Kenneth Mars

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, George Roy Hill)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid opens with a sepia-toned silent film newsreel. It’s exposition, but also contrast. The silent images of a daring train robbery distract from reading the film’s accompanying opening titles. When the film itself starts, it’s just as sepia-toned. Only it’s Conrad Hall and he’s able to suggest the lush, denied colors. Director Hill isn’t just making a Western, he’s making a comment on the genre itself. Not just him, of course, writer William Goldman’s asking some of the same questions about how the genre works. Butch Cassidy forces the audience to question the setting, not embrace it. It’s a hostile place, even when it can appear gentle, even when it can be funny. The first hour of the film, features Paul Newman and Robert Redford in something very close to constant sequence. Each scene comes soon after the other. And then it turns into a chase. A long chase. It’s exhausting. And great. Because Hall has got the color in. Once the characters are established, the color returns. But then it goes away again.

I don’t want to think too much about where the act breaks are in Butch Cassidy, but there’s definitely a big chance once it becomes clear no matter how much charm Newman and Redford have, it’s not going to end well. One of the supporting players even comments on it. The film has a very strange, very distinct approach to the supporting players. The supporting players should feel episodically placed but they don’t. They’re sprinkled throughout the film, but Goldman and Hill use them for very specific tasks. One reveals one thing, one comments on another. Goldman’s script is phenomenal.

Then the film changes. And the color goes away. Newman, Redford and Ross go to New York. It’s like 1906 or 1907 and it’s all silent, all in still picture montage. Most of Butch Cassidy doesn’t have music. Burt Bacharach’s score alternates between effervescent and melancholy. Most of the film is sound effects. The sound design is gorgeous, just as gorgeous as Hall’s photography, just as gorgeous as John C. Howard and Richard C. Meyer’s editing. Hill’s got a great crew and he gets great work from them. The montage sequence furthers the story, furthers the relationships of the characters. It’s a great device and completely out of place with everything before it in the film. Then the sepia reminds of the opening titles and it’s Hill pulling the audience back a little bit, redirecting their attention. The rest of the film, once Newman, Redford and Ross get to Bolivia, has to be watched differently; it’s certainly written differently, paced differently, even acted differently.

Redford and Newman. Goldman very carefully introduces their friendship, getting the audience invested in it. The performances are great too–ambitious but playful; Redford and Newman’s banter never gets overpowering. It never overwhelms the film or the actors. Hill’s real careful about how he directs them and how they’re edited. Newman and Redford are very close, in frame and physicality, until Ross is around all the time. Only then does Hill open up and show the characters from one another’s perspective. Until that point–over halfway through the film–they’re a unit.

Those singularly placed supporting players–Jeff Corey, George Furth, Kenneth Mars, Strother Martin among a couple others–are all fantastic. Especially Corey and Martin. And Furth and Mars. Oh, and Timothy Scott.

There’s so much to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s so well-made, anything could become a tangent. Hill starts out directing this fantastic Western only to change it up with this montage and then the Bolivia scenes. It’s awesome work from Hill. You just want to talk about it. You just want to show it to people so you can talk about it more, think about it more, appreciate it more. It’s that special kind of awesome.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Roy Hill; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by John C. Howard and Richard C. Meyer; music by Burt Bacharach; produced by John Foreman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy), Robert Redford (The Sundance Kid), Katharine Ross (Etta Place), Jeff Corey (Sheriff Bledsoe), Strother Martin (Percy Garris), Kenneth Mars (Marshal) and George Furth (Woodcock).


The New, Original Wonder Woman (1975, Leonard Horn)

There are a number of things to talk about with The New, Original Wonder Woman. It’s a TV pilot movie. It’s a self-contained narrative about Wonder Woman, amiably but not quite enthusiastically played by Lynda Carter, coming to the United States in the middle of World War II. It’s this weird, campy, ill-advised serious “silly Nazis” played by comedic actors. It’s many things.

It’s also a painfully manipulative bit of condescension. After setting Carter up as the strongest lead possible, it turns out she’s willing to degrade herself as Lyle Waggoner’s secretary while incognito. It’s creepy. The way Stanley Ralph Ross writes it is creepy. It’s the last scene of the movie, which I don’t consider spoiling because Wonder Woman went to series. I myself was a “Wonder Woman” fan as a toddler. I’m trying to keep myself measured–going back to the show thirty-three years later, I was letting the promise of nostalgia carry a lot.

But no. I can’t. Some of New, Original is fine. But it’s all so disjointed, nothing can be good because it seems like other elements are moving in complete independence. I’m not sure if it’s Ross’s teleplay or if it’s just director Horn having a profound misunderstanding of what he’s doing, but cutting from Carter’s lame story to the silly Nazis? If it were intentional, there’d be a flow. Instead, Horn directs Stella Stevens poorly whenever she’s with John Randolph and Waggoner, but well whenever she’s with Red Buttons.

