Archive for Rod Steiger

Gene Giannini Lives on his Back

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on January 29, 2015 by dcairns

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Spoiler alert! Rod Steiger as Gene Giannini lives (and dies) on his back in the late Francesco Rosi’s LUCKY LUCIANO.

Over at The Forgotten.

Hamfisted

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on September 11, 2014 by dcairns

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A still image can’t capture the precise quality of this shot, where the men are all clapping, big hands fluttering together, so you have the effect of a miniature city being hovered over by eschelons of lardy butterflies.

Francesco Rosi has been around all my life, but I only just got around to him. I saw SALVATORE GIULIANI, crisply restored, in Bologna, and then I ran my Masters of Cinema Blur-ray of HANDS ACROSS THE CITY. Both are sort of procedural stories, one a fact-based investigation into the life of a bandit/revolutionary, the other an exploration of corruption in the property development business in Naples. It’s natural that the blurb for HANDS should say it’s as exciting as a thriller, but it isn’t, exactly. Rosi doesn’t use leading characters, and his stories don’t hinge on imminent jeopardy — the real risk is the risk that political corruption will devour the democratic system from within, and the films are not so much dramas about the struggle to prevent this, as forensic examinations of the body politic and the various unpleasant processes running rampant within it.

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But in place of the kind of drive and tension a thriller can muster, Rosi uses intense, jampacked compositions — I like the shots that literalise the title in an arguably hamfisted but vigorous fashion — and fills the screen with bellowing whales in business suits. Rod Steiger plays the baddie, in a glass eyrie with a street map on one wall, a marble floor littered with flunkies and newspapers, and the diminutive city laid out outside the window looking like it’s an illustration of Steiger’s map rather than the other way around.

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The casting of Rod Steiger is welcome, even though he needs to be dubbed — everyone else is dubbed too, it’s an Italian film. An actor whose head looks like a baby’s fist made from wet clay, Steiger again brings the title into play whenever he appears. The film’s left-wing politician becomes a bit of a bore through always being right — plaster saint versus clay baby-fist — but as the story concludes, there really IS a kind of thriller quality to the resounding perorations. There ought to be films made like this now, about today’s issues (which are not so different) — intense visuals, passionate arguments, doughy men yelling at each other. The staples of entertainment! (The trouble with most political dramas like House of Cards is there’s politicking but no actual politics. It’s just Game of Thrones with expensive suits.)

The Man in the Satin Slippers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2014 by dcairns

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Title refers to one of WC Fields’ quaint terms for Death. “The Old Man in the Bright Nightgown” was another.

WC FIELDS AND ME (1976) is worthless as film history, although some facts and some possibly-true legends did wriggle their way into it, like germs… to judge from this film, you would think that Fields never made silents or shorts, that Gregory La Cava directed all his films (in reality, only two of his silents), that Chaplin was a major force in the 1930s. When the film does intersect with familiar stories, it leaves out the best lines. It’s also shapeless as drama, and burdened with a VO from Valerie Perrine (the co-dependents’ co-dependent, reprising her hapless girlfriend act from LENNY) which seems like an afterthought. But it has its good points too. Perrine is fine, but not around for the first half-hour. Rod Steiger as Fields is magnificent, in a typically full-on way. He has the difficult job of sustaining an impersonation while performing emotions we never saw Fields do on the screen, and he pulls that off admirably. “I don’t know who else they could possibly have got,”said Fiona. I offered up Charles Durning and Kenneth McMillan, but good luck getting the backing for one of THOSE biopics. I guess Field’s odd build — fat body and head, long thin legs and arms — would make him a natural for a skinny actor in a fat suit, but I still don’t know who you’d get.

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And you wouldn’t have thought that David Cassidy’s dad would be a natural choice to play John Barrymore, but he’s very good too.

Beautiful last scene — probably fictional — where a dying Fields, who can’t sleep except lulled by the sound of rain, smiles. Cus as he hears the patter of drops on the roof. CUT TO: Outside, where Perrine is playing a hosepipe over the slates. One of the movies’ most touching and strange acts of love.

OK, that’s not the last scene, we cut to Fields in a spotlight giving a monologue, drowned out by a Perrine VO that’s obviously been added at the last moment, presumably because something in the film was felt to be not working, or because they all hated Steiger so much they didn’t want to let him have the ending. So the last scene is a bloody mess.

(Some impressive credits: Robert Boyle, Edith Head, Henry Mancini, Albert Whitlock, and makeup effects god Stan Winston on schnozz duty.)

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Director Arthur Hiller is never going to be hip. A journeyman in an age that suddenly, unfairly expected artistic personality, he had probably a better career than he deserved, on the whole, but will not be particularly remembered. I would love to know how THE HOSPITAL got those lovely long take dolly shots, which are way better than anything else he ever achieved of a visual nature. I guess cinematographer Victor J. Kemper is the man — his credits cover an amazing range of ’70s stuff, from DOG DAY AFTERNOON and THE CANDIDATE to SLAP SHOT, MIKEY AND NICKY and THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE. Oh, and THE GAMBLER — a real good one. The grainier, grittier, uglier end of the spectrum, but now curiously a nostalgic look. Hollywood films will never be allowed to look that bad again.

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