Charles Durning

The Sting (1973, George Roy Hill)

There are two immediate peculiar things about The Sting. The opening credits introduce the cast with scenes from the film, so one watches the picture waiting for a particular actor to come up. While it might have been done to get Paul Newman’s face onscreen sooner (he takes about fifteen minutes or more to appear), it also encourages the viewer not to get too involved with the picture. To remember it’s just a movie.

Second is the sections having title cards. It too breaks the viewer from the film’s internal reality for a few moments. Very interesting choices.

The reality of the film is startling. Director Hill and cinematographer Robert Surtees magically recreate thirties Chicago. And they know it. The shot zooming out from Dimitra Arliss’s bedroom window to the apartment across the street? They knew they were doing something fantastic. It’s the showiest shot in the film but it fits perfectly with the tone. But technically, it’s astoundingly good.

There are some great twists, all throughout, but the performances of David S. Ward’s character moments are why the film exceeds. Robert Redford’s desperate, touching, exasperated and wonderful. Newman’s a great sidekick (even if he is top-billed). Robert Shaw’s amazing.

Other outstanding performances are Arliss, Charles Durning, Ray Walston… and everyone else. Eileen Brennan’s sort of barely in it, but her presence is felt throughout.

The Sting moves fast–Hill only slows down just before the finale; he never lets it get frantic.

The Sting’s a masterpiece… simply magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Roy Hill; written by David S. Ward; director of photography, Robert Surtees; edited by William Reynolds; produced by Tony Bill, Michael Phillips and Julia Phillips; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Henry Gondorff), Robert Redford (Johnny Hooker), Robert Shaw (Doyle Lonnegan), Charles Durning (Lt. Wm. Snyder), Ray Walston (J.J. Singleton), Eileen Brennan (Billie), Harold Gould (Kid Twist), John Heffernan (Eddie Niles), Dana Elcar (F.B.I. Agent Polk), Jack Kehoe (Erie Kid), Dimitra Arliss (Loretta), Robert Earl Jones (Luther Coleman), James Sloyan (Mottola) and Charles Dierkop (Floyd the bodyguard).

Deadhead Miles (1972, Vernon Zimmerman)

Deadhead Miles is a piece of great seventies filmmaking. It’s not a great film, but a great piece of filmmaking. The distinction’s important.

Most of the film is about a peculiar truck driver, played by Alan Arkin, and his adventures after picking up a hitchhiker, played by Paul Benedict. Arkin’s truck driver is not particularly likable or at all sympathetic. He’s a dense, know it all jerk. Writer Terrence Malick opens the film trying the viewer’s patience with Arkin’s character, though he eventually becomes amusing enough. Miles becomes about waiting to see what he’s going to do next. It also reveals the culture of long haul truck driving and Arkin’s odd acceptance of it.

Benedict’s mostly along to ground the viewer, to give them some connection to their expectations of familiar reality.

Of course, it eventually turns out there should not be any expectation of familiar reality and Arkin maybe isn’t so crazy.

Well, okay, he’s always going to be a little crazy.

Malick doesn’t mess around explaining Arkin and Miles might be a great character study if Zimmerman wasn’t playing it as a comedy. The script could go either way.

It’s very short and might even do better shorter. There’s this out of place prologue before Arkin meets up with Benedict and it’s dead weight, wholly unnecessary either to narrative or artistic impulse.

Zimmerman’s direction is quite good, particularly how he handles the long driving sequences and the relationship between Arkin and Benedict.

It’s a singular, mildly rewarding film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Vernon Zimmerman; written by Terrence Malick; director of photography, Ralph Woolsey; edited by Eve Newman and George Hively; music by Dave Dudley and Jimmie Haskell; produced by Tony Bill and Zimmerman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Alan Arkin (Cooper), Paul Benedict (Hitchhiker), Hector Elizondo (Duke), Oliver Clark (Durazno), Charles Durning (Truck Driver in Cafe), Lawrence Wolf (Pineapple), Barnard Hughes (Old Man), William Duell (Auto Parts Salesman), Madison Arnold (Hostler), Loretta Swit (Woman with Glass Eye), and Bruce Bennett (Johnny Mesquitero), with special appearances by George Raft and Ida Lupino.


Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Sidney Lumet)

Besides Al Pacino, there are other actors in Dog Day Afternoon. Some of them give fantastic performances too. But, even with those fantastic performances, every time Pacino is alone on screen, whether closeup or not, monologue or not, it feels like there’s no one else in the film besides him. He doesn’t command it or walk away with it… the film’s his performance and his performance is the film, right down to the last scene.

