Archive for Chinatown

Warren Beatty’s Quest For A Comedy Partner Begins

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2014 by dcairns

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It’s a quest which would culminate in ISHTAR, which I still haven’t seen. I expect to maybe like ISHTAR.

But I did not care for THE FORTUNE, directed by the other half of the Nichols-May team, Mike Nichols, which pairs Beatty with Jack Nicholson. This thirties farce feels like an attempt to do a PAPER MOON, and Beatty’s comic stuffiness seems very Ryan O’Neal. Nicholson is dipping his toe in the waters of overacting for the first time. As is Stockard Channing, and the results are loud, shrill, and protracted. I’m sure there are people for whom the movie is hilarious, but they seem to be in a minority. We spent our time wondering what caused these people to choose to do this film. It’s hard to imagine it being funnier on paper, and in fact the pleasure we got was entirely from John Alonzo’s cinematography and Dick and Anthea Sylbert’s design, both of which recall CHINATOWN. Which is a somewhat better movie.

Screenwriter Carole Eastman was a friend of Jack Nicholson and wrote FIVE EASY PIECES, so I guess that explains him. And I imagine he would have Nichols and Beatty’s phone numbers on his rolodex. And so, a disaster is born. But a handsome one. We particularly enjoyed Warren’s 3D necktie.

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Turning to Biskind for the gossip, as usual, we find a story that Beatty used THE FORTUNE, regarded as a safe investment by its studio, to get the more tricky SHAMPOO made — with ironic results when the former flopped and the latter was a breakout hit. (I don’t really like either, but should give SHAMPOO another chance.) He claims Beatty bought the script for some vast sum, which Beatty denies… and he mentions Nicholson’s friendship with Eastman but doesn’t suggest that may have been a deciding factor in getting the thing made. He also says the script was too long and had no third act (all too apparent in the finished movie) — Nichols, concerned about his budget overages on CATCH 22 and DAY OF THE DOLPHIN took a machete to it and “cut out all the funny stuff” according to Polly Platt, at one point scheduled to design the movie. Doesn’t sound like something the talented Nichols would do, but the movie certainly has very little funny stuff, so if it was present to begin with, somebody must have cut it.

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This shot may explain where Beatty got the idea that he should play DICK TRACY.

Maybe if the film had been made in some other era, the theme of two men plotting to murder an innocent heiress for her money might have been acceptable, if unsympathetic — in the forties or fifties we’d know everything would turn out OK. In the seventies, all bets are off, which is part of what makes that decade’s cinema so exciting, but it means we can’t trust the filmmakers to end this film in a non-misogynistic, socially acceptable way. I mean, we’ve seen MASH and THE GETAWAY and STRAW DOGS and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER at this point so anything is possible. The ending isn’t horrible like that, but it’s certainly peculiar, unresolved and kind of disturbing: a big shrug to rank alongside another seventies take on Old Hollywood, Elia Kazan a,nd Harold Pinter’s adaptation of Fitzgerald’s THE LAST TYCOON, which solves the source novel’s unfinished structure by just… stopping in mid-air.

vlcsnap-2014-05-01-00h46m06s136“There’s a man on the wing of this plane!”

 

Riding the Rails

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by dcairns

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I was amused by this in-joke in Hal Ashby’s BOUND FOR GLORY. Charles Mulvehill is the film’s associate producer (“An associate producer is anyone who will associate with a producer,” – Billy Wilder) and production manager. The churchman who has acquired his name is explaining to hobo Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) why he isn’t about to corrupt him by giving him a free meal out of charity. It might stave off malnutrition, true, but what would it do to his self-respect.

The horrible, smug priest isn’t the only ersatz Mulvehill. The big detective who pins Jack Nicholson down while Roman Polanski performs impromptu rhinoplasty on him is called Claude Mulvihill. Screenwriter Robert Towne knew CM from their collaboration on THE LAST DETAIL.

One has to wonder what it is about Mr. Mulvehill that inspires such backhanded tributes? I think the jibes are probably intended with affection, and anyhow we can say that CM got his own back for the character assassination by feeding info to Peter Biskind for his big gossip book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (or Hollywood Babylon Revisited, as I call it).

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BOUND FOR GLORY is quite a piece of work — if Biskind’s book had a positive effect, it was in spearheading a reappraisal of Ashby, and yet his biggest production still seems like the most neglected of his seventies films. It has epic cinematography by Haskell Wexler, with special effects by Albert Whitlock: new wave photography yoked to an epic theme, matte painted landscapes and Melinda Dillon all make this a kind of prequel to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

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And that’s a very endearing performance from David Carradine, who otherwise rather wasted his career doing trash — even after KILL BILL he plunged straight back into barrel-scrapers for the remainder of his days. Maybe because Tarantino didn’t actually give him any good writing on that one — his stuff felt lazy, derivative and wanky to me — but part of me suspects that Carradine actually liked doing filler, maybe because the expectations were lower? He’s wonderful here, anyhow.

 

A Hard-boiled Oeuvre

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by dcairns

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For the first half of PEEPER (1976) I was almost convinced I was watching a neglected classic. The script, by W.D. Richter (BUCKAROO BANZAI) from a Chandler pastiche by sci-fi author Keith Laumer, served up a constant sizzle of snazzy dialogue and cynical VO, the latter delivered by Michael Caine in a straight reprise of his delightful manner in Mike Hodges’ PULP. As that film had wound up with a walk-on by a Humphrey Bogart impersonator, so this movie begins with one, narrating the opening titles in a piece-to-camera presentation that’s giddily audacious. Director Peter Hyams seems to be on top form, and his cameraman Earl Rath, who lensed the astonishing proto-steadicam shoot-out chase in Hyams’ earlier BUSTING, steeps the art-deco locations in acidic greens, achieving a distinctly 1970s neo-noir look.

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I had thought that the really hip 70s noirs had either mixed things up by going back further in time, or had updated their stories to the modern day. CHINATOWN does the former, but adds such a wealth of modern attitude — political, sexual — as to seem furiously contemporary, while THE LONG GOODBYE really squeezes every ounce of anachronism to be had from the conceit of Marlowe in modern L.A. Dick Richards’ 1975 FAREWELL, MY LOVELY remake with Robert Mitchum seems a stale exercise in nostalgia by comparison. But then I think of the late Michael Winner’s incomprehensibly Brighton-set version of THE BIG SLEEP, and I have to conclude that there are no rules except that good filmmakers are more likely to make good films. Bad ons, not so much.

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Anyhow, PEEPER starts great, the cast is very nice, Caine has chemistry with Natalie Wood, and then it all somehow goes to pot. Liam Dunn is a great comedy antagonist, but Timothy Carey and Don Calfa, excellent actors and types, are also reduced to stooge status, depriving the whole thing of necessary tension. Necessary even in what’s virtually a comedy. Oh, we also get the wonderful Liam Dunn — Mr Hilltop in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, the judge in WHAT’S UP DOC?, as a typically decrepit, wonderfully weaselly character, the only guy Caine can convincingly push around.

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When the climax involved Wood fighting aboard a lifeboat, I got a horrible sense of why the film doesn’t tend to get revived much. But maybe it just isn’t good enough — the plot never reaches an extreme state demanding drastic action, but peters out in some confusing twists. A major sympathetic character is murdered and goes unavenged. The long takes lack the dynamism of Hyams and Rath’s BUSTING work, and sometimes merely looks as if they didn’t have time to get adequate coverage. It’s a shame, since the first half is a real delight. They could make a whole series of sequels to that first half. I kind of regret they made the second half at all.

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