Archive for George Lazenby

The Clumsy Waiter

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2020 by dcairns

In canceled John Landis’ KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE Donald Sutherland has a surprising cameo — Landis evidently cultivated the star assiduously while assisting on KELLY’S HEROES (and got him again for ANIMAL HOUSE) — as “the clumsy waiter,” a bit that involves cutting to him falling down a lot in waiter garb, as part of a mock trailer for a disaster movie starring George Lazenby… these few moments of crude slapstick may hint at something deeper which would, if viewed from the right angle, unlock the mysteries of cinema.

Sutherland was fresh from Fellini’s CASANOVA and Bertolucci’s 1900. In Mark Cousins’ Scene By Scene interview — I think the best in that series — he tells an amazing story about the latter. In 1900 he plays a fascist who’s literally called Attila and who shows you how bad he is by murdering a cat with his head.

The story’s at about 22:42. The reason this is the best episode is that it’s the only time the central conceit of showing scenes to filmmakers actually results in staggeringly interesting reaction shots. Some of Donald’s expressions in this interview count as among the best of his career.

Bertolucci set the scene, explaining that he would tie a (real) cat to a post, then charge a cunningly substituted fake one headfirst, crushing a bag of blood concealed within. Donald wasn’t exactly keen on smashing into a wooden post with his head, which he needs for acting with, but agreed to do it ONCE.

THUD.

The bag of blood failed to burst. “The actor didn’t hit the cat correctly,” was what Sutherland recalled them saying. OK, one more time.

Some FX genius got the idea of placing two thumbtacks against the baggie, so that it would be pierced by any solid impact.

THUD. SPLASH.

“There. OK?” “No. Not okay.” He has two thumbtacks sticking out of his forehead. He also has concussion.

So he does twenty takes or something crazy until Bertolucci is satisfied. That evening in the bar he’s trying to explain to Gerard Depardieu what he had to do that day and he decides to SHOW them what he had to do. He charges a pillar, trips, crashes into what turns out to be a mirror, and ends up with half his ear hanging off.

The point of this story, besides the striking nature of the events themselves, would seem to be the plight of the actor, but Sutherland plants a seed of doubt in our minds about his physical prowess, and one maybe wonders if the KENTUCKY FRIED skit was inspired by a certain gaucheness in his movements?

Moving on.

Next story comes from John Baxter’s Fellini biography, not his best work, but he describes Sutherland wrapping on his last day on the project. They’re filming in a field. As he’s walking away, wearing a blanket or cloak or something, he does a big wave at Fellini, using the robe for a flourish. It catches the wind, and he’s pulled off-balance and falls in the mud.

He gets up, makes the gesture again, and falls in the mud again.

Moving on again.

This is from Philip Kaufman’s audio commentary on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Kaufman is filming the climax in a big greenhouse with Sutherland way up in the roof beams, clambering about.

A friend drops in. “Is that Donald Sutherland way up there?”

Kaufman confirms that it is.

“What the hell? Don’t you know he’s the clumsiest man alive?

I love Donald Sutherland and I will gladly accept any stories you have about Donald Sutherland falling over.

George of the Jungle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 13, 2015 by dcairns

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I got sparked off by this touching piece at Movie Morlocks.

The MGM lion — originally the Goldwyn lion, when embodied by a feline named Slats in 1917 — is an enduring icon of cinema. There’s something wonderfully incoherent about the image of a disembodied lion head — as if mounted on a wall, yet still conscious and roaring, accompanied by a latin motto saying “Art for Art’s Sake.” What does the lion have to do with the motto, or the motto with the lion? What does Metro Goldwyn Mayer mean? Two guy’s names and a random word? It only got better when I discovered that Goldwyn himself wasn’t part of the company, had in fact got his own company.

It’s not quite as confusing as Twentieth Century Fox — what IS a twentieth century fox and how does it differ from an earlier or later member of the canidae family?

Anyhow, MGM as a whole is not my favourite studio — Mayer’s personality comes across too much — but I love enough of their movies to get a buzz each time I see Leo, or Slats, or any of the intermediate lions. But not George. George makes me go “Aaaach, not HIM!”

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George was the MGM lion only briefly — 1956 to 1957. They obviously realized they’d miscast, and badly. His predecessor, Tanner, lasted twenty years. He existed in b&w and colour, he had a great bassoprofundo roar, and there seems no obvious reason to make a change. Maybe Tanner had “gone Hollywood” and was making unreasonable demands? A Winnebago with a giant cat flap, a saucer of milk with his name on it, and christians. Lots of christians. Or maybe MGM management, drunk on the heady wine of revolution having recently deposed one head, CEO Louis B. Mayer, determined to symbolize this triumph by ejecting another head from its logo-collar and replacing it with an upstart in their own faceless image.

