Henry Mancini

Sometimes a Great Notion (1971, Paul Newman)

Sometimes a Great Notion is all about the joys of toxic masculinity and apathy. At some points in the near two hour runtime, it might hint at being about the virtues of rugged American individualism, family, and maybe capitalism, but it’s not. Screenwriter John Gay avoids exploring those virtues like the plague or directly contradicts them in exposition. If not in the plot events. And director Newman is more interested in having fun. He’s serious at times, but outside one scene, he’s always most interested in the fun. The fun is usually when his character (Newman, at forty-five, is playing a logger in his early thirties) is being a rugged, adventurous, caution to the wind type, whether it’s climbing to the top of a tree he’s just cut the top off, dirt biking, brawling, whatever. You can always tell when it’s one of those moments because Henry Mancini’s score does its jazzy folksy Americana thing. Its loud, obnoxious jazzy folksy Americana thing. Newman, as director, uses Mancini’s score to do heavy dramatic lifting in scenes–not the folksy stuff–to the detriment of the performances, which is bewildering, since there are so many good performances in the film. Even if they’re not entirely successful.

Newman is eldest son in a successful logging family. Henry Fonda is the dad, Lee Remick is Newman’s wife, Richard Jaeckel’s a cousin. The film starts in the middle of a loggers’ union strike. Except Fonda and family aren’t in the union; they’re scabs (but not exactly because they’re just non-union; they’re still breaking the picket line and apathetic to their former friends and still neighbors literally starving around them). The townspeople aren’t too happy with them. Newman’s quiet, Fonda’s loud and demanding (and partially immobilized due to a half body cast), Jaeckel’s goofy (and religious). Remick and Linda Lawson (as Jaeckel’s wife) cook and clean for the men, but otherwise keep quiet. Their opinions aren’t to be heard. Newman and Jaeckel’s opinions aren’t worth anything (to Fonda) but they at least get to be heard.

Then, out of nowhere, younger son Michael Sarrazin–half-brother to Newman–returns home. He’s a long-haired hippie college graduate (apparently, it’s never actually confirmed he even went to college, he just gets teased about it) with a lot of emotional baggage. After Fonda drove his mother away, she killed herself. No one sent for Sarrazin, no one came to the funeral. He went through a suicidal episode as well. Most of that backstory comes out in scenes with Remick, who it turns out has interiority, even if Newman and Fonda don’t care. Sarrazin cares. Unfortunately, Gay and Newman (as director) don’t really care. The friendship (and possibly more) between Sarrazin and Remick is the most distinct thing about Sometimes a Great Notion and it goes absolutely nowhere and does absolutely nothing. Of course, even the successful elements in the film don’t really do anything.

Sarrazin starts working with the family, leading to some lengthy expository montage sequences about logging. Sarrazin comes into the picture a little while in, but Newman and Gay wait to look at the logging until he’s arrived. Except he’s presumably already been there and seen what logging looks like. But it’s a fine device. Just a little late for the audience.

The film’s set pieces usually involve logging. Then there’s a scene at the family’s house, often with Fonda yelling at someone, maybe with Remick looking sad, then it’s something else involving logging. Including the loggermen’s picnic, where Newman doesn’t just get to be manly with dirt bikes, there’s also a brawl between striking loggers and the scab family in the coastal surf. Set to the blaring Mancini.

Tensions are slow to rise in Sometimes a Great Notion. When crisis and tragedy strike, even as beautifully executed as Newman (as a director) executes them, they’re not a result of building tension. The movie has to pretend they are such a result, however, because otherwise there’d be no way to end it. And the end of the film, where everything comes together–the results of Fonda’s overbearing approach (at home and professionally), Newman and Sarrazin’s undercooked brotherly turmoil, Remick’s unhappiness, the strike, the neighbors, all of it–it’s a missed opportunity. Newman and Gay have the chance to open up Sometimes and they reject that idea, sticking with the tight focus on Fonda’s family.

The problem with focusing just on Fonda, Newman, and Jaeckel–after the introduction, Sarrazin’s got squat outside his subplot with Remick or opposite the boys–is it requires a lot of demonization to get there. If Fonda and company are jerks, but the heroes, the townspeople have to be not just godawful, but annoyingly godawful. They’re mostly personified in Lee de Broux, who’s always begging Newman to think about the town. Newman blows him off, but somehow manages to have more of an arc with de Broux than he does with Remick. Newman and Remick coexist in scenes, rarely interacting. de Broux, ostensibly, has an effect on him. But not really, because it wouldn’t be manly for Newman to develop as a character. In Sometimes a Great Notion, character development has to be regressive. Sarrazin starts the film a far better character than he finishes it.

