Janet Leigh

Hello Down There (1969, Jack Arnold)

Hello Down There is a family comedy. Its target audience is families who want to see a sexy mom Janet Leigh and sexless teenagers. I think it’s for dads who somehow got stuck taking their tweens to the movies in the late sixties? When the movie starts, it almost seems like Leigh’s going to play a big part. She's scared of the water, the movie’s about her husband Tony Randall dragging her into an undersea house to see if a regular American family can inhabit it. Of course, they’re not a regular American family because Randall’s a genius underwater engineer, Leigh’s a burgeoning romance novelist (because she’s a sexy mom), their kids (Kay Cole and Gary Tigerman) are in close-to-signing terrible mainstream hippie rock band, and… actually, no, they don’t have any pets.

Eventually they get a pet for two scenes when they’re living in the underwater house and a seal gets down there and becomes Leigh’s sidekick. It’s kind of a good scene. There’s potential. It never pays off, but potential’s rare in Hello Down There so you take what you can get.

The movie opens with millionaire underwater construction industrialist Jim Backus (in a godawful performance) going down in a submarine to see what his chief designer engineer Randall has been working on. The underwater house. It’ll solve overpopulation problems. Except Backus, being a millionaire industrialist, had no idea what Randall was working on and Backus thinks it’s stupid. Backus likes smarter projects; he loves Ken Berry’s idea to vacuum up the ocean floor and collect all the gold. Because there’s lots of gold there.

Oh, yeah, Hello Down There is for families all right… dumb ones.

Or maybe it’s just for dads who really liked Janet Leigh and needed an excuse to see her in something family-friendly?

Anyway, Randall has to promise Backus he and his family will live down there for thirty days, which Backus assumes is impossible because Leigh’s afraid of water and Backus is a little too interested in Leigh. Because he’s a creep in addition to being an idiot.

Leigh freaks out then goes off for some alone time and comes back in lingerie—chaste lingerie but lingerie—to seduce Randall as her way of apologizing for not getting over the aqua phobia immediately upon his request. They get interrupted by the kids, who don’t want to go because their band is about to hit it big with record producer Roddy McDowell (also godawful but not as embarrassingly as Backus). So they bring the band along. The rest of the band is Richard Dreyfuss, who’s better at lip synching than acting here, and Lou Wagner, who dresses like a court jester hippie and does nothing else.

Will the family make it? Will the band make it? Will there be a disappearing hurricane, dolphins, a shark attack, Tony Randall fighting a shark, Charlotte Rae playing one of her first housekeepers, an underwater rescue sequence, lots of crappy music montages, lots of mansplaining, shirtless Tony Randall separate from shark fight, and Merv Griffin? No spoilers but it’s not like you can just make up such a strange list.

Oh, yeah, there’s also Arnold Stang, who apparently drowns because the movie forgets about him. And a whole subplot about the U.S. Navy being too stupid to figure out there’s the underwater house, even though it presumably took a while to build and you’d think they’d notice because it could be the Soviets or whatever.

On the other hand, why blame screenwriters John McGreevey and Frank Telford… there’s no way to make this one good. It’s a bad production, with lousy music (courtesy Jeff Barry), lousy photography (Clifford H. Poland Jr.), questionable special effects, and occasionally bad, barely mediocre direction from Arnold. Ricou Browning directs the underwater sequences, which are bad when they’re a nature film and boring with establishing shots… but awesome when it’s action. There’s that Tony Randall vs. shark sequence (fingers crossed it was former Creature from the Black Lagoon Browning doing the uncredited underwater stunt work).

Everyone except the kids, who range from bad to worse, and Leigh just mug their way through the film. Randall included. Leigh doesn’t have much to work with, but at least she doesn’t just give up like everyone else. It’s an embarrassing movie, but she’s got nothing to be embarrassed about with it.

As opposed to literally everyone else involved. It tries to be a ninety-minute sitcom and fails. Not even shark fighting and a drunk Rae can save it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by John McGreevey and Frank Telford, based on a story by Art Arthur and Ivan Tors; director of photography, Clifford H. Poland Jr.; edited by Erwin Dumbrille; music by Jeff Barry; produced by George Sherman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tony Randall (Fred Miller), Janet Leigh (Vivian Miller), Roddy McDowall (Nate Ashbury), Jim Backus (T.R. Hollister), Ken Berry (Mel Cheever), Charlotte Rae (Myrtle Ruth), Kay Cole (Lorrie Miller), Richard Dreyfuss (Harold Webster), Lou Wagner (Marvin Webster), Gary Tigerman (Tommie Miller), Arnold Stang (Jonah), Harvey Lembeck (Sonarman), and Merv Griffin (Himself).



