Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989, Arthur Penn)

I really wish I knew what Arthur Penn was doing directing (and producing) this film. I suppose it’s a follow-up of sorts to Alice’s Restaurant or something. Penn did some great stuff in the 1970s, so seeing him doing a fill-in job (anyone could have directed this film) is kind of strange. Maybe he really likes Penn and Teller or something.

Besides the oddity of Penn directing it, the film’s really got nothing going for it. Turns out Teller’s a good actor. Penn (Jillette, not Arthur) appears not to be, but the film’s paced so you can’t really tell. Caitlin Clarke spends the film doing one bad accent or another and the film never quite can make you believe she’s Penn’s girlfriend. The film showcases a few of their tricks and loosely continues through different tricks, ones either Penn or Teller are playing on the other. After the movie gets going on its path–Penn invites people to kill him and a crazed fan takes the challenge–things go from being mildly amusing to tedious. The film’s from 1989, so maybe it was relying on the viewer being unfamiliar with Penn and Teller beyond late night appearances.

There’s one really annoying black and white sequence, which goes on forever, and some long, drawn-out ominous chase scenes. There are funny ideas throughout, but they’re rarely successfully executed. Arthur Penn didn’t direct any other comedies and it shows. The film has a forced quirkiness about it and only finds its footing in the last moments–if the movie had started with the last scene (not in terms of framing, but tone establishing), it probably would have turned out a lot better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Arthur Penn; written by Penn Jillette and Teller; director of photography, Jan Weincke; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by Paul Chihara; production designer, John Arnone; released by Lorimar Film Entertainment.

Starring Penn Jillette (Penn), Teller (Teller), Caitlin Clarke (Carlotta), David Patrick Kelly (Fan), Leonardo Cimino (Ernesto) and Celia McGuire (Officer McNamara).


Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1988, Bob Ellis)

Tedious. Tedious is a good word for Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train. The polite way of saying tedious is deliberate–as in, the filmmakers very surely lay it out, taking their time and making sure they get it right. After fifty minutes of Warm Nights–it’s a ninety-minute film–I finally realized what was so damn tedious about it. Until an hour in, the whole thing is a first act. The film immediately introduces its protagonist, a teacher (played by Wendy Hughes) who moonlights on weekends as a hooker on a train, and proceeds to show us her experiences with three johns. Interspersed are scenes of her life as a teacher (brief, like thirty second scenes) and a little bit of her taking care of her disabled brother. But there’s nothing in terms of character development–she tells each john a different lie and those short scenes of her “real” life are mostly in summary, not detail.

The dramatic vehicle–the event to get the story started–happens around minute fifty, when she finally talks to Colin Friels’s mysterious man on the train. For most of the film, Hughes’s male costars look like they’re out of a 1970s Atlantic City casino–so when Friels, even if he is sporting an iffy South African accent, looks real good. Except the film doesn’t get going then. It continues on at its awkward pace and, knowing the running time, I kept trying to figure what, if anything, could happen with twenty-six minutes remaining or whatever. Well, the solution is simple–if you’ve got a forty-five minute first act in a ninety minute film, just skip a second act and go straight to the third. First and third, with a snap of the fingers.

The film isn’t frustrating to watch and it’s not quite boring, because it’s well-acted, well-written, and well-made, but there’s nothing going on. Hughes’s performance is fantastic, but it’s fantastic in the film as a whole–she’s not an actor who does a really good scene here and there, it’s the development–in the tedious film. Even when the film introduces a sense of danger, it doesn’t move any faster. Everything comes together at the end–and it’s never bad enough to stop watching in the opening half–but if you aren’t alert at the end, you might miss the whole thing.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Ellis; written by Ellis and Denny Lawrence; director of photography, Yuri Sokol; edited by Tim Lewis; music by Peter Sullivan; production designer, Tracy Watt; produced by Ross Dimsey and Patric Juillet; released by Western Pacific Films.

Starring Wendy Hughes (The Girl), Colin Friels (The Man), Norman Kaye (The Salesman), John Clayton (The Football Coach), Rod Zuanic (The Young Soldier), Lewis Fitz-Gerald (Brian), Steve J. Spears (The Singer), Grant Tilly (The Politican) and Peter Whitford (The Steward).


