Burt Lancaster

Run Silent Run Deep (1958, Robert Wise)

Run Silent Run Deep runs a little short. Just when the film has the most potential does it sort of shrug and finish up real quick. There’s a third act reveal and it’s a good one, but it’s not good enough the movie can end on it. Especially not after it’s just had such a strong second act.

Burt Lancaster has just had a big character development moment, there’s just been an awesome special effects sequence, it’s right when Run Silent Run Deep has its most potential. The film’s never bad, though it occasionally feels a little claustrophobic, narratively speaking, but it’s been on this “can’t believe no one calls him Ahab” arc with Clark Gable for about an hour. The second act shake-up comes at just the right moment and sets up a great third arc. And the third arc is not great. It’s perfunctory, inventively so, but perfunctory. The finale lacks any impact. The big action finale doesn’t have much action, certainly not of the level in the second act set piece; Lancaster’s arc ends up going nowhere. He really had just been support for Gable the whole time.

So, Run Deep takes place during World War II. It opens with sub commander Gable’s sub getting sunk; he survives, along with some other guys but not everyone. A year later, he’s pushing pencils and playing “Battleship” with new sidekick Jack Warden. All of a sudden Warden lets it slip three other ships have gone down just where Gable’s did. A man possessed he storms over to the brass, demands a ship, gets one, which pauses executive officer Lancaster’s promotion to captain. His captain… died on their previous mission? It doesn’t come up.

Once onboard it soon becomes clear Gable’s going to hunt down Japanese ship sinking all the U.S. submarines. Run Deep teaches the sound moral, “you’ve got to be willing to die to kill.” For a brief few minutes, the film’s about the inherent righteousness of Ahab-ing. Gable’s got Lancaster convinced—though Lancaster doesn’t want to admit it. The crew doesn’t get that perk of command, however, so they’re ready to mutiny.

Lancaster and Gable are great together because they don’t like one another but Gable’s exploiting Lancaster’s ability. It’s kind of awesome, even when it’s just to kill time with montage sequences. Run Deep impresses with its special effects. The other stuff? It doesn’t worry too much. The submarine set is fine; not great. The editing—supervised by George Boemler—is awesome. The editing makes Run Deep until that end of the second act uptick.

Gable’s good. Warden’s good. Lancaster’s almost great. He’s great for a while, then his character arc falls out from under him. Worse, the third act is set to be where Gable finally gets some great material and never does. It’s a bummer. It needs to go longer. And there are places where it could’ve, but it really could have used a better action set piece in the third act than the second. If the dramatics were stronger, it’d be fine. But the dramatics aren’t stronger.

Nice supporting cast, particularly Brad Dexter, Don Rickles (in a totally straight part), and Joe Maross.

Decent Franz Waxman score. Solid Russell Harlan photography. The composite shots don’t really impress but Harlan does fine with the submarine suspense stuff and it’s more important.

Wise’s direction is fine. He does really well with the action. He does better with the supporting cast than his stars, which is a problem. But there’s already that too short script. So fine.

But Run Silent Run Deep ought to be better than fine. It wastes Lancaster and Gable separately and it wastes them together.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by John Gay, based on the novel by Edward L. Beach; director of photography, Russell Harlan; editorial supervisor, George Boemler; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Harold Hecht; released by United Artists.

Starring Clark Gable (Cmdr. Richardson), Burt Lancaster (Lt. Bledsoe), Jack Warden (Yeoman 1st Class Mueller), Brad Dexter (Ens. Cartwright), Don Rickles (Quartermaster 1st Class Ruby), Nick Cravat (Russo), Mary LaRoche (Laura Richardson), and Joe Maross (Chief Kohler).



Seven Days in May (1964, John Frankenheimer)

Screenwriter Rod Serling really likes to employ monologues in Seven Days in May. John Frankenheimer likes to direct them too. And the actors like to give them. Because they’re good monologues. The monologues give all then actors fantastic material. Everyone except George Macready, who isn’t the right kind of scenery chewer for Seven Days. Maybe Ava Gardner, who gets the thankless role of being the only female character of note in the film; doubly thankless, given her part is of a fallen woman and her monologue is the weakest in the film, writing-wise. She’s at least good and effective, just shoe-horned in. Macready has a choice part and oozes too much through it.

