman gives a performance of extraordinary awkwardness and painful self-consciousness (she’s rather good in STAR TREK VI, though, smoking a cheroot and battling Bill Shatner). Otto could still move the camera gracefully through the barren locations, though one wishes he wasn’t saddled with such an unconvincing studio Moscow for the film’s despairing conclusion. Graham Greene, who wrote the (rather unsatisfying) book, advised Preminger not to attempt the film, which he felt was too subtle for Otto’s temperament, or something. He also remarked afterwards that the film was plagued by budgetary difficulties.
(Despite all of the above, THF has an odd kind of pathos, mainly because it’s so thin-looking, so uncomfortable with its own shabbiness, like a terribly old person trying to cover their nakedness. You don’t want to look, but sorrow somehow forces you.)
No such issues seem to have beset the glossy multinational hostage drama ROSEBUD. The problem here may be more one of intrinsic naffnessin the plot: Palestinian terrorists hijack a yacht containing five naked young millionaires’ daughters, played by Debra Berger, Brigitte Ariel, Lalla Ward (future wife of Dr Who Tom Baker, and now of God-bashing evolutionary scientist Professor Richard Dawkins), Isabelle Huppert and Kim Cattrall.
Peter O’Toole is clearly the man to rescue these damsels, and Lord Attenborough turns up also, as somebody called Edward Sloat, which is enough to make me want to see this film VERY BADLY. Naked millionaires’ daughters + Edward Sloat = Shadowplay Must-See.
Cattrall had a rough time with Otto and his ROSEBUD. “Rosedud , we called it,” she told the Guardian in 2002. “I was 17 [Preminger was 69], I hadn’t seen THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, or LAURA, or any of those films, and I didn’t realise what an innovative, brilliant film-maker Preminger was. All I knew was that he was very, very important, and he seemed to be screaming and yelling all the time. There’s a film called GULAG 17 [actually STALAG 17], which he was in, playing a Nazi commandant – and I felt like we were really living it.” Cattrall provoked some of this screaming by laughing whenever Otto called ”Action!”
“Well, I thought that was really funny. I thought they only ever said that in films made about films. I thought in real films, they said something like, ‘When you’re ready.’”
Preminger retaliated by telling Kim, “You remind me of Marilyn Monroe. Not in looks, of course. In lack of talent.”
I always think any actor confronted with this kind of backchat from a director should reply, “Well, you probably shouldn’t have hired me, then.”
Dear me. Is Otto really trying to sell the film based on its VARIETY OF LOCATIONS? And isn’t he rather an awkward presence as voice-over man? I think I even prefer the guy who, as Ewen MacGregor puts it, “must spend all his time driving from one recording studio to another, swigging whisky and smoking cigars and gargling broken glass.”
But still — gotta see ROSEBUD.
This is a much better Otto trailer — it’s alternately LUDICROUS and SOPORIFIC, but the good bits are amazing, starting with Otto’s hilarious first appearance (intentionally hilarious, yes, but why?) , and perhaps climaxing in his hyping of Barbara “Goo-goo” Bouchet, ”a new face…und a new body.” Plus he sounds more and more like Arnie the longer he talks (and he seems to talk a looong time).
I might have to give IN HARM’S WAY another try sometime… I remember the Pearl Harbour stuff being really impressive, Preminger’s long-take aesthetic married to gigantic pyrotechnic effects– not much chance of a retake there. And the Saul Bass end titles are wonderful, of course, the Preminger credit immediately followed by a ‘tomic ‘splosion (I never said SUBTLE). But I didn’t get much out of the film otherwise. I find the older John Wayne a little hard to take, until THE SHOOTIST redeems everything.
I love Jonathan Rosenbaum’s piece on late Preminger in Richard Roud’s Cinema: A Critical Dictionary. J-Ro might be more positive today, but he captures with some sympathy the sheer oddness of late Preminger: “Yet for all their hysterical indigestibility, they are candidly (and sometimes painfully) personal works: what is lost in craftsmanship is gained in lucidity, even if this lucidity is often the expression of an ambivalence that borders on the schizophrenic. … Thus the ambiguity beginning in LAURA ends in pure and simple contradiction: the blind viewer may say ‘comedy’, the deaf viewer may say ‘tragedy’, but the spectator will have to settle, like Preminger, for something else.”
That does go some way to describing the fascination of late Preminger, both the good films and the bad films (not that there’s universal agreement on which is which).