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).


Scaramouche (1952, George Sidney)

Scaramouche is a deliberately constructed film. I’m curious if screenwriters Ronald Millar and George Froeschel followed the source novel’s plot structure, because it’s a very peculiar series of events. It doesn’t open with the leading man, instead starting out with villain Mel Ferrer. Janet Leigh, as his love interest, gets introduced long before Eleanor Parker–who’s second-billed and leading man Stewart Granger’s love interest.

Except, of course, Ferrer and Granger are Frenchmen so the idea of them having one love interest is… against their character. But there’s also the matter of Richard Anderson, who sort of sets off the big plot–Granger’s want for vengeance–and on and on.

Director Sidney does a beautiful job focusing the viewers attention where it needs to be in each scene, but also where it’s going to need to be in the next scene. A couple huge details–maybe even three–only come up in dialogue. Scaramouche isn’t a film for the disinterested viewer.

But it’d be hard not to be enraptured with the picture. Charles Rosher’s lush color cinematography–which equally showcases the fantastic location action sequences but also the eye-shadow they’ve got on Parker–makes for a transfixing experience.

All the acting is good. Granger’s an able leading man, Ferrer’s fantastic as the villain, Parker’s outstanding in the most complicated role. In the second most complicated (the men aren’t complicated though so it’s not much), Leigh occasionally wavers but is still quite strong.

Wonderful Victor Young score too.

Scaramouche is delightfully thrilling.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Sidney; screenplay by Ronald Millar and George Froeschel, based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini; director of photography, Charles Rosher; edited by James E. Newcom; music by Victor Young; produced by Carey Wilson; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Stewart Granger (Andre Moreau), Eleanor Parker (Lenore), Janet Leigh (Aline de Gavrillac), Mel Ferrer (Noel, Marquis de Maynes), Henry Wilcoxon (Chevalier de Chabrillaine), Nina Foch (Marie Antoinette), Richard Anderson (Philippe de Valmorin), Robert Coote (Gaston Binet) and Lewis Stone (Georges de Valmorin).


Halloween H20 (1998, Steve Miner)

Halloween H20 is a mishmash. It’s a sequel to a seventies slasher movie, it’s a post-modern slasher movie of the Scream variety, it’s a thoughtful sequel, it’s a somewhat successful rumination on redemption and the cost of such redemption.

Director Miner’s composition is, appropriately, more John Carpenter homage than mimicry. He and cinematographer Daryn Okada hold the picture together; while pieces occasionally spill out, they keep it pretty well solid throughout.

Without Jamie Lee Curtis, of course, H20 wouldn’t work. The plot could work without her, but not the scenes. Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg’s script has these great scenes–particularly Curtis’s relationship with son Josh Hartnett and beau Adam Arkin. Those are the “real world” things. The writers also produce a striking horror sequence involving a child in distress.

For the teenagers being in danger, the script doesn’t do as well. Some of it is just bad acting. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe is bad, Michelle Williams is mediocre–though Adam Hann-Byrd is good. O’Keefe butchers her witty dialogue.

H20 isn’t a scary movie in the traditional sense. It toys with the whole idea of inevitability as it relates to the genre, whether in the opening “scare” or the boogeyman’s arrival.

Curtis is utterly fantastic. Hartnett and Arkin are both good, though in some ways neither get enough story time. Janet Leigh has a nice little part and LL Cool J is amusing.

The Marco Beltrami (with some John Ottman) score is usually effective.

It’s an unexpectedly excellent film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Miner; screenplay by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg, based on a story by Zappia and characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter; director of photography, Daryn Okada; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami and John Ottman; production designer, John Willett; produced by Paul Freeman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Keri Tate), Josh Hartnett (John Tate), Adam Arkin (Will Brennan), Michelle Williams (Molly), Adam Hann-Byrd (Charlie), Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (Sarah), Janet Leigh (Norma Watson), LL Cool J (Ronny), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jimmy), Branden Williams (Tony) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers Whittington).


The Fog (1980, John Carpenter)

It’s not just Janet Leigh being in the film or all the trouble–visibly–starting when Jamie Lee Curtis arrives in town, it’s everything about The Fog–it’s an aware Hitchcock homage. The list can continue with the setting, the reference to The Birds, but it’s even more. There’s a definite feel to the film; Carpenter seemingly (he really doesn’t, since the film’s only ninety minutes) dedicates a bunch of time to the character development.