There are a lot of actors in Seven Days, there are a lot of monologues. The only one not to get any monologues (well, within reason, given the size of the part) Kirk Douglas. For the first half of the film, he’s sort of bouncing between monologues as he has a conspiracy thriller discovery arc as well as a “why the heck are there so many facists in the Armed Forces” arc. Douglas works for Burt Lancaster, who’s the top dog general at the Pentagon. Lancaster gets some great monologues. Fredric March is the President of the United States, who’s just signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets. Lancaster thinks March is a weak sister. Douglas thinks the military should stay out of politics and, somewhat naively, believes it does. But he also doesn’t think fascists are okay, so when it seems like there’s something suspicious going on with an upcoming nuclear threat drill–Douglas goes to the White House and tells March there’s a conspiracy for a military coup of the United States.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? And it’s a success. Seven Days is great entertainment. It just ought to be a lot better.

When the film starts, it’s Frankenheimer showing off. There’s a fight scene. Protestors for and against nuclear peace. Shocker, all the people against are white males. They throw the first punch. Riot in front of the White House. Frankenheimer shoots it stark, documentary style. There’s some issues with the scale of it, but it’s still an effective sequence. It’s also the only time Frankenheimer does anything approaching vérité. So while it’s distinctive, it’s a rouse. Seven Days isn’t going to be vérité. Though there are occasional later hints, which never pan out.

But then it almost immediately becomes Douglas’s movie. For the first half of the picture, until he tries to seduce Gardner for information to take down Lancaster, Douglas is the protagonist. The movie’s about the conspiracy, sure, but it’s about how he’s reacting to his role working against his commanding officer. After the Gardner seduction, the movie reduces Douglas to a supporting role. It’s got no real lead, just March, Lancaster, Edmond O’Brien, and sort of Martin Balsam. Balsam’s the only other person in the main cast not to get a monologue. He and Douglas are doers. Everyone else is a talker, especially O’Brien, who’s a drunken Southern senator who chows down on every line, sweating profusely and spectacularly. It’s a thin role at times–O’Brien gets to talk the movie version of politics, which hurts everyone who has to expound on it eventually; not even Lancaster and March can make the third act work.

See, Seven Days is able to get away with its American exceptionalism but not warmongers movie politics because Serling and Frankenheimer never double down on them. The thriller aspect is bigger. There’s even a military sand-crawler chase sequence. For a while in the second act, right after the film drops Douglas down, it seems like it might get action-packed. Then it doesn’t. It goes through a series of false endings and hinges the whole thing on the movie politics and how well Serling can write monologues about them.

And he chokes a little. There are too many monologues in the third act and they’re all too long. Lancaster gets away with one too long monologue. Poor March gets two.

Acting-wise, almost everyone’s fantastic. Not Macready. Andrew Duggan’s got a great small part. Lancaster’s great, March is great, Douglas is great. The problem is Serling’s switch from specific protagonist–Douglas–to a general one witnessing the events, which ends up being March most often. Serling fumbles that switch in perspective, but he and Frankenheimer keep the narrative distance about the same. So it’s not successful, but far from a failure.

Gardner’s good. The part’s crap. Even in the context of the story, the part’s crap–she’s Lancaster’s former now drunk mistress, who Douglas exploits for information. She’s got like three scenes, interacting with no one but Douglas. Again, shoe-horned in. Still, she makes the part work. It’s just she and Douglas really get boned by the script in the second half.

O’Brien’s kind of amazing. He’s a little broad, but he and Balsam as globe-trotting spies is one of Seven Days’s nicer second act touches. Balsam’s good too, he’s just got a far less showy part.

The film’s got great production values–big scale from Frankenheimer–amazing editing from Ferris Webster, good photography from Ellsworth Fredericks, solid Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s great entertainment.

It’s just a little thin.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Rod Serling, based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II; director of photography, Ellsworth Fredericks; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Cary Odell; produced by Edward Lewis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Col. Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey), Fredric March (President Jordan Lyman), Burt Lancaster (Gen. James Mattoon Scott), Edmond O’Brien (Sen. Raymond Clark), Ava Gardner (Eleanor Holbrook), Martin Balsam (Paul Girard), Whit Bissell (Sen. Frederick Prentice), George Macready (Christopher Todd), Hugh Marlowe (Harold McPherson), Richard Anderson (Col. Murdock), Bart Burns (Secret Service White House Chief Art Corwin), and Andrew Duggan (Col. William ‘Mutt’ Henderson).


Separate Tables (1958, Delbert Mann)

Despite taking place in a very English hotel with very English residents–all of them long-term residents, not temporary guests–Separate Tables hinges almost entirely on the Americans. Burt Lancaster is one such American. He’s a regular resident (even ostensibly engaged to manager Wendy Hiller; they’re definitely carrying on illicitly anyway). And Rita Hayworth is the other American. She’s one of the two inciting incidents. Though, arguably, Hiller and Lancaster’s engagement is the root inciter on that one.