Flags of Our Fathers (2006, Clint Eastwood)

When my friend saw Flags of Our Fathers and I asked him about it, he described it–I’m paraphrasing–as an unexciting four. Seeing it, I can fully understand. It’s a great film, but its greatness is somewhat inevitable and uninteresting. Clint’s way too good of a filmmaker at this point to turn in something less, especially given the content. However, the content, specifically Clint’s fluctuating interest in it, is what makes Flags so unexceptional, so unexciting. Flags is based on a guy’s book investigating his father and the other flag-raisers at Iwo Jima. While the film does establish itself with a present-day frame, it isn’t specified its this author investigating. Away from Iwo Jima, Clint’s most interested in Adam Beach’s character, an alcoholic American Indian who’s touring as a hero but can’t get served in bars. Beach’s character is the most like an Eastwood character in Flags. At one moment, after the book-writing frame became clear and Flags felt a lot like The Bridges of Madison County, only without Clint’s full commitment to the frame, Beach seemed a lot like Clint in that film.

Even though Beach has Clint and the film’s interest for the war bonds campaign (after the photo got popular, the surviving subjects toured to sell war bonds), Ryan Phillippe gets the most emphasis on Iwo Jima. Watching Phillippe act and do it well, I felt validated–back in 1998, I said he was going to be good (after watching Playing by Heart) and it only took him seven years. The Iwo Jima sections of the film are short and involve a lot of CG and watching Clint handle it is interesting. He uses the CG like a rear projection, making Flags of Our Fathers‘s battle scenes look a lot like a modern 1940s war film. He pulls it off well, because it’s interesting to look at, while not being visually stunning. Still, I think there was a whole story of the characters on Iwo Jima, just because the castings so good–Barry Pepper, Neal McDonough and Robert Patrick are all great in small roles (Pepper especially), but the greatest surprise of Flags, performance-wise, has to be Paul Walker. Sure, he’s only got ten lines and he’s in the film for two and a half minutes, but he’s really good.

The third main character, played by Jesse Bradford, somehow gets more time than Phillippe, but has the least to do. The film only hints at the relationship between the three men, but never explores it, probably through some kind of misguided sense of historical accuracy. I’m kidding (to some degree), but it’s obvious there’s something holding Clint back here and it’s probably the source material and its presentation. Clint’s made an excellent film, but there’s something missing, some awareness of itself and the different ways it moves, since it does have three concurrently running narratives. It might even be three films, or at least two since Bridges managed to beautifully incorporate its two narratives.

It’s a powerful film and a complete experience, but it’s like ordering dinner at a great restaurant, a restaurant you know is going to be excellent. The food’s great, but it doesn’t surprise you.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis, based on the book by James Bradley with Ron Powers; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox; music by Eastwood; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Ryan Phillippe (John Bradley), Jesse Bradford (Rene Gagnon), Adam Beach (Ira Hayes), John Benjamin Hickey (Keyes Beech), John Slattery (Bud Gurber), Barry Pepper (Mike Strank), Jamie Bell (Ralph Ignatowski), Paul Walker (Hank Hansen) and Robert Patrick (Col. Chandler Johnson).


Quick Change (1990, Howard Franklin and Bill Murray)

Having seen Bill Murray capital-a act for so long–it’s been ten years now, hasn’t it?–seeing him do Quick Change is a little disconcerting. At times, he’s so mellow, he almost isn’t there. I’ve seen Quick Change five or six times–the first being in the theater at the age of eleven–so I can’t remember if there are any surprises in it. The first act (if Quick Change has acts) hinges on a surprise for the characters, but I can’t tell if the audience is supposed to be fooled. I doubt it. It plays too close to the middle though, allowing for either read, when one or the other would firm Quick Change up a little.

Following the initial bank robbery sequence, which is excellent, mostly because Bob Elliot is so funny–when Bill Murray’s in the clown make-up, he comes his closest to that capital-a acting he likes so much nowadays–Quick Change devolves into a sequences of vignettes with shitty New Yorkers. It’s kind of like After Hours, kind of not (it’s obvious the film’s makers are aware of After Hours though, because Quick Change lifts a comedy beat–I can’t remember where–directly from that film). These vignettes are amusing, occasionally funny, and well acted. Except, at the same time, there’s the side-story with Jason Robards as the police chief on the robbers’ tail, and the romance between Bill Murray and Geena Davis. Davis is fine in most of the film, but during the romance scenes, she’s not and Murray’s better in those scenes than most of the others. Maybe because her character reacts so ludicrously to everything. Quick Change establishes a side reality for itself–one where situations prime for sardonic comment present continuously themselves–so it’s hard to take Davis’s character’s concerns seriously.