It’s possible that fame went rapidly to George’s unkempt, shapeless head (the rest of him being shielded by the logo), but I think the execs got rid of him because he just wasn’t up to snuff. George’s hair, for instance. His hair is terrible. A weird, boxy-looking mane, quite unconvincing, practically filling his celluloid circle. Like Charlton Heston’s wig in leonine form. And George himself has no decorum. Previous and future incumbents would pause, looking regal, then give vent to an impressive bellow, and then relax back into a noble stance. Dignity, always dignity.

George, by contrast, just lets rip immediately, and won’t stop. He seems like he quite literally wants to chew the scenery. It’s a great big wildcat strop, a hissy fit, a coke-fuelled tantrum. “I want a sack of Kibble the size of Stubby Kaye and I want it now!” he seems to demand. A charmless approach, quite lacking nuance. He was swiftly retired to “the Cat House,” an LA ranch for retired predators (I believe Darryl F. Zanuck enjoyed a stay).

In a way, George’s vertiginous rise and fall foreshadows that of his famous namesake, Mr. Lazenby. And, as it turns out, “Lazenby” is derived from the Old Norse word “leysingr,” meaning “dishevelled or inadequate lion.”*

*Untrue.

1) “Hey, lookee, an audience! Lots of tiny people for me to munch, potentially.”

2) “What? What the heck? How did I get inside this circle? Oh, and grrr, by the way.”

3) “What is that, a tennis ball on a stick? Well why you wavin’ it around?”

4) “I can talk! Stick around folks, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet! This is my best side. Rather Barrymoresque, don’t you think? Or do you prefer three-quarters face?”

5) “Small roar. Big roar. Small roar.”

6) “My colour is fading and it’s pissing me off. Quit it. I said QUIT IT!”

7) “Me again. Still surly.”

8) “I can’t decide which of you two mugs I detest more heartily.”

9) “What do you mean, I’ve changed? I’m positively the same lion.”

10) “This is more like it. I’ve got poise, gravitas, in a word, class.”

11) “I’m GEEEEOOOORGEE! Get used to me, I plan on being around for decades.”

12) “I’m still here, you sons of bitches!”

13) “Hi, sorry about that, Normal service has been restored. I’m Leo and I’ll be your lion this evening.”

14) “Still me, but my voice has gotten deeper. Have I been dubbed, or is it all those cigars?”

15) “Deeper again. I sound like a Harrier Jump Jet taking off. How much further can this go?”

16) “YouTube can’t even handle this level of bass. All the needles are in the red at this point.”

17) “In a homage to James Finlayson, I’m going to do a little double-take at the end of this one just before they fade out. Hope you enjoy it.”

18) “That seemed to go over well, let’s make it a regular feature.”

19) “What the hell are you doing with that camera? Lock that thing off, Michael Bay, or I’ll eat your stupid face!” (does double take)

Ink-stained Wenches

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2009 by dcairns

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Coincidentally I downloaded and watched THE HARD WAY (not that one) with Patrick McGoohan and Lee Van Cleef, and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER (not that one) with George Lazenby. What makes this coincidental is not so much that both films need to have the words “(not that one)” appended after them, since a gang of notorious Title Thieves has made off with both films’ names and appended them to further pieces of “product”, but the fact that both films feature female authors in acting roles. How odd.

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THE HARD WAY is an Irish thriller which lured Patrick McGoohan back to the land of his forefathers, to play an aging top hitman who, breaking with type, refuses to take on one last job. His big bad bald boss Lee Van Cleef dispatches various heavies to try and “persuade” the Irish assassin that now is not the time for retirement.

Fellow filmmaker Paul Duane recommended this one, and it has a lot going for it. The stars are on form, with McGoohan restrained (he hardly ever smiles on one side of his face in this one, and never twitches once), and LVC is authoritative and gravelly as you’d expect. His voice actually comes up through the floor via speaking tube, its origins somewhere in the bowels of the earth, perhaps the lost kingdom of Pelucidar. If Lee VC occasionally falls silent, it’s because the subterranean man who does his voice is fending off attacks from the winged, telepathic Mahars who rule that stygian region.

The intent is obviously to make an Irish version of a Jean-Pierre Melville movie, full of cold-blooded professionals who are good at their jobs and follow their own code of honour, regardless of what side of the law they stand on. To this end, the makers procured the services of Melville’s regular cinematographer, Henri Decae. Adding to the ambient gloom, the score alternates traditional Irish drones with a rather John Carpenter-like electronic suspense theme culled from Brian Eno’s Music for Films album. Taking the man at his word, I see.