The other inciting incident is retired British Army major David Niven getting into a bit of scandal. Niven is a blowhard, genially annoying to all his fellow residents–except Deborah Kerr. She’s there with her mother, Gladys Cooper. Cooper’s a nasty upper class widow, Kerr’s her terrorized, utterly controlled daughter. Cooper browbeats her, while Kerr resents her own day dreams. Only with Niven does she get a little bit of relief.

Cooper disapproves, of course, and is very glad to manipulate Niven’s scandal to hurt both him and Kerr. In a very British upper class sort of way. Cooper’s the film’s villain, but of course she’s a villain. Her behavior can’t be anything but reprehensible, given her character. Hard to feel malice towards her.

The Niven scandal–and Kerr’s reaction to it–is half the story. The other half is Hayworth and Lancaster. They used to be married. She’s a former fashion model, he’s an author of some renown. Their marriage ended with Lancaster in prison for assaulting her. But now she’s heard he’s fallen on hard times and was in London meeting her fiancé’s family and thought she’d look him up. To provide moral support. And, you know, seduce him. Because brute working class guys made good is the only thing ever to do it for her.

Except Lancaster still resents her for forcing him into the assault–she denied him his conjugal rights. Hearing Lancaster complain she didn’t let him treat her as property kind of undermines his sympathetic potential. Though, as it turns out, even though the Americans keep Separate Tables moving, they’re not really supposed to be the sympathetic ones.

They’re an extreme. Cooper (and Cooper’s way of thinking, which influences Kerr and even Niven) is another extreme. Tables is all about finding the balance.

The film takes place over a particularly eventful sixteen or so hours. Just before dinner to breakfast the next day. Tables runs a couple minutes under a hundred minutes, with the first act establishing a bunch of characters. The other residents include Cathleen Nesbitt as Cooper’s partner-in-crime, Felix Aylmer as a stuck-up retired public school teacher, May Hallatt as a horse better, and Rod Taylor and Audrey Dalton as two indiscreet lovers. Taylor’s studying for his surgical exams. Dalton’s ostensibly there to help, but she mostly just seduces him–literally–away from them. Initially, it’s through Taylor and Dalton the implied activity of sexual congress–which Cooper, Nesbitt, and Alymer–all find so distasteful, gets mentioned.

Cooper and Lancaster have just been doing it in secret for years before the engagement, which is still tentative and super-hush hush.

Separate Tables is a lot of talking, a lot of listening, a lot of silent, pained emoting. Once Niven breaks down in the first fifteen minutes–see, he knows the scandal is about to become known–it’s obvious the film’s tone is going to be somewhat peculiar. Director Mann relies entirely on the performances. He’s got a handful of showy moves, which all work beautifully, but it’s almost entirely shot to facilitate the performances. With Charles Lang’s gorgeous black and white photography. The film’s technically stunning–great music from David Raksin, great production design (it’s all on sound stages, including the exquisite exteriors) by Harry Horner. Except the editing. Every once in a while, Charles Ennis and Marjorie Fowler’s cuts will be jarringly bad. And even when they’re not jarringly bad, they’re never fully in sync with the performances. It never ruins a scene or really hurts one overall, but the editing causes some stumbles. It’s worst when it’s in a Hayworth and Lancaster scene, because they’re already a little rocky.

Hayworth’s cold, shallow, calculating former fashion model is kind of perfect counter for the cold, calculating, but repressed Brits around her. Hayworth’s best when she shows humanity, which rarely happens around Lancaster. Lancaster’s best when he’s opposite Hiller, just because his scenes with Hayworth are usually a combination of silent rage, silent lust, or noisy exposition dumps. While both Lancaster and Hayworth are good, they’re the weakest parts of the film. Especially when they’re together.

Meanwhile, the trouble brewing over Niven is positively enthralling, as Cooper musters her fellow residents in a revolt and each of them works through their personal feelings about the situation. Only Kerr gets to explode. And the movie–through Cooper–has been promising Kerr will explode since their first scene together (which is the second or third scene in the picture), so there’s a lot of anticipation.

Kerr doesn’t disappoint. Not once in the picture, even though much of her performance is just sitting looking upset. Niven never disappoints either. He’s got the biggest character arc and kind of two parts to play. One and a half at least.

Hiller’s great too, sort of better than the film deserves. It only makes it because of her. She’s able to support her costars enough to get them through their sometimes perfunctory or abbreviated character development.