Randy Quaid is funny as the third robber, being the center of the film’s funniest sequence (along with Tony Shalhoub), but he really doesn’t do anything in the film except wait around to either say something stupid or do something stupid. The supporting cast is perfect, with Stanley Tucci and Kurtwood Smith standing out… but there’s something missing. Bill Murray and Howard Franklin’s direction is somehow funnier than Murray’s performance, which is an uncommon equation. The film’s a pleasant, occasionally really funny ninety minutes–but its slightness really cuts it down.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Franklin and Bill Murray; screenplay by Franklin, based on the book by Jay Cronley; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by Alan Heim; music by Randy Edelman; produced by Robert Greenhut and Murray; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bill Murray (Grimm), Geena Davis (Phyllis), Randy Quaid (Loomis), Jason Robards (Rotzinger), Bob Elliot (Bank Guard), Philip Bosco (Bus Driver), Phil Hartman (Hal Edison), Kathryn Goody (Mrs. Edison), Tony Shalhoub (Cab Driver), Stanley Tucci (Johnny), Victor Argo (Skelton), Gary Howard Klar (Mario), Kurtwood Smith (Russ Crane), Susannah Bianci (Mrs. Russ Crane) and Jamey Sheridan (Mugger).


Mickey One (1965, Arthur Penn)

Mickey One is what happens when you mix an American attempt at French New Wave and a director (Arthur Penn) experienced in television directing. Arthur Penn did eventually shed those old TV trappings, but certainly not at this point in his career. He’s got lots of shots in Mickey One–its editing is so frantic and the camera angles, while mostly familiar TV ones, never return once cut from–and it actually reminds of a Michael Bay movie. Really.

The story is intentionally complicated (that French New Wave attempt), with Warren Beatty maybe on the run from the mob and maybe not. Beatty’s a stand-up comic of the Hennie Youngman variety and Beatty’s terrible at delivering the jokes. The role requires something Beatty can’t bring to it, some depth, while all his inflictions are the same (except when he’s trying an accent, which are some painful moments).

The film’s interesting mostly because I kept waiting for something tricky to happen. After a while, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge becomes a serious possibility. The film’s intentionally absurd, intentionally nonsensical, but it isn’t done in any sort of admirable way. There’s a bunch of fluff, swirling and mixing, and there’s nothing underneath. It runs short, around ninety-two minutes, and it really moves–because it doesn’t have scenes for the most part, just the ends of them, another pointless stylistic choice. It is an incredibly different film, but it’s also an example of when being different isn’t the same as being good. That observation made, it’s a passable way to spend ninety minutes, just a shockingly empty film from Arthur Penn, whose great works are usually 20,000 fathoms deep.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Arthur Penn; written by Alan M. Surgal; director of photography, Ghislan Cloquet; edited by Aram Avakian; music by Eddie Sauter; production designer, George Jenkins; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Warren Beatty (The Comic), Alexandra Stewart (Jenny), Hurd Hatfield (Castle), Franchot Tone (Rudy Lopp), Teddy Hart (Berson), Jeff Corey (Fryer) and Fujiwara Kamatari (The Artist).


Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970, Elio Petri)

I can’t remember–if I ever have–seeing a film where the main character goes through more changes than in Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. Actually, he doesn’t change, but the truth keeps getting more and more revealed to the viewer, making him more and more different. First he’s a smart bad guy, then he’s a dumb bad guy, then he’s a sad guy, then he’s a scared guy, then he’s a bad guy. Or something along those lines. Gian Maria Volontè handles the role well (except the scared guy parts) because he’s playing it for laughs.

The movie opens with him and Ennio Morricone music and the music’s goofy and immediately sets up Investigation as something not to be taken too seriously. As something not to be taken seriously, it’d work too, but that approach doesn’t last long. Pretty soon, it becomes clear this bad guy–he’s a tyrannical, fascist police captain going after political demonstrators (sort of)–is supposed to be representative of that sort of mindset. He’s got a great speech in the movie, railing against freedom, but it’s also the scene where I realized he’s a cartoon. Except… then he becomes sad guy, emotionally stunted and hurt by a unfeeling woman.