Oh, right, forgot. The thing about New, Original is it should be a camp classic. It has Cloris Leachman as Wonder Woman’s mom. Except Leachman’s terrible in the part. It’s a poorly written part and Horn’s direction of the Paradise Island sequence is the worst in the movie, but Leachman’s still terrible. It doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Mars and Henry Gibson play silly Nazis. Gibson loves the U.S.A. and sends messages by Mars’s carrier pigeons. The actors aren’t exactly having a blast, but they’re enjoying not letting themselves laugh at the material. They’re whole levels above not appearing miserable. Because Horn’s direction of those scenes isn’t good either. Mars, Gibson and Eric Braeden go for stuff and they get no support. It’s a shame. It’s almost this awesome short film about the conflicted bromance between Mars and Gibson. Or is Gibson just a heartless traitor?

But it’s not. Because Horn.

So most of Wonder Woman’s problems are because of Horn’s inept direction. It’s his inability to find the quality in his material. Red Buttons as a silly Nazi spy. Come on. It’s awesome. It has to be awesome or you can’t do it. And Horn doesn’t care. New, Original feels like someone knew what to do but no one listened enough to them.

And Carter’s okay. She has a good enough time–she’s enthusiastic about playing Wonder Woman and she’s very positive about it. But Waggoner gets too much emphasis, in the script, in the direction. Horn does some bad action sequences–Carroll Sax’s editing is awful–but Carter’s clearly the hero in them. You’re clearly supposed to watch it and think she’s kicking ass. Then Waggoner comes along and calls Lynda Carter in glasses dumpy. With poor John Randolph along to ask him to clarify the jokes for younger audiences. And Carter’s playing along so it can be “wink wink” but it’s more like “puke puke.”

So, as a pilot, I might hate watch “Wonder Woman” the series, but probably not. I hope the show was better. As a pilot movie, Horn manages to fumble a willing cast, an only occasionally odious teleplay and production values somewhere above a Roger Corman production. He should have done much better.

It really is kind of worth it at least once for the performances of Mars, Gibson, Braeden, Buttons and Stevens.

Oh, and there’s casual racism against the Japanese. It’s not even seventies TV casual racism, it’s seventies TV going overboard because it’s pretending to be forties propaganda blatant racism. It’s unpleasant. It’s not frequent, but it does stick out. Wonder Woman kind of does drown a bunch of Japanese sailors while saving Mars’s dippy butt. Mars is great and all, but come on. If Wonder Woman is going to crash a German plane into a Japanese submarine, she’s got to kill them all. Obviously, no one working on the pilot thought about it, which is the more disturbing part about it.

And New, Original isn’t like an homage to a forties propaganda movie. It should be, actually, just because of how well Mars and Gibson can keep straight faces. It’s just Horn being awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Leonard Horn; teleplay by Stanley Ralph Ross, based on characters created by William M. Marston; director of photography, Dennis Dalzell; edited by Carroll Sax; music by Charles Fox; produced by Douglas S. Cramer; aired by the American Broadcasting System.

Starring Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman), Lyle Waggoner (Major Steve Trevor), John Randolph (General Phil Blankenship), Red Buttons (Ashley Norman), Stella Stevens (Marcia), Eric Braeden (Captain Drangel), Severn Darden (Bad Guy), Fannie Flagg (Amazon Doctor), Henry Gibson (Nikolas), Kenneth Mars (Colonel Von Blasko) and Cloris Leachman (Queen Hippolyta).


Bunco (1977, Alexander Singer)

One of the best parts of Bunco–and there’s actually a lot of good stuff in it–is how director Signer composes his shots of “leads” Robert Urich and Tom Selleck. Even though Urich’s top-billed and has a little more to do, Singer makes sure to get both men in each shot. So there’s some occasionally awesome shots just from that star making technique.

Urich and Selleck got the quotation marks because they really aren’t the leads in their own pilot. Donna Mills runs the majority of the episode. She’s the undercover cop, in danger from the con man the boys can’t catch. Alan Feinstein plays the con man. He’s fantastic, far more dynamic than Urich or Selleck.

The leads have some amusing conversations, but they’re barely in it except to run around.

Oh, and Michael Sacks is bad as the big villain. But it’s otherwise, very entertaining stuff.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Alexander Singer; written and produced by Jerrold L. Ludwig; director of photography, Gene Polito; edited by Marjorie Fowler and Bill Mosher; music by John Carl Parker.

Starring Robert Urich (Walker), Tom Selleck (Gordean), Milt Kogan (Lt. Hyatt), Donna Mills (Frankie), Michael Sacks (Dixon), Marlene Clark (Nickey), Alan Feinstein (Sonny), Kenneth Mars (Bank manager) and Diana Scarwid (Lolly).


