Cuddly

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In THE FRENCH CONNECTION II, Gene Hackman, pursuing Fernando Rey during a raid on his heroin lab, passes an inexplicable fluffy pooch, lolloping gaily in the opposite direction. A nod to Bunuel? Or does every heroin lab have a mascot?

While in THE LOOKING GLASS WAR, a painfully young Anthony Hopkins tucks his son into bed, ignoring a cuddly lion with Anthony Hopkins eyes.

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Tossing a coin, I think I’ll now proceed to deal with THE LOOKING GLASS WAR, a John Le Carre adaptation which sees John Box, David Lean’s designer, stepping up to produce, and Frank Pierson, prolific screenwriter, steps into the director’s chair. He does pretty well, I think — he shoots proper shots, with ideas behind them, not just coverage. Some of the cutting is fantastic, inventive and unusual in its rhythms and transitions. Some of it just doesn’t work. When we cut from one end of a room to another, it’s a shock to hear Ralph Richardson’s voice continue, because it looks like a scene change.

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Christopher Jones shares the spotlight with Hopkins. An up-and-coming prettyboy, he did a great James Dean impersonation in WILD IN THE STREETS — the muscles around his mouth pout and pucker and strain in exactly the configurations of Dean’s face, so it was biology as artistic destiny. Here, he’s dubbed because he couldn’t do a Polish accent, but David Lean didn’t realize that when he grabbed him for RYAN’S DAUGHTER. Unsuitably cast as a British officer, dubbed again, and straitjacketed by Lean’s meticulous direction, Jones seems to disappear from the screen even while he’s on it. An empty outline, a shadow floodlit out of existence, the sound of one hand failing to clap. Lean evidently hadn’t heard Nick Ray’s dictum: Don’t Fuck With A Natural. All Jones’s methody tricks added up to was a compulsion to muck about onscreen, to do what he felt like in the moment. Lean sat on his chest and wouldn’t let him have fun, so all his talent froze up and died.

Despite the dubbing, he’s alive in this one, playful and unpredictable. An exciting contrast with the Brits, who are all technique on the surface (but, of course, deeply eccentric in their essence — I very badly wanted to see Richardson to interact with Jones). Put together with Susan George, another untutored misbehaver, Jones turns sex panther (the two had a fling, brutally nullified when she brought over a toothbrush — “No way, baby,”). Her chubby face is out of control. It’s amazing seeing onset doc footage of her making STRAW DOGS, because the charismatic, cute girl you see is nowhere to be found in the sullen, dead-eyed performance Peckinpah captured. Here, she’s antic, a rough baby.

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Where the movie goes wrong is East Germany — once Jones is out on his own (in Cybulski shades) with no crisp Brits to bounce off, things go to pot. Le Carre MAY have been responsible for the wan guff of romance, gasped into the plot without a whiff of social reality — on an off-day, he can do twee — but Pierson should have stomped on it. The end creds say “Filmed at Shepperton Studios and on location in Europe” and those last bits feel as vague as that makes it sound, not helped by rendering dialogue in English which ought to be in German. Wally Stott parples away with his East German truck jazz as Jones and a leaden Pia Dagermark listlessly enjoy their idyll, overseen by a broken-toothed child who seems to squat on the movie’s chest, paralysing it like the imp in Fuselli’s Nightmare.

The wrap-up is satisfying, though it hits the button marked “message” rather too hard. The darkly ironic final twist helps take the curse off it.

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7 Responses to “Cuddly”

  1. Susan George’s finest hour-and-a-half-to-two is of course Mandingo She has vanished from the screen as the demand for Raging Sluts has apparently petered out.

    I’ve always found Christopher George to be utterly vapid. Ryan’s Daughter makes no sense as even an impotent Robert Mitchum is more fun that Christopher George. The Raging Slut of that extravaganza, Sarah Miles, isn’t around much anymore for reasons Walter Reuben goes into in his superb The David Whiting Story or The Cesar Romero Joke

  2. Susan George has gone into homeopathy for horses, a hilarious non-sequitur of a profession. ALL ex-glamour girls become Kind To Animals in retirement (cf Bardot) but this falls firmly into the couldn’t make it up catedgory.

    Chris Jones is a livewire when allowed — but Lean tried to create repressed desire in him, and any heat simply dissipated when a lid was put on it. Plus, Jones struggled through his first take and declared, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk like this.” A true marriage made in Hell. Apparently the crew took to drugging him to make him perform, like a monkey.

    Mitchum’s character wasn’t impotent, he was premature, which is almost as bad, and messier.

    Tarantino tried to encourage CJ back on the screen, but he made his return elsewhere and it vanished without trace.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    Wonder if Jones is any good in THREE IN THE ATTIC, which was directed by Welles associate Richard Wilson. I remember its achieving, if not respect, then a certain popularity .

  4. As far as I can tell, Frankenheimer just really liked to use random dogs as compositional elements. I took notice when I watched the Train and 52 Pick Up back to back and both of them have shots similar to this, where the dogs appear only to move opposite the main character.

    Take what proof you will from this. I have made no sustained study, but rule of threes makes me comfortable to start bringing it up.

  5. I have Three in the Attic, but haven’t watched.

    Thanks for the dog theory!

    I just watched the dreadful Frankenheimer modern day samurai movie The Challenge, but don’t recall any random dogs. Maybe the Japanese stereotypes ate them all.

  6. Oh, please do explore the dog theory!

    Have you written about the deliciously awful The Holcroft Covenant? Is there a random dog in that?

    “Drive to Geneva, using only the minor roads.” “Woof woof.”

  7. Holcroft denial —
    https://dcairns.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/in-it-for-the-money/

    There MUST be a poodle somewhere in The Manchurian Candidate. Or a shih tzu.

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