Separate Tables is deliberate, careful, thoughtful. Mann and screenwriters Terence Rattigan (adapting his play) and John Gay pace it all perfectly. It never feels stagy, never feels confined, never feels perfunctory. At least not in the plotting or events. Sure, sometimes the character development is a little too slick, but it is only a hundred minutes and the present action is only sixteen or seventeen hours. The performances are sublime, the production (save the editing) is sublime. It’s a lovely, often impeccable film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Delbert Mann; screenplay by Terence Rattigan and John Gay, based on the play by Rattigan; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Charles Ennis and Marjorie Fowler; music by David Raksin; production designer, Harry Horner; produced by Harold Hecht; released by United Artists.

Starring Burt Lancaster (John Malcolm), Rita Hayworth (Ann Shankland), Deborah Kerr (Sibyl Railton-Bell), David Niven (Major Angus Pollock), Wendy Hiller (Pat Cooper), Gladys Cooper (Mrs. Railton-Bell), Cathleen Nesbitt (Lady Matheson), Felix Aylmer (Mr. Fowler), Rod Taylor (Charles), Audrey Dalton (Jean), Priscilla Morgan (Doreen), and May Hallatt (Miss Meacham).


A Child Is Waiting (1963, John Cassavetes)

A Child Is Waiting had all kinds of production clashes between producer Stanley Kramer and director Cassavetes. And, apparently, between stars Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland and director Cassavetes. Kramer even fired Cassavetes during editing; none of those problems come through in the finished product. In fact, the lead actors not liking Cassavetes’s style doesn’t just not come through, it seems counter intiutive. Both Lancaster and Garland are exceptional, often because Cassavetes holds on so long with the shots. He never cuts away from the hard thoughts and realizations the actors need to convey.

The actors always convey them perfectly too.

Lancaster is the director of a state institution for developmentally disabled children. Garland is his newest employee. Lancaster is dedicated and determined, ever consistent in his pedagogical and treatment techniques. Garland just needs a job–and some kind of purpose.

The film doesn’t open with Garland arriving though. It opens with dad Steven Hill abandoning son Bruce Ritchey in the institution driveway. Ritchey latches on to Garland (and Garland to Ritchey) with Lancaster disapproving for multiple reasons. Of course, he’s often too busy to address it. And he’s also a bit of a jerk. He’s caring and even empathetic–watching Lancaster convey that empathy, especially in a terse scene, is glorious–but he’s always on task.

Abby Mann’s script does most of the ground situation exposition during Garland’s weeklong orientation. Child doesn’t do a lot with passage of time, which is sometimes to its benefit, sometimes not. The exposition isn’t just about Ritchey or Lancaster or the film’s institution, it’s about the actual reality of such institutions. A Child Is Waiting is never visually graphic, so Cassavetes has to do a lot with implication. Lancaster later gets to confirm some of those implications in dialogue, but it takes a while before even the dialogue gets graphic. It’s a gradual process, which is both good and bad.

A Child Is Waiting coddles. It coddles the viewer, it coddles Garland. Part of the film is dismantling that coddling, disassembling it, examining it, learning from its mistakes. But it isn’t Garland or Lancaster who benefit from the increasing granularity. It’s Arthur Hill.

Because Arthur Hill is a bad dad. There’s a flashback sequence, neatly tied to Garland learning about Ritchey’s case, showing what lead up to Hill abandoning Ritchey in the first scene. Not everything; a lot gets revealed in dialogue later, but enough. Gena Rowlands plays Ritchey’s mother. The flashback starts in toddler years. Rowlands has the film’s hardest part, but partially because it’s so contrived. She does well in it; it’s just, if the role were better, the film would be much improved.

But the film’s already pretty good. With some great moments. Cassavetes’s direction is excellent. He establishes two extremes, tight one shots of actors in the process of laying themselves bare, intentionally and not, and then sometimes extremely cinematic establishing and closing shots. Cassavetes loves a good crane.

Usually he keeps these two extremes separate. If it’s a big conversation scene, where Lancaster and Garland are trying to figure out if they’re going to respect one another, there’s not a swooping crane shot. But there’s still a perceptable tightening of the narrative distance. Cassavetes moves in to examine truth beyond the artifice. It’s exquisite.

And if the film went entirely in that examination direction, it’d be one thing. If it went entirely in a narrative direction, it’d be another. It’s sort of in the middle. Presumably the Cassavetes filmmaking sensibilities clashing with the Kramer editing ones. But kind of not because there’s still a script.