The laundry list of problems aside, it’s well-acted. No one’s great, but everyone’s pretty damn good. Fonda’s underutilized as a thoughtless blowhard, but he’s got a couple great scenes. Jaeckel seems really thin–the movie mocks his religiosity, which is interesting and not a great sign–but turns out to have some real depth. Newman’s solid. None of his possible character arcs go anywhere, except with Jaeckel. In that one, he’s great when he needs to be great. And he’s good (and devilishly likable, of course) the rest of the time.

Sarrazin is good and constantly potentially excellent. The material’s just never there for him. Same goes for Remick. Apparently the original cut of the film had them hooking up for sure and it might have helped. Bob Wyman’s cuts are fine, but the narrative structure of the film is incredibly suspect. Nothing in the film suggests it’s going to result in its conclusion–not like foreshadowing, but doing the character development to get people places the script is going to put them. Sarrazin and Remick suffer the most. Newman prefers the dirt bikes and the brawls to the character development. It’s very strange. Like… if it did everything, the dirt bikes, the brawls, and the actual character development, Sometimes a Great Notion might be something special (and three hours long). Instead it doesn’t and isn’t.

Good photography from Richard Moore. Sometimes great. Lots of Sometimes a Great Notion is sometimes great (not Mancini, who’s at least sometimes okay). Newman’s direction is completely competent, patient, and thoughtful but it’s still a shock when he does something ambitious. If he’d applied the same energy as he does in the ambitious moments–which don’t have to be high drama scenes, but can just be when he actually gives Remick a real moment with himself (as an actor)–Sometimes would be a very different, probably better film.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Newman; screenplay by John Gay, based on the novel by Ken Kesey; director of photography, Richard Moore; edited by Bob Wyman; music by Henry Mancini; produced by John Foreman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Hank), Henry Fonda (Henry), Michael Sarrazin (Leeland), Richard Jaeckel (Joe Ben), Lee Remick (Viv), Linda Lawson (Jan), and Lee de Broux (Willard Eggleston).


Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles)

Touch of Evil is a visceral experience. Welles’s long takes and long sequences–in particular, the opening tracking shot, the apartment interrogation scene and the oil field interrogation at the end, these sequences depend on the viewer’s understanding of geography. Welles and cinematographer Russell Metty brilliantly establish the setting; then Welles does whatever he can to distract the viewer from it. Evil is active, whether through the movements of its characters, the camera, or even how Henry Mancini’s score works. The film is always moving.

The narrative is simple, if truncated–even without the studio interference, the narrative would be truncated. Welles plays a dirty cop who finally gets called on it by a Mexican police officer, played by Charlton Heston–yes, Evil is the film where you get to watch Charlton Heston play a Mexican. While Heston works to prove a pattern of corruption (mostly off-screen, making the revelation scenes all the more striking), Welles buddies up with Akim Tamiroff, who’s out to discredit Heston. But Welles starts the story being about Heston and Janet Leigh as newlyweds; they’re downright charming folks. He eschews a character study of his own character, he eschews juxtaposing that corruption story against Tamiroff’s plotting, which might work too. All for mainstream, studio acceptance. It’s a movie starring Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh after all. Shouldn’t they be more important than Tamiroff or Joseph Calleia?

They “should,” but they aren’t. And Welles is upfront about it. Once Heston and Leigh split onto their own storylines in the first act, Heston spends his time playing second fiddle (not so for Leigh) to the supporting players. Heston enables wonderful scenes from Calleia, Heston and Ray Collins. Leigh has a great scene with Tamiroff before playing terrified. She’s good terrified, but she doesn’t have any better scenes than her first big one in the showdown with Tamiroff.

Welles, as an actor, is flawless. He’s showing off and still giving a great performance. He gets most of the film’s best scenes, but he also gives himself more a character actor role.

The entire supporting cast is outstanding. Welles is clearly thrilled to have them and lets them work; Calleia does an amazing job. Valentin de Vargas and Victor Millan are good in smaller parts. Marlene Dietrich is perfect in her “cameo.”

