Archive for Pamela TIffin

Spadework

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2019 by dcairns

Paul Newman’s two Lew Harper films — based on two of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer novels — are kind of like the square old Hollywood movies celebrated, or at any rate documented — in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Both have extremely gifted mod cinematographers, though: Conrad Hall shot HARPER in 1966 and Gordon “the Prince of Darkness” Willis shot its belated sequel THE DROWNING POOL in 1975. I double-billed them but I’ll mainly talk about the first one here.

Jack Smight, a truly square director but not untalented, allows or encourages or inspires Hall to pull off a few spectacular shots in HARPER (see top), perhaps aware that it’s just a reasonably good Raymond Chandler knock-off. As Donald Westlake complained, Ross MacDonald recycled the one about the rich, dysfunctional family until everyone was screaming at him to quit it for chrissakes — basically The Big Sleep ad nauseam, and here we have Lauren Bacall to remind us of past glories. So making the most of the widescreen and colour is essential to stop this from seeming like warmed-over stuff from an earlier decade — what’s harder is to stop it seeming like TV stuff. The down-at-heel, long-suffering private eye would be incarnated par excellence by James Garner in The Rockford Files who had a natural word-weariness Newman can’t match.

The first movie is quite diverting, with a spectacular comic turn from Shelley Winters (I felt bad about all the fat gibes in William Goldman’s script though) and very good work from Arthur Hill, Pamela Tiffin and a host of others. Strother Martin’s hillside cult temple is one of my favourite places I’ve ever seen in a movie. There’s a fight there between Newman and a hundred silent Mexicans (a short fight) which has a nice surreal vibe, like the multiple Agent Smiths in THE MATRIX.

Maybe the problem is that these stories never effect any change in the hero, making them more suited to series TV… though they used to work fine in the ‘forties. This one has too many corpses and complications, and Goldman’s misogyny gets grating, and I think sometimes Newman tries too hard to be “entertaining.” Here he is, reacting to the sight of Pamela Tiffin in a bikini:

Goldman writes about the film’s opening sequence in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade. He’d started his script, sensibly enough, with the private eye showing up to get briefed on his case. The studio called to say they needed some action to put under the credits. Well, what could he write that happens BEFORE the case?

In desperation, he scripted the early morning routine of his hero, and put in a gag about running out of coffee. Harper looks in his waste bin where there’s yesterday’s discarded coffee filter. Dare he recycle it?

He does. Closeup of Newman pulling disgusted face when he tastes the result. The audience laughs. It’s a nice gag — it humanizes the character, it’s gross but still relatable — it makes him a bit of an underdog. Down these mean streets a man must walk with a horrible taste of used coffee in his mouth.

What Goldman omits to mention is that, normally, opening a script with the hero getting up in the morning is a TERRIBLE idea, a huge cliche and a watse of the audience’s time. Don’t do it, he should be saying, especially as his book is a kind of screenwriting guide (written before there were a million of the things). It happens to work this one time.

The other bad thing is Newman thinking about whether to make terrible garbage coffee. It’s a classic Hitchcock set-up: show him looking, show what he’s looking at, and show him looking some more. We will do the thinking and project that onto the image. No acting required. You could remove the coffee grains and insert a shot of Pamela Tiffin or Robert Webber or the Serengeti plains and it would still work, if the angle was right.

But here’s what we get from Newman, the great method actor:

Boy, he’s thinking HARD, isn’t he? I bet if he thought that hard about the kidnapping case he has to solve the movie would only be twenty minutes long.

Newman is very affable generally and has that contradictory laid-back intensity that’s so useful in a star. It’s just that sometimes maybe somebody ought to sit on his head.

The ’68 Comeback Special: I Protagonisti

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2014 by dcairns

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While the Brits deluged Cannes ’68 with swinging psychedelic romps, the Italians seemed to specialize in genre films with political subtexts — certainly the late Carlo Lizzani (he took a header off his balcony, aged 91, shortly after I wrote an appreciation of his BANDITI A MILANO and commented approvingly on the longevity of his career) was fond of tying social commentary to thriller or western stories, and something similar seems to have animated Marcello Fondato, director and co-author (with the great Ennio Flaiano, Fellini’s regular writer up until EIGHT AND A HALF) when he made I PROTAGONISTI.

A group of tourists in Sardinia is invited, for a substantial fee, to drive into the wilderness and meet a real bandit. The thrill-starved modern civilized types can’t wait to pose for photographs with this exotic barbarian, so they pile into a car and take to the hills, followed without their knowledge by the local police commissar and a zealous division of troops, all hoping to take down the districts most wanted man, and more or less happy to use the dumb tourists as bait.

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All of this is curious enough, decently shot amid parched landscapes, and jauntily scored by Luis Bacalov, and with an attractive cast impersonating the unattractive, shallow characters, who might be more at home in a giallo, where they could get sliced to pieces for our amusement. Sylva Koscina and Pamela Tiffin provide female glamour, and Jean Sorel the male side. Lou Castel, the hunky bandit, is a man who would have had a busy Cannes if either of his two entries (this and GRAZIE, ZIA, previously reviewed in horror by Scout) had actually screened.

Fondato was one of several directors who had they debut feature scheduled to screen at Cannes — one does rather sympathise with those who protested that it was all very well for Godard and Truffaut to try to shut down the festival — they’d already had their careers launched. Fondato managed six more features, mostly comedies (classy affairs, featuring Claudia Cardinale, Monica Vitti and, er, Terence Hill & Bud Spencer).

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If I PROTAGONISTI isn’t ultimately as striking and impressive as it means to be, it’s perhaps because the shallow characters remain protagonists — they don’t implicate the audience, since we can feel comfortably superior to them at all times. Pam Tiffin plays an “independent woman” proud of relying on no man, but she’s borrowed the money from one of the others in order to make this trip. There’s sexual tension galore as all the men want to seduce both the women. Corrupt business practices are suggested in the background of one character. It doesn’t quite add up to a cross-section of the modern malaise, but you sense that’s the intention.

Still, the picture moves well, with typical Italian flare, and one set-piece, a headlong downhill foot chase, is both gripping and powerfully dynamic — the sheer unflagging momentum and duration have you wondering how much more intense can this possibly get, how much longer can it possibly go on?

Mysteries of the Organism

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on October 27, 2012 by dcairns

William Russell (Henry Fonda) sees his own initials in suntan form (lower left). Gore Vidal’s THE BEST MAN, directed by Franklin Schaffner. All the bikini girls look like Pamela Tiffin.

This is a good film to watch right about now (once you’re done with Halloween viewing, anyhow) since it deals with elections and personalities and smearing and such — I recommend. It has a sunny ending which Vidal probably never quite believed in: the bulk of the action suggests that political office in a democracy is denied to the worthy and proffered to the corrupt or mediocre…