Hill’s the most important character arc in the film. Rowland should be, but Mann cops out entirely on her. Garland and Lancaster get more time than they should but it’s never wasted. Their performances are always developing, even when the film finally reveals Paul Stewart’s importance. Stewart is the answer man, which is great, because Paul Stewart is great. But it’d have been nice for his importance not to have been a reveal.

Outstanding acting from everyone. Garland’s excellent but Lancaster wins because his part is better. Hill’s good; Cassavetes treats him and Rowland different as far as narrative distance. They’re dulled; Garland and Lancaster are sharp. Rowlands has some strong moments. Ritchey’s really good too. The kids have the hardest parts in the film, obviously.

Lawrence Tierney has a small part as Rowlands’s new husband, which is a trip.

Great music from Ernest Gold, great photography from Joseph LaShelle. Okay production design from Rudolph Sternad–the institution is either in a residential neighborhood or occupies an entire cul-de-sac. It’s frequently confusing but never actually important.

A Child Is Waiting never comprises its cynicism for its hopefulness. Or vice versa. It oscelliates between the two as the characters navigate the same waters. Such good acting, such good directing.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Cassavetes; written by Abby Mann; director of photography, Joseph LaShelle; edited by Gene Fowler Jr. and Robert C. Jones; music by Ernest Gold; production designer, Rudolph Sternad; produced by Stanley Kramer; released by United Artists.

Starring Judy Garland (Jean Hansen), Burt Lancaster (Dr. Matthew Clark), Bruce Ritchey (Reuben Widdicombe), Steven Hill (Ted Widdicombe), Paul Stewart (Goodman), Gloria McGehee (Mattie), Lawrence Tierney (Douglas Benham), and Gena Rowlands (Sophie Widdicombe).


Atlantic City (1980, Louis Malle)

For a film with quite a bit of grounded violence, Atlantic City is pretty genial. Director Malle shoots in close medium shots; there’s not a lot of grandeur to his shots. Atlantic City has grandeur, as a setting, but Malle doesn’t go out of his way to stylize it. Cinematographer Richard Ciupka shoots the whole thing with a fuzzy brightness.

That geniality is sort of strange, given the film opens with lead Burt Lancaster peeping on next door neighbor Susan Sarandon. He’s an old flunky, taking caring of a boss’s widow (a fantastic Kate Reid); Sarandon is the sort of young dreamer who’s trying to make it in the casinos. She wants to be a dealer, but her creepy older man mentor Michel Piccoli might have other plans for her.

The film takes place in a couple days; it’s what happens when Sarandon’s husband (an underwhelming Robert Joy) shows up with his pregnant mistress, who happens to be Sarandon’s sister (Hollis McLaren in a nothing role). Lancaster ends up helping Joy out, which gives him a taste of the leading man gangster lifestyle he never had in his own youth.

Lancaster’s wonderful in the role, but Malle and writer John Guare never want to hold him accountable for anything. The viewer isn’t supposed to judge the character, though Joy (and Piccoli) get run through the ringer. It’s very uneven and the film would probably work better as Lancaster’s wish fulfillment. Instead, Sarandon occasionally gets promoted to protagonist and it’s problematic because she’s kind of a sap. The character, not Sarandon. Sarandon comes off as way too smart for the character. It’s worse when the character gets a smart line, because it just feels like Sarandon got fed up playing such a shallow character and ad libbed logically.

Look fast for Wallace Shawn.

Atlantic City has a lot of thoughtful, solid scenes, but it doesn’t come together in the end. Malle’s mixing too many things and trying to force Guare’s script into places it doesn’t go. The film asks the viewer to pity Lancaster because he’s old, which is frequently uncomfortable.

It starts slow, gets going, has big problems in the third act but gets a last minute reprieve with the finish. It ought to be a whole lot better though.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Malle; written by John Guare; director of photography, Richard Ciupka; edited by Suzanne Baron; music by Michel Legrand; production designer, Anne Pritchard; produced by Denis Héroux and John Kemeny; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Lou), Susan Sarandon (Sally), Robert Joy (Dave), Hollis McLaren (Chrissie), Michel Piccoli (Joseph) and Kate Reid (Grace).


The Flame and the Arrow (1950, Jacques Tourneur)

The Flame and the Arrow is an unfortunate effort. Most of the fault is Waldo Salt’s strangely tone-deaf screenplay. There’s narrative rhyme and reason, but none of it takes the actual resulting film into account–characters played by actors with no chemistry get thrown together. Director Tourneur doesn’t seem suited for the material. It’s a big swashbuckling epic–though lead Burt Lancaster is adamant about his lack of swordsmanship–and Tourneur doesn’t do anything with the scale.