Stylistically, the movie’s all over the place. There are constant flashbacks and fantasies and some of these scenes don’t have the most graceful transitions (or sensical). The director’s got an annoying abridging of scenes method, which occasionally makes it hard to discern what’s going on–like when the woman, who kicks off the titular investigation, dies. It’s never clear what happened because the director really liked that goofy Morricone music.

Movielens gave Investigation an incredibly high prediction so I went into it expecting something really good. Instead, it was a goofy, forgettable film. But never boring, which was nice.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Elio Petri; written by Ugo Pirro and Petri; director of photography, Luigi Kuveiller; edited by Ruggero Mastroianni; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Romano Cardarelli; produced by Daniele Senatore and Marina Cicogna; released by Vera Films.

Starring Gian Maria Volonte (The Police Inspector), Florinda Bolkan (Augusta Terzi), Salvo Randone (The Plumber), Gianni Santuccio (The Police Commissioner), Arturo Dominici (Mangani), Orazio Oriando (Biglia), Sergio Tramonti (Antonio Pace), Massimo Foschi (Augusta’s Husband) and Aldo Rendine (Homicide Functionary).


Zeiram (1991, Amemiya Keita)

Zeiram is a Japanese low budget sci-fi action film. Except it also has a strong slapstick vibe and a real minimalist feel to it. While, visually, the budget might be responsible for some of that minimalism–certainly in concept–the film takes it even further. It’s fight scenes set to Philip Glass, which one needs to see to believe. Whether one goes for that sort of thing or not is a whole different question (my fiancée, for example, did not go for it).

Like many low budget sci-fi films, Zeiram knows how to spend its money. The story’s set in a “zone,” which is just a duplicate of a section of the city, just without people (i.e. paid actors), save the leads. This zone can go from day to night, all depending on when the hero shoots the ceiling with a flare. She only does it a few times, and once to turn it off, so they mustn’t have gotten much filming done during the day. Especially not in exteriors of empty streets. While the low budget nature of the narrative occasionally becomes a little too apparent, for the most part it’s natural and unforced. Occasionally, particularly toward the end, when there’s a lot of stop motion (good work and well-composited), there are these incredibly tight shots and you can just tell they can’t shoot an inch right or left because there are adjoining sets or something.

The direction, by Amemiya Keita, is either deliberately constrained to fit into that minimalist motif or he’s just boring. I’m pretty sure it’s the first, because the latter wouldn’t explain for the music, which would have been done after he composed his shots. His direction of his actors is similarly lax. The comic relief characters, played by Ida Kunihiro and Hotaru Yukijiro, are both great. Hotaru is almost always funny, but Ida gets the great line about the scantily clad hero getting cold. This hero, played by Moriyama Yûko, runs lukewarm and cold. By the end of the film, Amemiya sort of assumes the audience is going to be involved, going to be buying it, so he gives up on any real sense. There wasn’t much sense, character-wise at the beginning, but there was some consistency. It goes, but it really doesn’t matter.

Zeiram reminded me a lot of Trancers, probably because of the budget, and it seemed like something USA used to play on “Up All Night.” There’s an old dubbed version, so maybe it was broadcast there. If you get into it, it’s a neat little cheap movie, with a lot more going on under the hood than it lets on.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Amemiya Keita; written by Amemiya and Matsumoto Hajime; director of photography, Kidokoro Hiroshi; music by Ohta Hirokazu; produced by Takeuchi Shigeki and Ichida Hiroshi; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Moriyama Yûko (Iria), Ida Kunihiro (Teppei), Hotaru Yukijiro (Kamiya), Handa Masakazu (Bob) and Yoshida Mizuho (Zeiram).