Touch of Evil is a brilliant film. Welles’s abilities once again survive the studio knife, which is both frustrating and fortunate.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Orson Welles; screenplay by Welles, based on a novel by Whit Masterson; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Aaron Stell and Virgil W. Vogel; music by Henry Mancini; produced by Albert Zugsmith; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Charlton Heston (Mike Vargas), Janet Leigh (Susan Vargas), Orson Welles (Police Captain Hank Quinlan), Joseph Calleia (Police Sergeant Pete Menzies), Akim Tamiroff (‘Uncle’ Joe Grandi), Mort Mills (Al Schwartz), Ray Collins (District Attorney Adair), Dennis Weaver (Mirador Motel Night Manager), Valentin de Vargas (Pancho), Victor Millan (Manelo Sanchez), Joanna Moore (Marcia Linnekar), Harry Shannon (Chief Gould) and Marlene Dietrich (Tana).


Dear Heart (1964, Delbert Mann)

Dear Heart starts awkwardly and ends awkwardly. At the beginning, director Mann and writer Tad Mosel are very deliberately setting up their protagonists and the setting. The awkwardness makes sense. That very solid foundation allows for everything following. The ending, which plays–at least for Geraldine Page’s character–like a reverse of the opening for a while, doesn’t get to use that excuse. After almost two hours of extremely careful plotting and deliberate planning, Mosel doesn’t use what he’s been setting up. It’s very disappointing.

Mosel gets away with a lot so it might just be one thing too many. He plots this film over two and a half days–Page is in New York for a convention, Glenn Ford has just accepted a promotion at a firm there–and Mosel is able to throw all sorts of wonky ideas into the mix. Newly engaged Ford gets to contend with his future step-son crashing (Michael Anderson Jr. is fantastic in the role).

So Ford’s conflicts are both internal and external. He does great work in both areas, but Page’s are all internal. And her character is an extreme extrovert–the way Mosel works in how she talks about herself when just meeting someone is amazing–but all of that conflict, Page doesn’t get to say it. She shows it in this extraordinary expressions.

Mann’s direction is good, script’s great, Page and Ford are great. Dear Heart’s great. It’s just not perfect; I guess it doesn’t have to be.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Delbert Mann; written by Tad Mosel; director of photography, Russell Harlan; edited by Folmer Blangsted; music by Henry Mancini; produced by Martin Manulis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Glenn Ford (Harry Mork), Geraldine Page (Evie Jackson), Angela Lansbury (Phyllis), Michael Anderson Jr. (Patrick), Barbara Nichols (June Loveland), Patricia Barry (Mitchell), Charles Drake (Frank Taylor), Richard Deacon (Mr. Cruikshank) and Neva Patterson (Connie Templeton).


Without a Clue (1988, Thom E. Eberhardt)

Without a Clue has an amusing premise–what if Sherlock Holmes is a buffoon and Dr. Watson is the genius–and generally succeeds in executing it. Director Eberhardt brings very little to the film (one wonders if his single goal was keeping Michael Caine in the center of each frame), but the production is handsomely enough mounted, even if there is a lack of scope. Most of the film’s action takes place indoors, where Eberhardt goes for cheap laughs. Outdoors, at least, Alan Hume’s cinematography gets to breath.

Caine is hilarious as Holmes, but he’s nothing compared to Ben Kingsley as Watson. Kingsley brings intelligence, suffering and sympathy to the role, while still maintaining a commanding lead presence. Unfortunately–except for Peter Cook in a bit part and Nigel Davenport in a slightly bigger one–the rest of the cast has little to offer.

That problem is two fold. The script gives the supporting players, except Pat Keen, almost nothing to do. Watching third-billed Jeffrey Jones run about is painful, especially since his comic scenes are so poorly written and Jones loses his forced accent explicitly during his comic scenes. Lysette Anthony is mostly useless as the damsel in distress, though she does some quality; it seems Clue failed her.

Henry Mancini’s score is a lot of fun for the period; Mancini excels at the comedy scenes. He doesn’t do so well for the action-packed finale, but neither does Eberhardt so no foul.

Clue‘s a lot of fun.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Thom E. Eberhardt; written by Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther, based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Peter Tanner; music by Henry Mancini; production designer, Brian Ackland-Snow; produced by Marc Stirdivant; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Sherlock Holmes), Ben Kingsley (Dr. John Watson), Jeffrey Jones (Inspector Lestrade), Lysette Anthony (Leslie Giles), Paul Freeman (Professor James Moriarty), Nigel Davenport (Lord Smithwick), Pat Keen (Mrs. Hudson), Peter Cook (Norman Greenhough), Tim Killick (Sebastian Moran) and Matthew Savage (Wiggins).


Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, Jack Arnold)

Almost all of Creature from the Black Lagoon is a compelling mix of science fiction, workplace drama and horror. The Creature makes a great “villain” because there’s nothing human about him (except maybe his fixation on leading lady Julie Adams) so it’s possible to both fear him and to understand leading man Richard Carlson’s scientific point of view.

The only place it falls apart is the finish, where the screenwriters and director Arnold feel the need for some excitement; they tack on a totally unnecessary action sequence.

The workplace drama elements are Carlson, Adams and Richard Denning (as their boss). Denning’s performance of a money hungry scientist who slowly loses it is outstanding. He sort of outdoes everyone else in the picture, except maybe Nestor Paiva. Paiva’s the captain of the ship taking these bickering ichthyologists on their exploration. The script constantly unveils something new (and unlikely) about his character, but Paiva essays it all beautifully.

As a director, Arnold embraces the exploration wonderment, juxtaposing it against the horror aspects in the picture. When the wonderment declines and the more thriller tone comes up, he does well with it too.

The film has outstanding photography from William E. Snyder and excellent music from its (uncredited) composers. The underwater photography gives it spectacle value, but Arnold and his crew make the land sections almost as good. The sets are great and the Creature’s makeup is fantastic.

Creature, thanks to Arnold, the cast and its smart script, is a rather fine film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross, based on a story by Maurice Zimm; director of photography, William E. Snyder; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter and Herman Stein; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Carlson (David Reed), Julie Adams (Kay Lawrence), Richard Denning (Mark Williams), Antonio Moreno (Carl Maia), Whit Bissell (Edwin Thompson) and Nestor Paiva (Lucas).


Silver Streak (1976, Arthur Hiller)

Silver Streak is a wonderful film. It opens with all these little scenes on a train between Gene Wilder and Ned Beatty and then Jill Clayburgh. At this point, Streak seems like a very intelligent romantic comedy. There’s no drama yet, just excellent dialogue from Colin Higgins’s script. If he didn’t write it for Wilder–who Higgins and director Hiller deftly turn into a leading–and Clayburgh, it feels like he did anyway. Wilder and Clayburgh have completely different acting styles and they clash and the script mashes them together and it works. Clayburgh disappears for a while soon after this scene, so it has to establish her and it does.

So Wilder’s then off on his own in what’s now an action adventure picture. Higgins’s events perturb in the most outlandish way–one’s always expecting Wilder to have to fully explain himself, but he never does. Instead, Higgins and Hiller leave that absurd summary for the viewer to tell someone else for word of mouth value.

And then there’s Richard Pryor. He and Wilder have to hit it off immediately, they have to become Butch and Sundance in a conversation. Hiller’s got to get it right, Higgins has to get it right and the actors have to get it right. They do.

The film’s only letdown–all the acting’s fantastic and the script’s consistently marvelous–is Hiller. He does an outstanding workman job, but he’s never sublime.

Silver Streak is a masterpiece. Mainstream American filmmaking doesn’t get much better.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Hiller; written by Colin Higgins; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by David Bretherton; music by Henry Mancini; production designer, Alfred Sweeney; produced by Thomas L. Miller and Edward K. Milkis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Wilder (George Caldwell), Jill Clayburgh (Hilly Burns), Richard Pryor (Grover T. Muldoon), Patrick McGoohan (Roger Devereau), Ned Beatty (Bob Sweet), Clifton James (Sheriff Chauncey), Ray Walston (Mr. Whiney), Stefan Gierasch (Professor Schreiner), Len Birman (Chief), Valerie Curtin (Plain Jane), Lucille Benson (Rita Babtree), Scatman Crothers (Ralston), Richard Kiel (Reace) and Fred Willard (Jerry Jarvis).


