The Split

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What was behind Stanley Donen, from more or less 1958 to 1974, becoming a European filmmaker, with the emphasis on Britain? Whatever it was, it did yield some interesting work. We just enjoyed THE GRASS IS GREENER, which falls into the lightly likable camp, but has one really great scene.

In this romantic quadrangle, three of the stars are cast violently against type, but two of them act as if they weren’t. Deborah Kerr, as the Lady of the Manor, is close enough to her usual field — forbidden desire throbbing behind stolen glances, and whatnot. And she’s glancing at Robert Mitchum, who was even more forbidden in HEAVEN KNOWS, MR ALLISON. Mitchum has to play a smooth wife-stealer, a romantic, a charming but dishonorable but not VERY dishonorable rogue. He just does what Mitchum does, and it seems to work, despite being quite removed from his usual honest he-man stuff. Cary Grant has to play a cuckold. He dresses down, and that’s the only adjustment he makes, and again it works fine.

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Jean Simmons, meanwhile, is having the time of her life as a vivacious, dumb and bitchy friend. While Kerr is elegant in Hardy Amies, Simmons exults in  a series of lunatic creations by Christian Dior. Used to being crammed into what she called “poker-up-the-arse parts” — stiff wives, standing by their men, she explodes all over the place like a slightly drunk fireworks display.

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The one time the film reaches her level of extravagance is a split-screen phone conversation, where Donen pulls out all the stops. As the men converse, one in his stately home, the other at the Savoy, the women, who aren’t supposed to be in either spot, listen in. Each time the men swap the phone receiver from one hand to the other (which they always do in perfect sync) the women circle them to continue listening in. Dialogue echoes back and forth, with nobody but the audience knowing that the same thing is being said in each location, sometimes in succession, sometimes in unison. And as a final grace note, Grant flicks something out of his drink — and hits Mitch in the eye, fifty miles away.

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Also of note: Maurice Binder title sequence. Not a James Bond nude silhouette in sight.

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4 Responses to “The Split”

  1. Now that Manoel de Oliveira is gone Stanley Donen is the oldest living incontrovertibly great director. His girlfriend Elaine May has a script about show business she wants him to direct. I hope it gets made.

  2. His last few weren’t so great. Maybe it’s better left as a beautiful dream. But if it would make him happy to do it, someone should let him.

    We also just watched Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which shamefully we’d never seen — due to our sports phobia. But it was indeed Incontrovertibly Great.

  3. revelator60 Says:

    Binder seems to have worked regularly with Donen during this period—he also did the titles for Indiscreet, Damn Yankees, Once More With Feeling, Surprise Package, Charade, Arabesque, Two For the Road, Bedazzled, and The Little Prince. Whether or not naked ladies are involved, his stuff is almost always a pleasure to watch.

  4. I love his work on The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and wish he had done more with Billy Wilder.

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