Archive for Steiger

Steiger, Steiger, Burning Bright…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2007 by dcairns


Whatever I may say, I love Rod Steiger. He definitely has his bad side, and I can’t help but appreciate Steiger put-downs, like this one from B. Kite, “It’s a very textured performance, and the texture is that of oily sweat on bad skin.” Or this, from actor Steven McNicoll: “He always looks  to me like he’s pushing one out,” (a delicate reference to the act of voiding the bowels).

And yet, and yet, I love him so.

As Paul Ross said (erroniously) of Hitchcock, “the best bit is always right next to the worst bit,” and I think maybe that’s true of Rod. In DOCTOR ZHIVAGO Rod has an unusual drunk scene, where over the course of several minutes of continuous screen time he has to get progressively plastered, starting from a point of complete sobriety. It’s a masterclass in method-acting, showy but undeniably impressive. Until the end, when, ejected from the flat by unlikely Russian Omar Sharif, he goes so far over the top he threatens to come out the other side, bawling, “You’re made from the same clay as the rest of us! Clay! CLAY! CLAAAAYYYY!!!!!”

Actually, maybe that one’s partly writer Robert Bolt’s fault.

Anyhow, I’ve been meaning to post the second Terry-Thomas anecdote about his experience co-starring with Big Rod in GLI EROI…

After the events of the first story, Rod had remarked, “I think that Englishman’s crazy…”

A few days later, both men were relaxing at the hotel pool on a day off, when Terry-Thomas happened to notice a young girl floundering in the deep end. Swimming away from her to where Rod sat at the edge of the pool, TT remarked, “I say, I think that girl needs rescuing.” Spotting his cue like a true pro, the Steigershark dived in and dragged the bathing beauty to safety.

Afterwards, Steiger: “But why didn’t you rescue her yourself?”

Terry-T: “Well, I mean… I was there, and so were you… I saw she was in a spot of bother… and you look like the sort of chap who enjoys rescuing people… and anyway, I didn’t feel like it!”

Steiger was later heard remarking, “Now I know that Englishman’s crazy!”

Make of it what you will.

Terry-Thomas IS Cinema.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 4, 2007 by dcairns
I say!

There’s a very entertaining and extraordinarily unrevealing autobiography by this man, which I once held in my hands. He’s Terry-Thomas, the archetypal English silly ass in scores of British and international comedies. his book was written late in his life, when he suffered very much from Parkinson’s Disease, which afflicted him with a debilitating tremor and a peculiar inability to walk through doorways, although he found that he could sometimes DANCE through them. 

Anyway, one chapter of the book is simply a collection of TT’s favourite jokes, which he offers to the reader for free since he reckons he has no further need of them. They are all very long and absolutely terrible.

But the filming anecdotes are superb, and two in particular, about Rod Steiger, stayed in my mind. They are funny, odd, and intensely cinematic: one can’t help but imagine them in terms of shots, or I can’t, anyway. Here’s one:

Rod Steiger always looks as if he’s defecating.

TT and RS were co-starring in some unimaginable Italian war epic/comedy, and Rod had a big death scene to do. This being Rod, we’re talking about a seriously BIG death scene. Terry-T watched in mild astonishment as Steiger, peppered with machine-gun fire, staggered about for a full minute, clasped his bosom, fell to one knee, turned his face to the sky, mouthed a silent prayer, winced, fell over, spasmed, reached out impotently to the heavens, then fell still.

At which point, before the awe-struck director could whisper “Cut,” Terry-Thomas wandered into shot with a mildly solicitous expression on his face. “I say, are you absolutely all right?”

I think we can all agree that if this fragmentary out-take survives, by some miracle, then it is worth more, in artistic terms, than the entire oevre of, say, Roberto Rossellini.

“I was appalled by that gap in his front teeth. This man seductive? But what he lacked physically he made up for in charm.” — Frank Tashlin, interviewed by Robert Benayoun.

I seem to recall that in one of Nancy Friday’s collections of women’s sexual fantasies, there’s one woman who had a particular erotic fascination with that toothy gap. So there you go.

More on Frank Tashlin soon!