Archive for Martin Ritt

Reversible Mayonnaise

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2021 by dcairns

PETE ‘N’ TILLIE, directed by Martin Ritt, scripted by Julius Epstein, from the novel Witch’s Milk by Peter de Vries, has some of the feeling of one of those Neil Simon films Walter Matthau made so many of but which Carol Burnett, his co-star here, somehow avoided. Even though it’s shot by John A. Alonso of CHINATOWN fame so the Frisco locations look nice. The material just doesn’t seem to permit any striking stylistic choices, unless we count the late Rene Auberjonois’ impersonation of Tillie’s gay best friend. Based on this and the casting of Michael Hordern as a “queer” in THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, I don’t think Ritt had highly developed gadar.

The main stylistic departure from reality lies in Matthau’s jokes about his job in “motivational research.” He describes this as a business of finding out what the public “is looking for in the way of an automatic contaminator or an aftershave mint.”

Burnett barely smiles. “Anything else?”

Deadpan: “Well, we’ve just completed a survey for a dietetic shampoo and are now helping to launch a reversible mayonnaise.”

Burnett remains equally deadpan.

“Maybe you could help us out,” continues WM, “There’s a new men’s cologne that’s coming out, they’re looking for a name. I suggested ‘Armpit.'”

Not a titter. And I think these are GOOD JOKES. Does Tillie lack a sense of humour, does she just not relate to these particular jokes, is she really good at holding it in and doesn’t want to give Pete satisfaction of laughing at his quips (she has him pegged, not incorrectly, as a bit of a chauvinist lout)? If the couple-to-be don’t share a sense of humour, I wouldn’t have expected the relationship to last out the running time of this movie, which, spoiler alert, it at least comes close to doing.

Oh stylewise: to prove this is a proper movie, Alonso makes the car interiors seriously dark. Although the lighting suggests a fairly brilliant dashboard light. Gordon Willis would have just sat them in total darkness except when another car passes going the other way.

PETE ‘N’ TILLIE is pretty good — tragic bits, comic bits. Pete and his son play a prank on neighbour Henry Jones by secretly siphoning fuel into his gas tank to give him impossibly good mileage, which reminds me of the fantastic gag with the incredible expanding tortoise I may have told you about previously…

The Spy Who’s Coming Soon

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 3, 2021 by dcairns

Eyebrows raised — I have two projects finished/more-or-less finished at Arrow, and I can’t talk about what they are as they’re not announced, but now I have a project at Eureka! Masters of Cinema which we start editing this afternoon but which is already advertised — a video essay on THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD.

Lots of added value in this one — after making a feature doc, going back to simple video essays that are just me talking seems unsatisfying, so this one will feature location shots from three different countries (more if I can get them) guest voices (at least five) and whatever else we can dream up in the edit.

So that’s why you’ve been seeing a bit of Martin Ritt (pictured, with a shadowy Burton) on here.

The Big Fight

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , on February 25, 2021 by dcairns

THE GREAT WHITE HOPE alternates wildly between the source play — big scenes with action artificially compressed to fit, which is the whole art of the theatrical drama — and vast cinematic spectacle — Martin Ritt and his expert team seem determined to spend as much money as possible. It rarely quite finds a happy middle of actual filmic drama. But there are moments:

It’s held together by James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. Strong support too, but Jones is incredible.

Ritt himself advised against adapting plays for the screen: the playwright goes to the trouble of compressing all the action into a few rooms as possible, the filmmaker blasts the walls away and everything fades when the fresh air hits it, or else you get something like this where the “true story” claim, only halfheartedly made at the start (in a gag borrowed from BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: “Most of what follows is true”) gets undercut by all the furious contrivance devoted to lining up the balls for the Big Scenes, and then you get a huge set-piece in which hardly anything occurs. A bumpy ride. But worth taking.

THE GREAT WHITE HOPE stars Thulsa Doom; Bookkeeper; Rabbi Jacobs; Boston Blackie; Juror 12; Laureen Hobbs; Pruneface; Deep Throat; Mama Caleba; Booker T. Washington; Walter Winchell; Kemosabe; Rabbi Jacob; Superman; and Hong Kong Phooey.