Archive for Roddy McDowell

A Star is Burned

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2018 by dcairns

Inside Daisy Clover from David Cairns on Vimeo.

I’m extremely glad I never watched the pan-and-scan copy of INSIDE DAISY CLOVER I used to own, so I could appreciate the proper super-wide-screen version I have now acquired. That said, there’s only really one scene in it that really comes alive, but BOY does it come alive.

Producer Alan Pakula and director Robert Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) tackle Gavin Lambert’s novel (with the author himself adapting the screenplay), effectively a Judy Garland roman a clef, with a perfectly cast Natalie Wood as the waif-starlet abused by the system. There’s good, creepy work from Christopher Plummer as her studio boss (though no thirties studio boss was remotely as handsome — you were lucky if you got Darryl Zanuck, “he of the air-conditioned teeth,” as Orson Welles unkindly but accurately remarked) and Katharine Bard as his sinister sister wife. Ruth Gordon plays the crazy mama, a more benign figure than the monstrous stage mother in Natalie’s own life, and Roddy McDowell is rather wasted as a studio factotum.

Robert Redford is intriguingly cast as a dashing drunk, a Flynn/Barrymore composite who also turns out to be gay, something one can’t imagine Redford playing later. Since reading Peter Biskind’s gossip-fest book Down and Dirty Pictures, which characterises RR as, essentially, a passive-aggressive jerk, I can’t help see his characters as passive-aggressive, and it’s definitely a suitable filter for this one. Weird how an actor who’s been criticised for being bland and always playing sympathetic golden boys can be realigned as the movies’ biggest and best portrayer of arrogant jerks.

But the movie fails to catch fire. Wood is energetic and effecting as she always was, but the story’s progress is full of mysterious lacunae. Is it a problem that, in charting this aspirant screen goddess’s rise to fame and heartbreak, we never see her first day on set, meet her co-stars or directors, or see her actually notice her fame or meet her public? It might not have to be, if the lacunae were bridged by consistent narrative development. But Daisy is introduced as a girl who wants to sing, and then her singing drops out of the picture altogether. Sure, there are a couple of musical numbers staged by Herbert Ross, who, as his later PENNIES FROM HEAVEN shows, could certainly pastiche 30s style, but here seems to have been ordered to keep it vague as to period. Edith Head and team’s costumes likewise eschew anything smacking too strongly of the depression, and try to touch lightly on sixties styles. The movie’s planting its feet three decades apart makes for an uncomfortable pose.

It’ a strangely underpopulated film — giant studio barns, inside and out, a deserted boardwalk, a motel in a literal desert, a yacht at sea (always uncomfortable to see Natalie in such a setting, but Redford is there and he’s Mr. Boat) — scene after scene is stripped of extras and period detail, perhaps making a point about the loneliness of stardom, but not as vividly as showing the uncaring mob would.

Then comes the scene quoted above. Outstandingly edited by Aaron Stell, with a really creepy drone from André Previn on the soundtrack, and striking choices with sound editing that make the whole thing modernistically unsettling. There just weren’t Hollywood films evoking this kind of European unease at the time, or damn few: how many American directors really gave the impression they’d seen Godard, Fellini and Antonioni? Mulligan sure has.

I guess this is the pay-off to the character’s initial love of singing, the thing that makes her feel the world isn’t as crappy as it seems. Even that’s been taken from her. But there’s no real middle to that journey. Still, it gets a powerful ending.

The movie ends happily — either a cop-out or an act of mercy. Give Daisy the triumphant escape so few of her real-life counterparts achieved, why not? We also get perhaps cinema’s first instance of what is now a tiresome cliché, the Walking Away From An Explosion moment. Astonishing. Without Natalie Wood, no Wolverine.

The Dramatic Angle #1

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2010 by dcairns

Telly Savalas opens a door.

This lovely image is from the decidedly unlovely PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a retina-searingly tasteless serial killer campus sex comedy directed by Roger Vadim, written by Star Trek supremo Gene Roddenberry. Hollywood cinema in its post-code priapic male menopause mode. The Gene-Roddenberry-in-disguise character is a college guidance counsellor who’s slipping the salami to all the cheerleaders. He’s played by Rock Hudson, without apparent irony. Meanwhile, somebody (else?) is killing said cheerleaders, and pinning sarcastic notes to their corpse-panties. What all this says about Roddenberry, a notorious babe-hound, is hard to fathom, but I don’t find it encouraging.

Campuses, in the modern age, tend to be rather ugly structures, and this whole film is startlingly devoid of attractive locales, which is unusual for Vadim. At least there’s a panoply of female pulchritude (including Angie Dickinson and the celebrated Joy Bang), plus poor old Roddy McDowell (who seems to crop up in every misbegotten 70s atrocity I peruse). And Telly, who’s still in pre-lollipop mode. He smokes strangely, as if the cigarette were a lipstick. Later, following Mario Bava’s advice, he would successfully quit the coffin nails by finding something else to do with his hands, and hence the Kojak lollipop was acquired.

It’s not easy to account for the Savalas appeal, but it’s a very real thing. I always buck up when I see his name in the credits. When I see him in HORROR EXPRESS, playing a cossack, I dance a jig.

I seem to recall actor Dudley Sutton (Duke of Wuertemberg in Fellini’s CASANOVA, Tinker in Lovejoy) talking about meeting some nice woman who’d met Telly on holiday. He’d been charmed by her little daughter and kept talking about wanting to take the child home with him. The woman seemed delighted by this patter, whereas Dudley “– found this terrifying, because when I worked with him*, he was out of his mind on LSD the whole time.”**

*On A TOWN CALLED BASTARD, which Dud called “the crookedest film I was ever in.”

**More Dudley wisdom: “Now, the best films to be in for drugs were the Disney films…”

My City #1

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 1, 2009 by dcairns

Was mildly distressed to read the other day, on his fine blog, that the great Jonathan Rosenbaum was in Edinburgh recently and he didn’t look me up. And we’ve been getting on so well. But then I thought, maybe it’s my fault. Could it be I don’t mention Edinburgh often enough?

Here’s a nice gloomy skyline from Roddy McDowell’s extraordinary TAM LIN.