Archive for Lionel Stander

They Go Boom #1

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2018 by dcairns

Friday night turned out to be a Vilmos Zsigmond double feature* — I’d bought a second-hand disc of Spielberg’s 1941 and showed Fiona the end credits because I remembered them being funny — she not only laughed at the entire cast screaming as their credits come up —— but at every single one of the random explosions punctuating the end titles. Then she demanded we watch the film. “What else did you buy it for?” Hoist by my own petard! Well, the trouble with certain unsuccessful comedies is not so much that the laughs aren’t there, but that the irritation is. As Spielberg himself diagnosed the problem, the film is just too LOUD. He realised he was in trouble in the edit and hoped John Williams’ score would bail him out, “…but then I realised John was overdoing his score to match my over-direction of Zemeckis & Gale’s over-written script.” In tightening the film to try to save the audience from exhaustion, he took out or compressed quieter character moments, according to co-star Dan Aykroyd, hyping up the intensity even more.

The best bit — whether it makes you laugh or not, it’s spectacularly impressive as a piece of choreography — camera movement as well as people movement.

Spielberg’s favourite comedy is, apparently, IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (“One mad too many”) — which is another way of saying he should never have attempted to direct a comedy. Amid the shouting, the actors who make a good impression and even get laughs are those who take their time and underplay — Lionel Stander and Robert Stack. Aykroyd does his patented fast-talking schtick (he would have gone down great in the thirties), Belushi is a cartoon, and the cast is rounded out with members of the Wild Bunch, the Seven Samurai, and Christopher Lee and Sam Fuller. Nominal hero Bobby DeCiccio is an incredible dancer/stunt artist and I’d like to have seen him do more physical comedy.It’s gloves-off time for Spielberg — he lets his obnoxious, bratty side out, though he did modulate the script to reduce some of the real unpleasantness. Our hero no longer nukes Hiroshima. But there’s a rapey villain — played with gusto by Treat Williams — a real Zemeckis/Gale trope — see BACK TO THE FUTURE — and lots of racial “humour” — I don’t need to see Toshiro Mifune saying “Rots of ruck,” thank you. But I kind of liked that the Americans destroy a lot of their own property but DON’T sink the Japanese sub. No Japs were harmed during the making of this picture. The race jokes are bold, especially viewed with modern sensibilities, but I’m not sure the movie really knows what it’s trying to say with them. Equal-opportunities offense only really works when you have equal opportunities elsewhere.

Spielberg asked Chuck Jones for advice, and the advice was, “Don’t do it.” Jones said you need to have at least one non-crazy character or it won’t work — he cited BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI for the James Donald character — “Madness! Madness!” But 1941 does have quite a few non-mad characters. DiCiccio and Dianne Kay are more generic than eccentric — but the movie never gives us a reason to care about them. They don’t care about anyone else. Example: in the wake of the seriously impressive night-club riot, Kay thinks she’s found DiCiccio — she lifts his head, but it’s just a random sailor, so she drops his head with a thunk and moves on. Moderately funny, perhaps, except we’ve seen it too often in movies, and it’s done cold-bloodedly (OK, maybe distractedly — but if she’s not paying attention to the wounded man, she’s still cold-blooded) and it hurts her character, so it wasn’t worth doing. All the characters we’re supposed to like are stupid or obnoxious much of the time in this movie.Slim Pickens’ character is dumped at sea, last heard screaming “Which way is the coast?” They KILLED him? I really needed a shot of him trudging out of the Pacific surf in his sodden onesie, and that’s not something I say about every film.

Good old Vilmos’s William Fraker’s cinematography is beautiful, but it’s a big part of the problem — combine the 70s’ approach to period, which is tons of diffusion, fog filters as thick as Warren Oates’ glasses, with Spielberg’s love of backlighting, smoke and Fuller’s Earth, and it becomes a little hard to read the action. Forcing the viewer to strain cancels out a huge amount of the comedy and adds to the headache effect with all the screaming and explosions. I think it’s a bit too misty even if it were an Indiana Jones picture. (To shoot RAIDERS, Spielberg gets Douglas Slocombe, who can do atmospherics but who also likes things clean and crisp unless there’s a good reason otherwise. Spielberg enters the 80s leaving behind that 70s period look.