Rough Magic (1995, Clare Peploe)

Rough Magic isn’t a bad idea, it’s just poorly plotted. Most of the movie takes place in Mexico, where it’s mildly engaging and generally amusing (except when Paul Rodriguez shows up to annoy and he is incredibly annoying). Notice all the qualifiers? The movie starts strong and even gives the impression of ending strong (it doesn’t). For example, D.W. Moffett’s excellent in period pieces and most of his work is in the first fifteen minutes and the last fifteen minutes. Clare Peploe’s direction is good overall, but during the first act, it’s much better than the rest of the film.

I had assumed, given how disjointed the narrative gets–it becomes about Russell Crowe (who’s mediocre with a shifty accent and is actually better when he’s the protagonist) instead of Bridget Fonda–the novel was something obscure and maybe good, a thought I rarely have when watching an adaptation. However, the novel’s some pulp from the early 1940s, so I doubt it’s a literary masterwork and I’m wondering how much of the script is new. I’m assuming most, given how particular the setting is to the story, but I suppose it’s possible the big disconnect (from Mexico back to Los Angeles) did come from the novel. Because anyone working on the script should have seen right away it was off.

Bridget Fonda’s great, though she and Crowe don’t have much chemistry for much of the film, and she has some great scenes. Richard Schiff, Andy Romano, Kenneth Mars, Jim Broadbent–very strong supporting cast.

It’s too bad it doesn’t work out, but it becomes clear once the story moves to Mexico it isn’t going to… and then it alternates between amusing and trying, with the Rodriguez scenes something terrible.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Clare Peploe; screenplay by Robert Mundi, William Brookfield and Peploe, based on a novel by James Hadley Chase; director of photography, John J. Campbell; edited by Suzanne Fenn; music by Richard Hartley; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; produced by Declan Baldwin and Laurie Parker; released by Goldwyn Films Inc.

Starring Bridget Fonda (Myra), Russell Crowe (Alex Ross), Jim Broadbent (Doc Ansell), D.W. Moffett (Cliff Wyatt), Kenneth Mars (Ivan the Terrific), Paul Rodriguez (Diego), Andy Romano (Clayton), Richard Schiff (Wiggins) and Euva Anderson (Tojola).


Night Moves (1975, Arthur Penn)

I have a confession to make with Night Moves. I first started watching it when I was fifteen and home sick from school. I wanted to see Knight Moves with Christopher Lambert and I got this one instead. I liked Gene Hackman (or said I did) so I started watching it and I turned it off. Why?

Because fifteen-year olds are stupid.

I don’t know how I rediscovered it. I had the old Warner Home Video laserdisc, pan and scan from the early 1980s with the bubbles around the picture on the cover (f you know, you know). That must have been before film classes at college, so the only thing I can think of is Arthur Penn. I saw an Arthur Penn film on AMC (back when it was good) and went after his other stuff. At this period, I was buying laserdiscs film unseen. Blind buying. People do that with DVDs and DVDs cost $10. LaserDiscs cost a lot more. It’s possible I got the Night Moves laser on sale somewhere….

Night Moves is probably Arthur Penn’s best film, unless The Missouri Breaks is better than it looked from the moments I saw (I have it coming, right now, from Nicheflix, actually). That’s a big deal when you directed Little Big Man. I just realized I have watched Night Moves lately (2001). But this time is the first widescreen. Oh, so beautiful.

In the old days (2001), I’d have to tell you to find a good video store and still hope they stock Night Moves. With DVD, I don’t have to. You can just see it.

I’m still trying to figure out what happened to Jennifer Warren. She was in Night Moves and Slapshot and then did TV movies. She’s a great actress. Odd to appear in two of the more important American films of a decade and then nothing. Susan Clark’s in Night Moves too. Susan Clark is really good (no, I never watched “Webster.”) And as for Eugene Hackman. He’s become–edging out Dustin Hoffman–my choice for the finest actor the 1970s ever birthed. I know it’s cheating, I know Hackman and Hoffman started in the 1960s, but still….

He’s simply astounding. See Night Moves.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Penn; written by Alan Sharp; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Dede Allen and Stephen A. Rotter; music by Michael Small; production designer, George Jenkins; produced by Robert M. Sherman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Harry Moseby), Jennifer Warren (Paula), Susan Clark (Ellen Moseby), Ed Binns (Joey Ziegler), Harris Yulin (Marty Heller), Kenneth Mars (Nick), Janet Ward (Arlene Iverson), James Woods (Quentin), Melanie Griffith (Delly Grastner), Anthony Costello (Marv Ellman), John Crawford (Tom Iverson) and Ben Archibek (Charles).


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