The film has a bunch of necessary, desirable elements, but nothing to hold them together. Lancaster is agile and amiable. He’s a mountain man who romances the townswomen–married and unmarried–at his leisure (and their pleasure). He’s got an adorable son (Gordon Gebert), whose mother has run off with the Hessian overlord. Frank Allenby’s good as the overlord. He doesn’t get a lot to do, but it’s more than Lynn Baggett gets to do as Gebert’s mother. Salt’s script doesn’t dwell much on the characters, but least of all on Baggett. It’s unfortunate, because it seems like there should be something serious to Arrow, but no one wants to acknowledge it.

Virginia Mayo is the love interest. Unfortunately, it’s for Lancaster. Mayo and Lancaster have terrible chemistry. She does better with every other actor, including Nick Cravat, who plays Lancaster’s mute, acrobatic sidekick. And that particular scene is awful, because Cravat’s not funny and Tourneur has no idea how to make him any more amusing.

Robert Douglas is okay as Mayo’s other suitor and Lancaster’s reluctant ally. Salt’s script does him no favors either.

Arrow runs less than ninety minutes. Some natural narrative gestures go incomplete; maybe things got cut. Max Steiner’s score is energetic without being inspired. Ernest Haller’s photography operates on a “good enough” principal.

But the good pieces aren’t just Lancaster and the castle sets, there are good ideas in Salt’s script. He just doesn’t bring anything together. He’ll come up with a great set piece with obvious ways to tie it into the rest of the picture, but Arrow will just drop it in. And even if the script functioned better, Tourneur’s direction is too disinterested.

The film’s often tedious and painfully lacking in charm, but it ought to be a lot better. The third act, where Arrow could redeem itself, instead weighs it down even more.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by Waldo Salt; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by Alan Crosland Jr.; music by Max Steiner; produced by Harold Hecht and Frank Ross; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Dardo Bartoli), Virginia Mayo (Anne de Hesse), Robert Douglas (Marchese Alessandro de Granazia), Aline MacMahon (Nonna Bartoli), Frank Allenby (Count ‘The Hawk’ Ulrich), Nick Cravat (Piccolo), Lynn Baggett (Francesca), Gordon Gebert (Rudi Bartoli, Dardo’s Son), Norman Lloyd (Apollo, the Troubador), Victor Kilian (Apothecary Mazzoni) and Francis Pierlot (Papa Pietro).


Airport (1970, George Seaton)

While it did start the seventies disaster genre, Airport barely qualifies. The first hour of the film is excruciating soap opera melodrama—airport chief Burt Lancaster is stuck in a loveless marriage with harpy Dana Wynter, so he’s got a flirtation going with widowed Jean Seberg. His sister, played by Barbara Hale, is stuck in a loveless marriage with pilot Dean Martin, who’s carrying on with stewardess Jacqueline Bisset.

Lancaster is only stepping out on Wynter because she’s awful to him… Hale’s great to Martin, but she’s barren, so it’s tacitly agreed he’s expected to step out. Seaton’s script is really direct about that point—it’s Hale’s fault.

Casting Martin as a megalomaniac pilot is an interesting choice. His performance is awful, but it’s appropriate. Once the disaster kicks in, however, he gets a little better.

Lancaster looks disinterested and bored with the film; Seberg is okay, though her role is seriously underwritten. The first half of the film belongs to Helen Hayes, playing a stowaway. She’s the best thing in the film.

Maureen Stapleton’s good (though the script fails her); Whit Bissell probably gives film’s second best performance.

The second half, the disaster part… is actually somewhat worse. It moves faster, but it’s less competent as Seaton make Martin into an angel.

Seaton’s direction is awful. Though the film clearly has a budget, he shoots the interiors like he doesn’t. His Panavision composition is shockingly inept.

Combined with Alfred Newman’s truly atrocious score, Airport is a miserable viewing experience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George Seaton; screenplay by Seaton, based on the novel by Arthur Hailey; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Stuart Gilmore; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Ross Hunter; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Mel Bakersfeld), Dean Martin (Capt. Vernon Demerest), Jean Seberg (Tanya Livingston), Jacqueline Bisset (Gwen Meighen), George Kennedy (Joe Patroni), Helen Hayes (Ada Quonsett), Van Heflin (D.O. Guerrero), Maureen Stapleton (Inez Guerrero), Barry Nelson (Capt. Anson Harris), Dana Wynter (Cindy Bakersfeld), Lloyd Nolan (Harry Standish), Barbara Hale (Sarah Bakersfeld Demerest), Gary Collins (Cy Jordan), John Findlater (Peter Coakley), Jessie Royce Landis (Mrs. Harriet DuBarry Mossman), Larry Gates (Commissioner Ackerman), Peter Turgeon (Marcus Rathbone), Whit Bissell (Mr. Davidson), Virginia Grey (Mrs. Schultz), Eileen Wesson (Judy Barton) and Paul Picerni (Dr. Compagno).