Some of the other particularly fantastic performances are, in no particular order, John Cazale, Penelope Allen, James Broderick, Charles Durning and Chris Sarandon. Okay, maybe I saved Sarandon for last so I don’t forget to mention the specifics. I had no idea it was Sarandon in the film. Never would I have imaged he could have given such a good performance (it was his first major film work).

Cazale’s sturdy. He’s great without being exceptional–the performance isn’t a surprise. Pacino, as good as he can be, is still a surprise here. He’s not in a movie star role and Pacino almost always does those (or has been since Dog Day); I’d forgotten the greatness of his performance here. It’s been… maybe fifteen years since I last saw the film. Since then, he’s been in a lot of lousy movies to cloud my memory.

I think this time is the first I’ve seen Dog Day Afternoon in its original aspect ratio. Lumet’s direction is so sublimely perfect, I can’t believe he doesn’t have more admirers.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Frank Pierson, based on the Life magazine article by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by Dede Allen; production designer, Charles Bailey; produced by Martin Bregman and Martin Elfand; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Al Pacino (Sonny Wortzik), John Cazale (Sal), Charles Durning (Det. Sgt. Eugene Moretti), Chris Sarandon (Leon Shermer), Sully Boyar (Mulvaney), Penelope Allen (Sylvia), James Broderick (Sheldon), Carol Kane (Jenny), Beulah Garrick (Margaret), Sandra Kazan (Deborah), Marcia Jean Kurtz (Miriam), Amy Levitt (Maria), John Marriott (Howard), Estelle Omens (Edna), Gary Springer (Stevie) and Lance Henriksen (Murphy).


An Enemy of the People (1978, George Schaefer)

Growing up–early, before I’d really seen any movies–I knew Steve McQueen was in The Great Escape (though I hadn’t seen it, I’d seen the motorcycle clip) and I knew he’d gotten his start in The Blob. When I first did get into film, when AMC was still the station to watch, I discovered McQueen had a method acting era (The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery). In some ways, he’s one of the oddest actors to accept as having a reverence for the stage, so it’s strange An Enemy of the People was a personal project for him. It just doesn’t go along with car racing. Enemy features some of McQueen’s best acting too, since his character’s different (quiet and passive) and he’s got kids. McQueen’s really good with kids and it’s a shame he didn’t get to do more movies with kids.

I didn’t know Enemy was an adaptation of a play until I started watching it, but right away–once the opening credits ended–I knew. A small number of sets, a lot of conversation, these aspects don’t necessarily scream theater, but something about Enemy does. A lot of filmic adaptations of plays scream it–I saw a lot of these in middle school and you can always tell. With a good adaptation, you can’t, but with the standard, you always can. An Enemy of the People is a fairly standard adaptation and, like most adaptations, its problems stem from not going cinematic enough. When a film has a present action of two days, there’s still some impulsiveness about it. It doesn’t have to be deliberate. Scenes can cut from location to location, people can be doing things at the same time and those actions can be important and visible to the audience. I’m sure An Enemy of the People is a pretty good play–it certainly seems like it from the film–but I expect filmic adaptations of plays to make me consider a stage production irrelevant. Maybe McQueen, in not doing so, just had more respect for the theater than I do.

Some of the problem, I’m sure, comes from the director, George Schaefer, being a prolific stage director and a prolific plays on TV director. The sets are beautifully designed and beautifully lighted, but Schaefer’s composition is a visual sedative. The story’s also filled with one dimensional characters. Only one character actually shows any depth and he’s hardly in it. There’s a brother against brother aspect to the story and it never goes anywhere beyond McQueen’s brother is good and Charles Durning’s is bad. Durning still manages to give a decent performance, but it’s one note. Bibi Andersson (the only Scandinavian in this Norway-set film) is also just decent as McQueen’s wife, but Richard Dysart’s got a small role and is real good. Robin Pearson Rose, as the daughter, is good. Most impressive of the supporting cast is actually Richard Bradford. McQueen carries the whole film and it’s a mistake whenever he’s off-screen for too long. It’s probably his most impressive acting work of the 1970s.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed and produced by George Schaefer; screenplay by Alexander Jacobs, from the play by Henrik Ibsen, as adapted by Arthur Miller; director of photography, Paul Lohmann; edited by Sheldon Kahn; music by Leonard Rosenman; production designer, Eugene Lourie; distributed by Warner Bros.

Starring Steve McQueen (Dr. Thomas Stockmann), Bibi Andersson (Catherine), Charles Durning (Peter Stockmann), Michael Cristofer (Hovstad), Michael Higgins (Billing), Richard A. Dysart (Aslaksen), Richard Bradford (Captain Forster), Eric Christmas (Morten Kiil), Robin Pearson (Petra), John Levin (Rose Ejlif) and Ham Larsen (Morten).


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