He’s got that fantastic introduction to Adrienne Barbeau’s character. There’s her talking to admirer Charles Cyphers on the phone to showcase her actual personality (versus her radio personality), the guys on the boat talking about her, then, a few scenes later, there are the backstory heavy photographs and newspaper clippings. It takes almost no time, but Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill create this incredibly full character. I think the line about her grocery shopping does a lot of work in about four seconds.

Hill’s contributions to the script can’t be overlooked–besides Barbeau’s fine character, there’s also the almost passive–but touching–romance between Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s so passive, it’s hard to even call it a romance, but it’s there and the scenes are great. Atkins is the closest thing the film’s got to a leading man and he’s fantastic–his character’s also very Hitchcockian. The film’s got six principles–Barbeau, Atkins, Curtis, Leigh, Nancy Keyes and Hal Holbrook. Leigh and Keyes spend most of the film together–another great relationship–while Barbeau and Holbrook are mostly solo. Holbrook’s part is only significant at the beginning and end, so the film’s almost three–Barbeau the radio deejay, Atkins and Curtis’s wild ride, and Leigh and Keyes working on the town’s anniversary celebration.

The anniversary celebration, which is handled extremely carefully, just shows off what a great job Carpenter does with limited money here. Everything gives the impression of majesty, mostly due to Carpenter’s fine Panavision composition and Dean Cundey’s lush color palate (another Hitchcock similarity). It’s an incredibly tight script and the majority of the film doesn’t have a single misstep. There’s Cyphers in his small role and he’s great. Darwin Jostin has a cameo, he’s great. It’s all great… until the end.

The end falls apart slowly, maybe because it’s hurried. After spending so much time with Curtis and Atkins (and Leigh and Keyes), seeing them pushed aside for Holbrook to take over–while Barbeau awkwardly narrates–really knocks away at the picture.

The film opens slowly and quietly. You’ve got John Houseman telling a story. Houseman’s definitely got the voice for it. It’s gradual, ominous and full of mood. The ending is fast, loud and neon.

The performances are all good, especially Barbeau (until the end, she can’t make her monologues sound good, no one could), Atkins, Keyes and Curtis. Atkins is such an assured leading man, it’s hard to believe he never played one again (maybe he did, but I’ve sure never seen it). Barbeau’s character is so interesting, she could have played her in a straight, non-genre picture and it probably would have been even better.

It’s great filmmaking, it’s just a problematic film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Charles Bornstein and Tommy Lee Wallace; music by Carpenter; production designer, Wallace; produced by Hill; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Adrienne Barbeau (Stevie Wayne), Jamie Lee Curtis (Elizabeth Solley), Janet Leigh (Kathy Williams), John Houseman (Mr. Machen), Tom Atkins (Nick Castle), James Canning (Dick Baxter), Charles Cyphers (Dan O’Bannon), Nancy Kyes (Sandy Fadel), Ty Mitchell (Andy), Hal Holbrook (Father Malone), John F. Goff (Al Williams) and George ‘Buck’ Flower (Tommy Wallace).


An American Dream (1966, Robert Gist)

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Stuart Whitman before–I just went through his filmography and nothing jumped out (except Interrupted Melody and it’s a bit part, but going to be amusing in a moment)–anyway, I can’t believe I’ve never heard of him because he’s kind of like a Glenn Ford who can’t act. An American Dream is no winner–after a wonderful opening, one suggesting director Robert Gist was going to do something interesting in terms of filmmaking–but Whitman is real awful. Janet Leigh’s terrible too, but her bad performance is clearly the script. Whitman’s bad performance is all his own.

Eleanor Parker is in it for a bit (she plays Whitman’s wife who he murders) and she’s got some amusing scenes, making the melodramatic trashiness of the film entertaining, but once she goes it becomes intolerable. The nice Johnny Mandel score also changes around that point too, becoming annoying and predictable instead of understated and thoughtful.

Gist turns out to be a sixties director in the worst sense, the kind who can’t–in traditional TV scene situation–think of setups besides the ones on television. Gist directed mostly TV, so there’s a reason for it, but that opening certainly suggested otherwise. For the first five minutes, I thought everything I’d heard about the film was wrong….

But it isn’t.

There are so many heinous performances in the film I can’t list them all, but Joe De Santis is extraordinary. Only Murray Hamilton and Parker–in many ways, more so Hamilton–emerge unscathed.