The Osterman Weekend (1983, Sam Peckinpah)

Very few filmmakers have a good last film. Kubrick was incredibly lucky. Hitchcock was not. In general, directors tend to wane in their later careers–Clint Eastwood’s blossoming into such an artist aside–and, depending on their popularity and influence, they live into the era they inspired and no one wants to listen to them anymore. Orson Welles once accepted an award for Citizen Kane and told his granters he loved getting an award when he couldn’t get money to make a new film. Peckinpah’s producers on The Osterman Weekend took it away from him in editing, while Peckinpah was hospitalized no less. Still, there was nothing for Peckinpah to fix.

I’ve actually read the novel by Robert Ludlum–in eighth grade or something–and Ludlum writes big books. The weekend of the title doesn’t even start until forty minutes into the film, after a lengthy setup and a car chase. Peckinpah had lost the touch, recycling his Wild Bunch style for the chase scene. It’s still somehow effective in a few parts–the slow motion and the regular speed sound–but it’s a desperate attempt to thrill and it doesn’t work. The slow motion comes back in the end, during a fight scene between Rutger Hauer and Craig T. Nelson. Craig T. Nelson knows kung fu in The Osterman Weekend. Unbelievably, Nelson turns in the second best performance in the film too. Hauer made an excellent leading man, even if he didn’t have his accent totally smoothed out in this film.

I didn’t get interested in Osterman for Peckinpah though–his work, starting in the mid-1970s, gets pretty terrible (though The Osterman Weekend is better than Cross of Iron). I got interested because of the writer, Alan Sharp, who wrote Night Moves. The dialogue is adequate, the scenes are dull. Combined with the direction, it’s like watching a TV movie–one you can’t believe you’re still watching. However, nothing–not the script, not the sad attempt at action (woefully lacking the content Peckinpah infused to such success)–could survive the producers. The Osterman Weekend looks cheap. It looks cheap in the main house set, it looks cheap in the CIA headquarters (where poor Burt Lancaster embarrasses himself), and it looks really cheap in John Hurt’s CIA techno-van. The two clowns producing it went on to do Highlander and condemn the viewing public to Christopher Lambert.

A few scenes in Osterman did look familiar, like someone saw the film. In particular, the drive-in scene from Heat has an obvious precursor here, if only the location. I think there was another one, I just can’t remember. So people did keep watching Peckinpah, but it’s shocking how little he had to say by the end of his career.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by Alan Sharp, adaptation by Ian Masters, based on the book by Robert Ludlum; director of photography, John Coquillon; edited by Edward Abroms and David Rawlins; music by Lalo Schifrin; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Peter S. Davis and William N. Panzer; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Rutger Hauer (John Tanner), John Hurt (Lawrence Fassett), Craig T. Nelson (Bernard Osterman), Dennis Hopper (Richard Tremayne), Chris Sarandon (Joseph Cardone), Meg Foster (Ali Tanner), Helen Shaver (Virginia Tremayne), Cassie Yates (Betty Cardone), Sandy McPeak (Stennings), Christopher Starr (Steve Tanner) and Burt Lancaster (Maxwell Danforth).


Field of Dreams (1989, Phil Alden Robinson)

If asked, I’d probably blame MTV, video games, and CG for the downfall of American cinema. These reasons are my knee-jerk examples and, if they’re not the whole problem, they’re certainly the major contributing factors. However, following Field of Dreams, I think I’ll have to revise my answer. There’s a sense of cynicism about American cinema, even if it’s not pronounced, it’s present; Field of Dreams was not the last idealistic American film, but it might have been the peak of them. Or the last bump anyway. By the late 1990s, Capra-esque had become a pejorative after all. P.T. Anderson might have cost American cinema more than he contributed.