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The production was beset by difficulties, with MacGoohan in his usual truculent condition, resulting in the firing of the original director and his replacement by, I believe, the producer. I don’t know what exec John Boorman’s role was in all this, but this movie did not have the success of his other most famous production, ANGEL, which launched the career of Neil Jordan. There’s also “additional cinematography”, which I assume to be the awful stuff that doesn’t match. My copy was a pan-and-scanned VHS rip, so it’s hard to judge the visual quality, but it seems to have achieved some of the slick, monochromatic chill that characterises so much late-period Melville.

The climax, where Van Cleef and McGoohan face off in a deserted country house, with LVC triggering the lights by messing with the fusebox, giving the place a haunted quality and leading Pat from one trap to another, is pretty exciting, although a bloody-minded censor seems to have removed vital plot developments.

But the real excitement here is the presence of author Edna O’Brien as mcGoohan’s estranged wife. I sort of knew her name, since her paperbacks populated the second-hand shops of my youth (always featuring grim girls in dark surroundings on the jackets). But I had very little idea what the books actually contained, although Paul Duane hinted that they were “controversial”. I turned to Wikipedia:

Edna O’Brien (born 15 December 1930) is an Irish novelist and short story writer whose works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men and to society as a whole.

Blimey, that does sound awful. No wonder they burned the things in churchyards.

(NO. I’m being cheeky. I strongly approve of anybody who can write anything incendiary enough to bring the book-burners out of hiding.)

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O’Brien’s role here avoids giving her any actual acting to do, as such. Instead, she gets a bit of walking about, and also a series of scenes in which, against a dark, abstract background like a woman from one of her books, she intones what comes to sound increasingly like an elegy, which in fact it is. These scenes at first resemble an open-mic poetry reading, and O’Brien’s beautiful voice delivers everything with a kind of serene solemnity that’s slightly confusing at first, since we might assume this is a conversation rather than a bit of public speaking. All in all, her presence adds a welcome strangeness to a film that’s not quite stylish enough to attain Melville’s mastery, and is in danger of wandering into a claustrophobic cul-de-sac.

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Far, far worse, is UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, the last film of Cy Endfield (must get around to blogging about his under-seen Lloyd Bridges diptych), a George Lazenby vehicle (for some reason this phrase causes me to picture a clown car festooned with excrement) which shows the blacklisted maestro foundering and floundering in a sea of fashionable mud. We begin with the Glamour and Excitement of Heathrow Airport, where soldier-of-fortune George Lazenby arrives, his muscular orange buttock of a face groaning under the weight of every sideburn in London.

Yes, the line between failed Bond George Lazenby and alcoholic ’70s football star George Best, tenuous to begin with, has been altogether erased in this film. What follows is a shapeless, meandering non-narrative in which mumbling mercenary George drops out of a proposed African coup he’s supposed to be delivering (when a sponsor warns that he doesn’t want a lot of raping and looting, George grins back “When you hire men to kill, you can’t complain about how they spend their spare time,” the nearest thing to a James Bond quip in the film) and starts to listen to hippies and intellectuals.

Lazenby himself, bedecked with hair-shapes and built like the proverbial ceramic latrine, has perfected his Sean Connery impersonation, just stopping short of the accent, although there’s no trace of his native Australia (Greer herself sounds less Antipodean in this than she does today). I always felt bad for him getting ejected from Bondhood and never really finding a George-shaped niche afterwards. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE is probably the best Bond (Rigg! Savalas!) and if George struggled to fill the shoes of his predecessor (“This never happened to the other fellow!”), his orange face surmounted by a cap of burnished wooden hair, his voice dubbed in several scenes, he still did a decent job of the tragic ending.

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Endfield, centre.

Chief among the counter-culture characters (who also include Rolling Stones muse Chrissie Shrimpton) are Endfield himself, doing better as actor than director, and Germaine Greer. Yes, that one. The prospect of the author of The Female Eunuch reinventing herself as a sort of Bond Girl is an enticing one, and however bleak the career prospects of that particular branch of showbiz (Lois Chiles, where are you?), anything would be preferable to the post of professional contrarian which Greer now holds. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d say that turning up on television or in the newspaper columns and simply saying the opposite of what somebody else has said, no matter what that is, makes you a kind of dreadful mind-whore. And casts retrospective doubt on whether Greer ever in fact believed a word she was saying.

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Germaine enjoys a cuppa.

Alas, Greer and Endfield, the liveliest people in the film, whose accompanying baggage only makes them more interesting, get very little to do, which leaves us with George being followed about by a restless camera. The aimless script is credited to six different people, including Endfield and, terrifyingly, Lazenby himself. Since much of the talk seems loose and improvisatory (read: shapeless and incoherent), it’s possible GL picked up a writing cred simply for refusing to speak the words written down for him. I prefer that thought to the image of him and five other blokes randomly jabbing at the keys of a single blameless Remington.

Lesson: if you put six chimps in a room with a typewriter, they will eventually write UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. And probably sooner than you’d like.