Sleepless nights

“You’d think that he’d spend his time worrying about China… or Russia… [Shakes head] Hasn’t slept in eight nights, worrying about Libya.”

That line from THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST has always stuck out for me — a slightly smug joke about a no-account country which would become irretrievably dated within two years of the film’s release when Gadaffi seized power.

What’s happening in the middle east is pretty interesting, no? It’s like Europe in 1848. The history of democracy being achieved via revolution is not an encouraging one, but the whole political situ in the countries in question is so wretched that it does feel like any change is potentially positive.

Of course, I love THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST — writer-director Theodore J Flicker (he of the great name) announced his intention as “I want to make the most realistic film ever.”

“He failed!” observes Fiona, regarding his swinging sixties spy comedy.

“And yet… succeeded,” I say, wisely.

I’m a big James Coburn fan, which helps. I’m honestly unsure how good an actor he was, but he was certainly an insuperable James Coburn. A charismatic, versatile James Coburn. The actor came up during my first face-to-face meeting with the Self-Styled Siren. I forget the film under discussion, but she said, “That film made very good use of his James Coburn-ness.”

“– which was his principle quality as an actor,” I added, wisely.

Godardian flat colour-slabs from Mr. Pogostin.

Regular Shadowplayer Chris Schneider recommended HARD TARGET last year, and it’s taken me months to get around to seeing it. This movie, from writer-director S. Lee Pogostin (he of the great name) pairs Coburn with Lee Remick, and throws in Lilli Palmer, Patrick Magee, Sterling Hayden and Burgess Meredith.

The plot: Coburn is a suave hitman who is also the world’s greatest lover, but he doesn’t know it because he only sleeps with prostitutes (cue naked Karen Black), but then he sleeps with millionairess Remick by mistake, after she pretends to be a pro for a lark, and he cures her of her lifelong frigidity — as a result, she becomes obsessed with him and arranges to have him followed, exposing his murderous profession, with potentially fatal consequences —

Yes, that actually is what it’s about. No kidding.

Are all hitmen commitment-phobic? They seem to be in movies. An existential thing, I guess. Pogostin serves up some good discussions, often taking the place of actual dramatic scenes, but his talk is enjoyable. A discussion in front of Goya’s The Executions of May 3, 1808 gives Meredith, as Coburn’s — what? agent, I guess — with his face like a witch’s elbow, the opportunity to cackle and glint seedily. When Palmer asks the moral relativist if he’s saying that murder isn’t immoral, he demurs. “Of course it’s immoral. I mean, to murder for profit like that, it’s immoral. It’s just that, in these times, it’s not that immoral.”

“Are you trying to say that it’s NOT WRONG?”

“Hoho, definitely not! That would be insane at worst; it would be philosophically adolescent at best. Not, it is wrong, I’m simply saying… that in our time… It’s not that wrong,” he says, wisely.

Pogostin, and Coburn’s character, have to find a solution to their dilemma — seeking redemption and the ability to walk away from murder in a genre which demands violent resolution. They fail… and yet succeed.

14 Responses to “Sleepless nights”

  1. If THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST isn’t the most realistic film ever made, what is?

    I’d go for THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?

  2. Could be! What’s more realistic than a dance marathon? Not much.

  3. I was just about to bring up Hard Contract. A very interesting neo-Mankiewiczian jape.

    Coburn is alos fun in Robert Parrish’s Duffy, scripted by Donald Cammell.

  4. Cammell hated the end result, but it did lead to Performance, with its counterintuitive but brilliant use of Fox, and it does have some good bits.

  5. Quite right. It strains to be”hip,” not realizing that Coburn is hipness itself.

  6. I thought perhaps this post would be about John Woo’s rather… idiosyncratic HARD TARGET. Now I need to check out this one too.

    Good evaluation of Coburn. There’s something ineffable about him that makes him fun to watch. I’m a particular fan of his performance in Sondheim’s LAST OF SHEILA.

  7. Was it a contractual stipulation that Coburn had to sleep with at least two women per movie? In some movies, like the Flint films, it’s rather expected, but in Harry in your Pocket, The President’s Analyst, and others, I get the impression it’s been accommodated into the script at a late stage…

  8. I went back to see the Pogostin “Hard Contract” several times, for some reason or other, when I was a teen. Not much remains of it except memory of my reaction at the time and a flash or two: Sterling Hayden in the fields, a good car chase, a strange scene with Remick and Lilli Palmer where the former reveals that she has been, um, awakened. Doesn’t Remick quote the Tennessee Williams line “Sometimes there’s God so quickly”?

    @ David “neo-Mankiewiczian” is *exactly* the right phrase for this picture. Discursive, intelligent, odd …

    Coburn didn’t occupy much of my time, growing up, but he *was* a happenin’ thing when I was of the appropriate age. Not that I ever saw “Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round,” or anything. (Recent viewing reveals that the opening scene for that one is *quite* similar to “President’s Analyst.”)

    Recent viewing has, however. shown me Coburn’s performance in “The Americanization of Emily.” He’s good, and he shows a somewhat different quality from standard “Coburn-ness”: the gung-ho nature of an Annapolis man whose enthusiasm is just a hair short of psychosis.

  9. I guess you can say Charles Bronson is the poor man’s James Coburn; or maybe its more James Coburn is the rich man’s Charles Bronson.

  10. @ David C I do believe that Coburn gets the requisite two in “Americanization of Emily.” Since he’s a supporting character, though, you don’t learn that much about it.

  11. kevin mummery Says:

    “I guess you can say Charles Bronson is the poor man’s James Coburn; or maybe its more James Coburn is the rich man’s Charles Bronson.”

    You get both for the price of one in “Hard Times”, a film in which they were both given roles that required them to act rather than strike iconic postures. As to which was the poor man’s rich man or vice versa, I was always more of a Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam fan so I can’t really comment.

  12. There’s something fun and funny about Coburn which doesn’t seem to apply to Bronson or Van Cleef, effective as they were. Elam is certainly full of mischief, though.

    Mankiewicz certainly seems a sound reference for Hard Target. Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round mainly struck me for its early Harrison Ford appearance, the source of his amusing bellhop anecdote. Ironically, since the story depends on whether we believe that’s a bellhop or not, the main emotion in this case is “Hey, that bellhop’s Harrison Ford!”

  13. kevin mummery Says:

    I had a friend whose resemblance to Coburn was uncanny, although much more so in his personality than in his appearance. He was so bothered by this that he underwent a radical Coburnectomy, which was almost entirely successful. All that remained of his former Coburn resemblance was the smirk, which rendered him a nearly exact duplicate of Lee Van Cleef.

    There’s a moral here somewhere, but I’m damned if I know what it is.

  14. Better the devil you know?

    I won what they did with all the extracted Coburn? There’s a world shortage, you know.

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