It’s truly something awful, though, I suppose, an interesting example of a bad period of American filmmaking. Like now, when music videos have come to define cinematic style in bad movies, except it was television defining artless style….

Amazing opening though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Gist; screenplay by Mann Rubin, based on the novel by Norman Mailer; director of photography, Sam Leavitt; edited by George R. Rohrs; music by Johnny Mandel; produced by William Conrad; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Stuart Whitman (Stephen Richard Rojack), Janet Leigh (Cherry McMahon), Eleanor Parker (Deborah Rojack), Barry Sullivan (Lieutenant Roberts), Lloyd Nolan (Barney Kelly), Murray Hamilton (Arthur Kabot), Joe De Santis (Eddie Ganucci), J.D. Cannon (Police Sergeant Walt Leznicki), Susan Denberg (Ruta), Les Crane (Nicky) and Warren Stevens (Johnny Dell).


Harper (1966, Jack Smight)

Harper may very well be an anachronism. I’m not quite sure how to use the word. There’s certainly something off about it. It’s based on a novel written in 1949–a detective novel in the vein of Chandler, which explains why it feels like Chandler–but then it’s filmed in 1966 and it’s not a period piece, but that discrepancy isn’t what I’m talking about. Harper was on the cusp between studio-based filming and location filming. A lot of Harper is location work, shot by Conrad L. Hall, who does a beautiful job. Except there’s some studio stuff in there–driving with rear projection–and it just doesn’t work. When the movie started and I realized–around the time Johnny Mandel’s name showed up with the music credit–it was directed by Jack Smight. All I could remember from Smight’s oeuvre was one of the Airport movies, but I knew he wasn’t going to work out. The combination of him and Johnny Mandel doing a detective movie, just wasn’t going to work.

But Harper does work to some degree. It’s incredibly well-written by William Goldman and incredibly well-acted by the entire cast. Except you’ve got a cast and a writer–whether they knew it or not (though I imagine Goldman did know)–working against the director. Smight wasn’t trying to screw up the movie, his background just didn’t provide the tools required to make Harper work to its full potential. Watching the movie, I couldn’t help thinking about Bullitt and how Peter Yates did something different with Bullitt and Jack Smight didn’t do anything different with Harper and Harper was written to be a different kind of movie. There are scenes going on too long for emphasis and these music cues to clue the viewer in on this film being “cool” maybe… I don’t know. It’s not a cool movie. Listen to the searching, sadden dialogue. The scenes between Paul Newman and divorce-in-progress wife Janet Leigh are fantastic. Not even Smight misunderstanding Goldman’s script and Newman and Leigh’s acting can cut down on how wonderful their eventual scene (after they’re in a couple telephone conversation scenes) turns out.

Harper‘s opening credits are a treasure-trove of good actors who’ve become punch lines or just forgotten. Lauren Bacall shows up, playing–to some degree–her character’s father from The Big Sleep. She’s only around for a couple scenes, but she’s good in them and having fun. She’s playing for the camera though, which is sort of what Smight was going for. A laugh. Specifically, those punch line actors are Shelley Winters and Robert Wagner. Wagner’s damn good here. Winters is playing herself, which is funny for a bit, and then it becomes clear she doesn’t have much else to do. In the forgotten department, Robert Webber’s scary good and Strother Martin shows up in a straight role (probably the first time I’ve seen him not being funny). Julie Harris is actually the only disappointing performance. Arthur Hill’s good and I thought it was strange to see Newman share so much of the film with him, but then I looked at Newman’s filmography and realized he doesn’t monopolize. A lot of the friendship between Newman and Hill is verbalized though and maybe it was the unexpected.

I’ve seen Harper before. Maybe seven years ago it aired on AMC, probably letterboxed. I remember not being impressed with it. Seeing it again, I definitely appreciate it more, but there’s a bit of sadness along with it–just because it could have been so much better, if only it had a different director.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Smight; screenplay by William Goldman, from a novel by Ross Macdonald; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Stefan Arnsten; music by Johnny Mandel; produced by Jerry Gershwin and Elliot Kastner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Paul Newman (Lew Harper), Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Sampson), Julie Harris (Betty Fraley), Arthur Hill (Albert Graves), Janet Leigh (Susan Harper), Pamela Tiffin (Miranda Sampson), Robert Wagner (Alan Traggert), Robert Webber (Dwight Troy), Shelley Winters (Fay Estabrook), Harold Gould (Sheriff Spanner), Strother Martin (Claude), Roy Jensen (Puddler), Martin West (Deputy) and Jacqueline de Wit (Mrs. Kronberg).


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