Many Rivers to Cross (1955, Roy Rowland)

If there’s some lost Frontier genre–not a Western, because there aren’t horses or cowboy hats–but a Frontier genre, with trappers and woods and… I don’t know, some other stuff, Many Rivers to Cross is probably not the ideal example of its potential. I realize now, mentioning it, Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans is probably the ideal. Regardless, Many Rivers to Cross is unfortunately not the ideal of much anything. Any film co-starring Alan Hale Jr. and Russell Johnson long before “Gilligan’s Island” ought to offer some comedic value along absurd lines, but this one doesn’t. Many Rivers to Cross is a comedy, however. It’s just not a funny one. Everything in the film–with the exception of a dying baby–is for a laugh. Given the story, with Eleanor Parker’s frontier-woman (the film is dedicated the frontier-women no less) chasing Robert Taylor’s bachelor trapper, it’s a lot like a Road Runner cartoon–except one with really offensive portrayals of American Indians.

The Indian thing bugged me a little bit because it was played so much for laughs. Hollywood had known since, what, 1939, playing Indians as villains was lame and Many Rivers is from 1955. It was so lame, the first mohawked Indian I saw, I thought it was all a joke, like Taylor had this Indian running cons with him or something. I was rather disappointed it turned out to be otherwise; not just because it would have been less offensive, but because it might have been interesting.

The movie’s short–ninety-five or so–and it’s split evenly in two parts. One part has Victor McLaglen as Parker’s father, the other part has Taylor mostly alone (though James Arness shows up for a bit). Both McLaglen and Arness are good. Both Parker and Taylor are good. The film’s just not any good. Without the Indian element, I’d call it inoffensive fare (and I doubt it was intended to be anything more). A programmer, actually–yep, it’s a programmer.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roy Rowland; screenplay by Harry Brown and Guy Trosper, from a story by Steve Frazee; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Ben Lewis; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; produced by Jack Cummings; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Bushrod Gentry), Eleanor Parker (Mary Stuart Cherne), Victor McLaglen (Cadmus Cherne), Jeff Richards (Fremont Cherne), Russ Tamblyn (Shields Cherne), James Arness (Esau Hamilton), Alan Hale Jr. (Luke Radford), John Hudson (Hugh Cherne), Sig Ruman (Spectacle Man) and Russell Johnson (Banks Cherne).


Dracula (1931, Tod Browning)

I never got Dracula. Even as a kid, I never watched it over and over, like I did the other Universal monster movies. When I went back and saw it in the late 1990s–after Ed Wood–Bela Lugosi’s performance horrified me. He makes funny faces and does Charles Atlas exercises for scary body language and woodenly says his lines. Apparently some blame Lugosi’s English-speaking skills on this performance (the lack thereof), but really, the line’s are just crap and hadn’t Lugosi been on stage in the play version? If so, he should have at least been responsible for inflection.

Regardless, while Lugosi is a major problem with Dracula, he’s hardly the one who breaks it. He might make silly faces, but the whole approach of the film is wrong. Dracula, more than any film I’ve seen, exists solely for the audience. These events aren’t happening to the characters in the film, rather they’re happening so the viewer can see them happen. Characters talk about each other when they’ve never met, nor is there any suggestion they’ve met, but the viewer has met both and so he or she is able to make some kind of connection. This example is indicative of Dracula’s narrative style and it isn’t–in itself–a bad thing. It just isn’t used to any effect. It’s pointless and a sign of some bad writing. The further signs of bad writing–when, for example, Van Helsing promises to deal with the vampiric Lucy–whose been feeding on small children–then does nothing… well, either a scene got cut or no one read the script before they started shooting. Further script problems include the comedy relief, which doesn’t really deserve to be mentioned. Some of the storytelling problems might stem from Dracula coming soon after the change to talkies, as it did have a silent version released at the time, and most of the film is actually silent. I wonder if the silent version, with intertitles, would be better.

The acting ranges from good to awful. Lugosi’s bad, so is leading man David Manners. Helen Chandler’s girl in distress isn’t always bad–when Chandler’s doing a scene with her friend, I almost thought I was wrong about Dracula, since the scene was so good and Chandler so likable (turned out I wasn’t)–but she does occasionally slip between her “British” accent and her native South Carolinian, which is distracting. Dwight Frye is good as Renfield. Only Edward Van Sloan–as Van Helsing–gives a really good performance, interpreting Van Helsing as a severe German, straight out of an Otto von Bismarck biopic. He even mimics some of Lugosi’s mannerisms, which almost sets up a juxtaposition, at least visually, but the story never catches on.

