Archive for George Segal

Cuisine of the Crime

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2019 by dcairns

I hadn’t seen WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE for decades and Fiona had never seen it. And I only just realized that Peter Stone had a big hand in the script — he’s also a key figure in the writing of CHARADE, ARABESQUE, MIRAGE, FATHER GOOSE, SWEET CHARITY… which are all quite sprightly examples of the dying days of the golden years of Hollywood. And this one tries hard to evoke the feel of classic romantic comedy thrillers, while sharing some DNA with the novelty murder cycle begun by THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES.

Someone IS killing the great chefs of Europe, in their own kitchens and using their own favourite methods. Meanwhile dessert chef Jacqueline Bisset (last on the menu) and her ex-husband, fast food entrepreneur George Segal, are squabbling and wooing in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Cary Grant & Ros Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Jackie B proves a very able performer in this genre, and Segal of course is a very fine light comedian but perhaps makes his already seedy character a bit too brash and unlikable and lupine. The only moment where he begins to gather some sympathy is a fine bit of writing where he seems about to be humiliated on UK TV after trying, in a quite well-meaning way, to save his ex’s life. But this happens at the very end of the film, so it’s a little too late.

The Hollywood trick of casting actors who are NOT like the character they’re playing — think Joel McCrea as a pretentious film director in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS — might have been handy here. But for a brash and sleazy businessman, who do you cast in the seventies who’s NOT a bit sleazy?

Robert Morley hams with relish, but one of the film’s real treats is the casting of top European acting talent in rare English-speaking roles: Jean-Pierre Cassell, Philippe Noiret, Jean Rochefort and walking special effect Daniel Emilfork. Fascinating to watch them in a second language: Cassell’s suavity transmutes into an engaging goofiness, Rochefort hams it up enormously and is a joy, and Noiret is really extraordinary, holding the eye and producing an effect of massive comedic overemphasis while actually underplaying like crazy. His tiniest ocular glint is like an explosion.

The mystery is well-played, delivering a genuine surprise out of a very limited (and ever-shrinking) field of suspects, and plays reasonably fair, though when you think about it, given the identity and motive of the killer, it does seem highly unlikely that they’d choose the novelty homicide MO we’ve all been enjoying. But Jackie gets to sleep with the most attractive Frenchman and doesn’t get punished for it, even though the plot positions her as potential final victim. (Neither the PHIBES films nor THEATRE OF BLOOD think of making the most sympathetic character the last person in jeopardy — though maybe we’re *intended* to care about Joseph Cotten and Ian Hendry?)

If the film, as directed by Ted Kotcheff, doesn’t quite come off, maybe it’s because it’s set in and made in the late seventies, with a brownish colour palette and all-location shooting in cavernous rooms. It somehow never has the lighter-than-air soufflé feel the story demands. We’re in London and Paris and Venice, and it always seems overcast and a bit dreich. Not Cary Grant weather at all. Although, if you have Cary Grant, ALL weather is Cary Grant weather. If you have George Segal instead, better hope for sunshine.

WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE? (AKA TOO MANY CHEFS) stars Miss Goodthighs, Quiller, King Louis XVI, King Louis XIII, Cardinal Mazarin, Le colonel Louis Marie Alphonse Toulouse, another different Cardinal Mazarin, Dr. Branom, De Nomolos, Krank, Ralph Earnest Gorse, Sgt. Wilson and Wallace.

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“What’s it like being so sexually attractive?”

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2017 by dcairns

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YES! You should see THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, the film in which Max Von Sydow asks this question of George Segal. You have to wonder if screenwriter Harold Pinter knew what the casting was going to be and how funny this line would seem. I mean, some don’t like George Segal but I do, I find his presence sympathetic. But I don’t see him as any Cary Grant in the glamour department. I think Pinter must have known, and intended the line to be funny (it also has, like everything Max says in this film, a definite Comedy of Menace undertone) but he also has the sexy and soft-focus (cut that out, cameraman Erwin Hillier!) Senta Berger fall eagerly into bed with George, in a way that’s even more suspicious than Eva Marie Saint’s come-ons to Cary in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. This has the potential to blow a giant hole in the plot, and is either deliberate but inexplicable, or a consequence of Harold not being as good so writing women.

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“We could do an underwater ballet,” says George to Senta as they wander an empty swimming pool, causing Fiona and I to exchange surprised glances at this synchronicity — this being the first non-Esther Williams film we’ve watched in some time. And then a tiny John Moulder-Brown turns up, future star of DEEP END, the all-time great empty swimming pool movie. Perhaps when you start tuning in to Pinter’s cryptic subsubsubtexts, the universe begins to seem full of significant insignificances.

