Archive for John Cheever

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold — Cream

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2021 by dcairns

Here’s Shadowplayer Chris Schneider on a late, and underappreciated Frank Tashlin/Doris Day picture…

” … I forgot to mention the sexuality, the anarchy — and the fashion.”~ FB friend Larry Frascella talking of CAPRICE

When I think of CAPRICE, a Frank Tashlin comedy-thriller from the late Sixties, it usually involves one of three things. One: Doris Day in an out-of-control helicopter whose pilot has just been shot, the thought of which terrifies this fear-of-heights sufferer.Two: the unsettling sight of Michael J. Pollard, soon to appear in BONNIE AND CLYDE, with his hand venturing up Doris Day’s leg. Three: Ray Walston in drag. 

“Cary Grant or Rock Hudson maybe,” I say to myself, “but Michael J. Pollard?”

(An Aside: You’ll find so-called “spoilers” in this piece. My reasoning is that, some fifty years after its premiere, anyone interested in CAPRICE is unlikely to be concerned with plot.)

You could say that CAPRICE has an autumnal feel, in that it’s the next-to-last film to be shot in Cinemascope and the third-from-last theatrical film to feature Doris Day. Soon, for Day, it would be strictly television. But that doesn’t fit, ’cause the palette on display in CAPRICE is determinedly bright. Day’s Ray Aghayan wardrobe pretty much never varies from white or red or buttercup yellow, and to go with that there’s music by Robert Aldrich’s pet composer De Vol. (“Smile when you say that name, stranger.”

Yet this is, nevertheless, a spy story, and therein lies the balance. Day plays an industrial spy for one, if not two, rival cosmetics firms.  “The spy who came in from the cold — cream,” she calls herself at one point. The story’s shifting alliances fit in with a mid-’60s John Le Carre world-view, for all the emphasis on comedy and the fact that a man is asked to remove his trousers within the film’s first six minutes. Does Day work for Edward Mulhare, an industrial toff with his own private jet, or rival honcho Jack Kruschen? Answer: What time is it? There’s a Wham! Slam! Ka-Boom! triple-cross in the final reel. There’s also, lest we forget, Ray Walston in washerwoman drag looking mean as he holds a gun.

Nor should we forget that the romantic interest, Richard Harris as an industrial spy and/or Interpol agent who also does Olivier and Richard Burton imitations, jabs Day early on with a non-consensual hypo full of Sodium Pentothal. A tad “rapey,” you say? Perhaps the vigilant will be glad to learn that the last reel’s “romantic” fade-out has Day giving Harris his own non-consensual Sodium Pentothal jab, intoning to him about “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

Much of CAPRICE is “funny odd” rather than “funny ha-ha.” It’s also highly self-conscious, Ouroboros-like in willingness to comment upon itself like a snake devouring its own tail. Not a surprise, in that other Tashlin-directed films include a poodle named Shamroy (after CAPRICE cinematographer Leon Shamroy) and name-checking of star Jayne Mansfield’s non-Tashlin films. But this one has a BATMAN-like chase running past a television that’s playing BATMAN, Day tailing Irene Tsu (who plays Walston’s secretary) to a theater where the fare is CAPRICE with Doris Day and Richard Harris — that’s where the Pollard scene happens — and the revelation that a supposedly inaccessible parlay is being filmed when we see the film’s image running out. Is it unexpected, given the presence of Shanghai-born Tsu, that the movie encounter happens in the Cathay theater? Or that half of a nearby couple attempting a li’l movie-house grope is Barbara Feldon of the spy comedy series GET SMART? 

CAPRICE was not popular.  The NY Times’ Bosley Crowther dismissed it, saying that “nutty clothes and acrobatics cannot conceal the fact that [Day] is no longer a boy.” As if anyone ever mistook Day for a boy! Or went to Day when looking for one!

I think the problem, rather, is that CAPRICE — like its central performer — is all too strenuously perky. Sorta like the protagonist of that John Cheever story, the one who insists on lining up chairs at parties and jumping over them like hurdles … long after his athletic prowess is a thing of the past.  See television adaptations involving Gary Merrill and, later, Michael Murphy. 

Like that out-of-control helicopter, CAPRICE has the capacity to be scary.  Then, too, like what happens to the helicopter, CAPRICE settles for cute and “endearing” plot solutions. Alas.

Euphoria #14

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2008 by dcairns

Edinburgh College of Art graduate, my contemporary, Noo Yawk cartoonist and regular reader Simon Fraser nominates this extract of heart-thumping joy from Frank Perry’s unique John Cheever 1968 adaptation, THE SWIMMER.

“I’m not sure, but I think there’s a scene in ‘The Swimmer’ with Burt
Lancaster, when he races a horse on foot. Now that’s a man enjoying
being alive. Burt was good at being alive.”

Is true. And he was a fine figure of a fellow at fifty-five!

Burt always moved well. His experience as an acrobat informs his acting, and he trusted in the physical. I love that story of John Frankenheimer giving him a long, involved psychological piece of direction, and Burt saying “Ah, what the hell, I’ll just give it the grin.”

Apart from his acrobatics, in his early days Burt also worked as a clerk in a department store, selling lingerie. I bet he shifted a lot of pants.


Cinematographer David Quaid doesn’t seem to have shot very much. I have his other main film, made the same year as this: PRETTY POISON. That must have been a good year. I love all the sixties glamour stuff he does in this film, with diffusion, starburst filters, the full panoply of Sunday Supplement gloss, done without a trace of irony. Stunningly beautiful — I sort of feel that the more late 60s US films tried to be modern, the more old-fashioned they appeared — but I don’t necessarily condemn them for it. It’s a lovely effect at times, as in this film, which is very moving and packed with incredible actresses too.

I wonder what the effect would be if somebody put together a Frank Perry retrospective (maybe it’s already happened). He made quite a few distinguished films which, individually, have had plenty written about them, but I don’t get the impression he’s been studied much as an auteur. I have a tape Perry’s last film, ON THE BRIDGE, an autobiographical documentary about his fight against cancer, which I copied from the Lindsay Anderson Collection — one of these days, when I’m feeling sturdy enough, I must watch it.


Oh, apparently Sidney Pollack did some uncredited directing on this, but I don’t know what the story behind that is. However, I’ve been meaning to post some pretty frame grabs from what is actually both Lancaster and Pollack’s next film: CASTLE KEEP. I’m not sure it’s any kind of great movie, but it has some stunning images, decorated with some of the same lovely ‘sixties tics as THE SWIMMER.