Even with all its defects, Dracula still manages to disappoint overall. The conclusion is hurried and nonsensical, not just leaving me wondering what’s going on in a broad sense, but also in an immediate one. Like, why Manners and Chandler are going up the huge staircase instead of leaving the creepy building? Perhaps it’s a metaphor for watching the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tod Browning; written by Hamilton Dean, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort, based on their play and the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Milton Carruth and Maurice Pivar; produced by Browning and Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Bela Lugosi (Count Dracula), Helen Chandler (Mina), David Manners (John Harker), Dwight Frye (Renfield), Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing), Herbert Bunston (Dr. Jack Seward), Frances Dade (Lucy Weston), Joan Standing (Briggs, a nurse) and Charles K. Gerrard (Martin).


Frankenstein: The True Story (1973, Jack Smight)

While Frankenstein: The True Story singularly credits Mary Shelley as source material, the actuality is a little more complicated. A Universal-produced TV mini-series, True Story actually mixes some of the Shelley (basically, the end in the Arctic and a brother for Frankenstein), with Universal’s 1930s films, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein (with a little of The Ghost of Frankenstein thrown in too). It also goes so far as to play Frankenstein as a bit of the patsy–he’s not particularly smart, just an assistant to a couple mad scientists. There’s also a serious homoerotic subtext to the film–first, Frankenstein rejects his fiancée for his mad scientist buddy, then becomes obsessed with the Creature’s physical beauty, rejecting it once it becomes ugly. The subtext disappears around the first hour mark, which is incidentally when Leonard Whiting, as Frankenstein, starts acting well. Until the point of betraying the Creature, he really doesn’t do anything but plead with his mad scientist friend to let him play too. However, once there’s some conflict, Whiting has something to work with, so much so, by the end, I was wishing True Story was a better story, just so Whiting’s acting wouldn’t be wasted.

There are a lot of good performances in True Story, but most of them follow the same pattern as Whiting’s. Slight in the first part, better and great in the rest. For example, Nicola Pagett was annoying as could be as Elizabeth (Frankenstein’s fiancée) in the beginning, but then she went from good to great in about twenty minutes. David McCallum as the first mad scientist is amusing, but nothing more. As the Creature, Michael Sarrazin is good once he starts getting ugly. When Frankenstein’s primping him around London (yes, True Story moves the setting to England for some ludicrous reason), Sarrazin looks like David Bowie glammed out. Once he gets ugly, he gets to show some emotion. Agnes Moorehead, unfortunately, gets stuck with this terrible housekeeper role with an awful accent. Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud both turn in small cameos (Richardson as the blind woodsman). Richardson’s terrible, but Gielgud’s great. However, whenever he’s onscreen, True Story belongs to James Mason. He’s playing this absurd, handless mad scientist (based on the one from Bride) but this time he’s got Chinese assistants and plans to takeover Europe. Mason realizes how crazy it is and he thoroughly enjoys it.

Unfortunately, True Story is a technical mess. The costumes seem to be intended to emphasis the men’s butts (given Whiting’s famous butt shot in Romeo and Juliet, I doubt it’s unintentional), while the set decoration looks like something out of the 1930s… at the latest. As True Story should be set in the late 1700s, I doubt I should recognize a chair as one I’ve sat in. Some of the sets are mildly interesting–like the lab–but once Mason’s pseudo-Chinese mysticism lab shows up, True Story‘s sets look like a farce. Jack Smight’s direction is, unsurprisingly, uninspired, but rarely bad.

For a mediocre three-hour film, True Story is actually pretty good. It moves fast and when it doesn’t have good performances, it has moments (the sets, the homoeroticism) to amuse the viewer in other ways. At times, in small ways, it comes close to being something special, particularly with Frankenstein and Elizabeth’s relationship, but more often than not, the writing stomps the life out of those moments.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Smight; screenplay by Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; director of photography, Arthur Ibbetson; edited by Richard Marden; music by Gil Melle; production designer, Wilfred Shingleton; produced by Hunt Stromberg Jr.; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring James Mason (Dr. Polidori), Leonard Whiting (Victor Frankenstein), David McCallum (Henry Clerval), Jane Seymour (Agatha), Nicola Pagett (Elizabeth), Michael Sarrazin (The Creature), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Blair), John Gielgud (the chief constable), Tom Baker (the sea captain) and Ralph Richardson (Mr. Lacey).


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