This is a sixties spy film — it seems to have all the same Germans as FUNERAL IN BERLIN, including the Gay German Christopher Lloyd — as written by Pinter. The characters meet with elaborate coded conversations about cigarette brands — “Is it milder than other brands?” “It’s milder than some other brands,” and then go into more spontaneous discussions that have exactly the same coded quality. The whole thing looks pretty ugly for the first half, modern Berlin looking like one big hideous airport, but the chance to see Alec Guinness, say, or George Sanders, doing Pinter makes it electrifying. Guinness chooses to make his irksome spook slightly lower middle-class and a lot more camp than we’re used to, making the shady rendezvous at the start more resonant — or it would be if George Segal weren’t George Segal, bless him. Also, Guinness is constantly nibbling, especially during the nost ominous moments…

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Then Max shows up, the settings get older and grungier, and suddenly the film becomes extremely beautiful and extremely tense. Director Michael DAMBUSTERS Anderson is one of those first ADs who moved up to directing and was generally efficient, sometimes inspired. The compositions in Max’s truth serum dungeon are fantastic, with lurking henchmen of various sizes dotted around the frame as you might say MUTE SENTINELS. And there’s a great bit of interrogation where Max walks to and fro before the seated George and George’s close-up is filmed from his approx POV, tracking past George first one way, then the other. I  wonder what Michael had been looking at — the same thing Leone was looking at for Charles Bronson’s rotating close-up in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST?

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Then the whole third act is basically George wandering helplessly around the city at night, shadowed by the Mute Sentinel guys, with elevated trains and derelict buildings making for a much more gritty and habitable world than the airportscapes of the first half. It’s incredibly tense and almost nothing is happening: an ideal Pinter climax.

And then a rather chilling ending. It’s one of the best visualisations of Pinter Wonderland, which usually revolves around dialogue. George and Senta’s last scene is amazingly cryptic, with every thought and emotion clouded by obfuscating billows of terse dialogue, and then we’re just pulling back from a school. But the school itself is like a Pinter sentence, bland and companionable on the surface, threatening and loaded with sinister meaning just underneath. The new Nazis are coming, and as Guinness remarks earlier, “They look like everybody else.”

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Nibble, nibble.

Star Power

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2011 by dcairns

Below is the opening scene of THE SOUTHERN STAR, a 1969 Jules Verne adaptation starring George Segal, Johnny Sekka and Ursula Andress (who gets to memorably garble the line “I um trrrrying to whush away a memnoree!” while skinny-dipping). The movie’s directed by Sidney Hayers, a not-so distinguished but capable filmmaker with one cult classic to his name, the tasty NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (AKA BURN WITCH BURN).

But Edinburgh-born Hayers (about whom I must learn more) fell sick on location in Africa, so the scene I’ve extracted had to be helmed by somebody else — whoever was around, basically.

Fortunately, the film’s cast included one man with a bit of directing experience, and, being a mensch, Orson Welles stepped in ~

This scene is interesting as a piece of Wellesian marginalia for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s very funny and lively, unlike the rest of THE SOUTHERN STAR (although Welles, playing a homosexual English villain, amuses). Secondly, it’s a unique chance to see Welles directing in widescreen. Unfortunately, the only copy I’ve so far sourced reduces the film’s ‘scope ratio to a TV-friendly 16:9, but you get more of a sense of it than you would from a regular pan-and-scan at least.

Welles disparaged widescreen (“I don’t think the paying audience necessarily deserves anything bigger than what they’re currently getting,” he sniffed, before quoting Cocteau’s dismissal: “Next time I do a drawing I’m going to use a big sheet of paper”) but he uses it fluently and intelligently, dividing the image into quadrants using background features, and exploiting the greater dynamism produced when the camera moves — the shot where we swing around the shack after Sekka and keep moving after he’s stopped in order to reveal the onrushing crowd, is especially cool. Welles in widescreen reminds me a little of Leone, not in the hyper-gigantism, but in the exploitation of cinematic melodrama for comic effect.

Welles’s cinematographer here — Raoul Coutard!

The other example of widescreen Welles would be DAVID AND GOLIATH, where Welles took the part on condition that he would direct his own scenes while shooting DON QUIXOTE in his off-hours. The producer foolishly signed an open-ended contract that imposed no deadline on Welles’ work, so he shamelessly extended shooting in order to get more of his dream project done, inventing countless unnecessary extreme angles: one shot required a ditch to be dug for the camera, another needed a tower constructed. Little of this is evidenced in the film’s final cut (the poor producer somehow escaped bankruptcy and finished the wretched thing), but the only copies around at present are pan-and-scanned to 1.33:1, so it’s hard to see what Welles was up to. The above clip is our best glimpse of widescreen Welles for now.