Watching Field of Dreams now, as a full cynic, as someone who deliberates on the filmic adaptation of novels, as someone who’s seen how bad American baseball movies have gotten, is interesting. No, it’s not. It’s not interesting. Maybe, while watching it, all of those list items did occur to me for a moment or two, but not for any sustained period. Field of Dreams presents a beautiful world, not just in its universal statement, but also in its small ones. There’s a beauty to the scene where James Earl Jones talks to people in the bar. It’s hard to imagine such a scene actually occurring today, which makes Dreams‘s message more significant in modernity than perhaps it was in 1988. (I mean, Bush is worse than Reagan, right?)

I can’t think of a more successful father and son film between Field of Dreams and East of Eden. They’re incredibly different–except there is farming in both–but they’re the only two films to significantly essay the relationship. I just thought of calling them Iron John films (after Bly’s book), but two films isn’t really enough for a label I don’t think.

Besides having James Earl Jones’ finest performance, Costner’s great–I love his awful shirts–so’s Amy Madigan and Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster and everybody. Phil Alden Robinson, who has gone on to other stuff and none of it–even Sneakers, which is good–shows this level of excellence, controls not just the actors, but the editing, the sound, every part of Field of Dreams fits perfectly. It’s not even the case of a well-tooled construction, it’s an organic creation. James Horner’s score is obviously an important feature–more important, even, than Amy Madigan or Ray Liotta or Burt Lancaster–but there’s also the baseball element. Baseball–in the American context, I’m not sure what it means in the Japanese–does represent some idealized American existence. I don’t even like baseball (which is not, however, why I don’t like Bull Durham. Bull Durham just isn’t good).

Field of Dreams is also an example of the benevolent studio. I believe Universal Studios had the picture’s best interest in mind. There are two significant, studio-dictated changes to Field of Dreams. One was the title, changed from Shoeless Joe, which was the title of the novel and is not the correct title for this film’s story. Second came at the very end: the “Dad” line. I tried watching that particular scene as cynically as possible, with full knowledge of the preview audience and whatnot, but it changed the scene’s effect. I can’t believe I forgot how great this film was… In fact, I’m embarrassed I was expecting less from it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson; screenplay by Robinson, based on a novel by W.P. Kinsella; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Ian Crafford; music by James Horner; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Charles Gordon; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kevin Costner (Ray Kinsella), Amy Madigan (Annie Kinsella), Gaby Hoffman (Karin Kinsella), Ray Liotta (Shoeless Joe Jackson), Timothy Busfield (Mark), James Earl Jones (Terence Mann) and Burt Lancaster (Moonlight Graham).


Conversation Piece (1974, Luchino Visconti)

I adore broad, sweeping statements. Here goes: I do not think any film, of all the films I have seen (conservatively, a couple thousand, maybe three), has had a worst last thirty seconds than Conversation Piece. It’s so incredible, so incredibly bad, I can’t believe the cast and crew didn’t start giggling when a) reading the script, b) shooting the scene, c) editing the scene, and d) seeing the scene. It’s really that bad.

I could make some comment about Conversation Piece being worth seeing just for that ending, but that’s unfair to the rest of the film. Conversation Piece is really long. It’s only two hours, but it’s all people talking–and as a continuous scene, instead Visconti breaks it up with no transition, which disorientates the viewer for a bit at the beginning, but then he or she gets ready for these cuts. For a while, the pace of the film is fine, probably the first hour, but the second crawls by, since it’s not just the events that take place off screen, it’s the changes in the characters.

I’ve never seen Burt Lancaster and Visconti’s more famous collaboration, The Leopard (out of laziness, I have it somewhere), and I rented this film because of Lancaster. He’s reliable, if rarely exciting. Unfortunately, that reliability plays through in his character in Conversation Piece. Besides the bad flashback scenes, much of the film–except when Lancaster is alone with his de facto ward, played by Helmut Berger (who was in The Godfather, Part III and “Dynasty”!)–is Lancaster reacting to what’s going on around him. When he announces his personal revelation to the audience in the last ten minutes, the audience has known it the whole time–because, otherwise, there wouldn’t have been a story.

It’s not a bad film and–perplexingly–it couldn’t be any different, but I knew everything it was going to be about in the first fifteen minutes. Except the stupid last shot… no one could have guessed that one.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Luchino Visconti; screenplay by Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Enrico Medioli and Visconti, based on a story by Medioli; director of photography, Pasqalino de Santis; edited by Ruggero Mastroianni; music by Franco Mannino; produced by Giovanni Bertolucci; released by Gaumont.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Professor), Silvana Mangano (Bianca Brumonti), Helmut Berger (Konrad), Claudia Marsani (Lietta), Stefano Patrizi (Stefano), Elvira Cortese (Erminia), Dominique Sanda (Mother) and Claudia Cardinale (Wife).


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