Soldier in the Rain (1963, Ralph Nelson)

Soldier in the Rain is a peculiar film. It’s one of Steve McQueen’s odder performances–his character is a doofus, both the protagonist and the subject of the audience’s (intended) laughter. Jackie Gleason gives an excellent performance, though his scenes with McQueen compare poorly to the ones with Tuesday Weld. Their scenes really bring something special of out of Soldier, so it’s a big disservice when their importance is ignored, the film instead concentrating on gags. The problem with the film–besides the script, which I imagine is partially William Goldman’s novel’s fault, the wandering emphases, but also the terrible Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin script–not so much the dialogue, but the plotting. It’s separated into a handful of scenes, almost intended more for the stage. And Ralph Nelson really tries to be an interesting director–whether it’s the omnipresent (sometimes louder than dialogue) Henry Mancini score, or the silent scenes with nothing but breathing–Nelson is definitely trying for something and he’s failing miserably. The film’s atrociously edited, discombobulating at times. Nelson will occasionally have a good shot, a good sequence of shots, then he’ll toss any goodness away with a terrible cut. Either he didn’t get enough coverage or he’s just incompetent and sporadically lucky.

Nelson’s problems don’t just hinder the film visually (and audially, that music gets annoying fast)–every scene is told in summary until the last half hour. Worse, the actors aren’t working towards anything. While Gleason has a good role and even with the film’s problems, it turns out very well for him, McQueen’s is convoluted. He goes from being a doofus to being a smart guy in a flash (the film needs a conclusion, after all). Weld’s similarly wronged. All of those scenes in summary suggest the film is leading up to something, even though it’s long clear it’s not. They’re starter scenes, ones to be expanded one on later, but Soldier in the Rain never goes in a traditional or good direction. While it’s the closest Edwards has probably ever come to art house, it’s not intentional–the scenes are ripe for trailer moments and commercial breaks. Edwards and Richlin’s script isn’t just erratic (it either takes place over a week or a month, there’s nothing definite and a few contradictions), it’s cheap. Soldier in the Rain feels incomplete, slapped together and pushed out the door.

I remembered thinking it was a stunning piece of work–and with McQueen and Gleason and Weld, it could have been–but instead it’s a mishmash. A poorly directed one too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ralph Nelson; screenplay by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin, from the novel by William Goldman; director of photography, Philip H. Lathrop; edited by Ralph E. Winters; music by Henry Mancini; produced by Edwards and Martin Jurow; released by Allied Artists.

Starring Jackie Gleason (MSgt. Maxwell Slaughter), Steve McQueen (Sgt. Eustis Clay), Tuesday Weld (Bobby Jo Pepperdine), Tony Bill (Pfc. Jerry Meltzer), Tom Poston (Lt. Magee), Ed Nelson (MP Sgt. James Priest), Lew Gallo (Sgt. Fred Lenahan) and Rockne Tarkington (Sgt. William Booth).


It Came from Outer Space (1953, Jack Arnold)

I used to love this movie… I guess I should have checked movielens because it’s right on the nose for it.

It has Richard Carlson, who I like, and Barbara Rush, who I remember liking from The Young Philadelphians and Hombre, and it’s directed by Jack Arnold, who I like. Or do I remember liking them and am I misremembering? No, Creature from the Black Lagoon is good and Carlson is in it and Arnold directed it. It Came from Outer Space is not terrible (though I’m seemingly in a one and a half star rut the last couple weeks, starting with Azumi 2). It’s just not good. It’s too short (at eighty minutes) and it has problems with how time passes….

I think I’m upset. I’ve gotten used to watching films I used to like–used to love in some cases–and being underwhelmed or enraged at my former appraisal. It goes with watching something again and being more intelligent. Nostalgia only earns only so much credit. Nothing, for example, feels quite as good as something remembered as great turns out to be great again. People have actually frowned upon my whole “watching again” practice, from both ends–some people only watch something once and that evaluation stands and other people don’t change their initial evaluation. At six, you love Dracula so at twenty-six it’s got to be good. When I was six, I liked “Voltron” a lot. I’m not sure “Voltron” is good.

It Came from Outer Space isn’t dated, its relevance has not passed. It’s just not good. Arnold doesn’t use his sets right and he doesn’t take any time with the scenes. He rushes and it feels rushed. There’s a difference, of course, between short scenes and rushed scenes.

I rented this film and I can’t imagine if I bought it. That’s the great drawback of the evolving opinion. You buy something and it sits and you watch it and you think, “what the hell?” So I suppose there’s a benefit to not having disposable income. Still, I’m so glad it was only eighty minutes.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Harry Essex, based on a story by Ray Bradbury; director of photography, Clifford Stine; edited by Paul Weatherwax; music by Irving Gertz and Henry Mancini; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Carlson (John Putnam), Barbara Rush (Ellen Fields), Charles Drake (Sheriff Matt Warren), Joe Sawyer (Frank Daylon), Russell Johnson (George) and Kathleen Hughes (Jane).


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