Amazing miniatures work. Only the fairground ever looks like a model, for some reason. The Death Star assault on LA looks amazing. Callback to JAWS is a little laboured. Foreshadowing of JURASSIC PARK is funnier now, though.Oh, it was also a Nancy Allen double bill… In 1941, Nancy plays a woman with a sexual fetish for warplanes — an extrapolation of Carole Lombard and Robert Stack’s business in TO BE OR NOT TO BE, possibly. If we look for traces of autobiography in Spielberg’s work, then we have to say that the character with a fetish for WWII warplanes is HIM — see also the planes in the desert in CE3K, his WWII episode of Amazing Stories, the flying wing fight in RAIDERS, the flyboy antics of ALWAYS, and the rather extraordinary sequence in EMPIRE OF THE SUN where Christian Bayle spies on a sex scene during an air raid. Spielberg is more Ballardian than you’d think.

Meanwhile one couple end up screwing in a tar pit and Treat Williams is last seen being molested while covered in raw egg. Biological sex is messy. Mech sex is clean. Clean like fire. Once we can all upload ourselves into the Oasis, everything will be great.

*Actually, no.

Teh Gay Deceit

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2009 by dcairns

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William Wyler’s THE GAY DECEIT stars Frances Dee and Francis Lederer, who, as regular Shadowplayer David Wingrove puts it, looks “quite capable of a gay deceit.”

Wyler’s name is not commonly associated with humour, with the unutterably charming ROMAN HOLIDAY being the only really well-known comedy among his many celebrated films, but he did direct Preston Sturges’s script of THE GOOD FAIRY, probably the best example of Sturges writing for another director outside of Mitchell Leisen’s unbeatable EASY LIVING and REMEMBER THE NIGHT. Plus FRIENDLY PERSUASION has some good stuff with a duck.

But Wyler is not only an incisive director of emotional dramas (and don’t listen to anybody who accuses him of Strained Seriousness or any such alliterative allusion, at least without checking for yourself), he’s a good all-rounder. THE GAY DECEIT is pretty enjoyable from start to finish, although if anything it could probably do with more of a dramatic spine to hang the silliness on. Frances Dee is sweet and appealing and pretty good at physical comedy (nothing knockabout, just a bit of running and faffing around) and Lederer’s light comedy playing is delightful enough to make you almost completely forget that he once played Jack the Ripper.

The real pleasure, though, is in the supporting cast. If the posh hotel setting reminds us of the Hotel Louis in EASY LIVING, Luis Alberini, who played Louis Louis of the Hotel Louis, is on hand to cement the connection. And two actors who later played interchangeable comedy foreigners for Sturges in separate films, here play interchangeable comedy foreigners in the same film: Akim Tamiroff and Lionel Stander.

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Best of all is Lennox Pawle (centre), whom I’d never encountered before. Marvellous. He sounds like a duck being strangled at the wrong speed. And that face! Like an unfinished sculpture of a dyspeptic baby carved from an ice cream brick.

Alas, movies had just begun to talk in the later years of this fine comic’s life, so we never got to see him in a Sturges film. What an enjoyable man.

Quote of the Day: Miss Lonelyhearts

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on April 15, 2008 by dcairns

The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (are-you-in-trouble? — Do-you-need-advice? — Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. On it a prayer had been printed by Shrike, the feature editor.

“Soul of Miss L, glorify me.

Body of Miss L, nourish me

Blood of Miss L, intoxicate me.

Tears of Miss L, wash me.

Oh good Miss L, excuse my plea,

And hide me in your heart,

And defend me from mine enemies.

Help me, Miss L, help me, help me.

In saecula saeculorum. Amen.”

Although the deadline was less than a quarter of an hour away, he was still working on his leader. He had gone as far as: “Life is worth while, for it is full of dreams and peace, gentleness and ecstasy, and faith that burns like a clear white flame on a grim dark altar.” But he found it impossible to continue. The letters were no longer funny. He could not go on finding the same joke funny thirty times a day for months  on end. And on most days he received more than thirty letters, all of them alike, stamped from the dough of suffering with a heart-shaped cookie knife.

~ from Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West.

Miss L

I love that Rod Serling leap into the metaphor zone at the end there — purple and fully extended.  

Images from THE LOVED ONE and REAR WINDOW.