Ned Beatty

Mikey and Nicky (1976, Elaine May)

The first hour of Mikey and Nicky is trying to decide if you’re going to like either of them. Because they don’t deserve sympathy, it’s just whether you’re going to like them. It’s possible to be sympathetic to Peter Falk (Mikey) while still liking John Cassavettes (Nicky). The movie runs two hours, there’s maybe fifteen minutes where you can do both those things simultaneously. And there’s time for being sympathetic to Falk, liking Cassavettes. Feeling guilty about both emotions. Mikey and Nicky doesn’t manipulate the audience–it’s very deliberate about how it sets things up, but the one twist comes really early on, with some exquisite foreshadowing from director May, both in the film and her script. And the actors too. There’s always a lot going on in the film for the two leads. The whole movie–not the plot–hinges on how their relationship develops (in a crisis) over the two hours.

See, they’re both in the mob. Though more like work for the mob. It’s not too important. When the mobsters do show up–Sanford Meisner and William Hickey–it’s one of May’s almost straight gags. The film’s full of them, especially in the first act when Falk is trying to get Cassavettes to get out of town and Cassavettes won’t leave his hotel room because he’s been locked up in there for a few days and nuts. As the film goes on–it takes place over like nine hours–the characters get tireder and tireder, more and more stressed. Sometimes it’s with new characters who come in–once Mikey and Nicky starts introducing the women in the men’s lives, it doesn’t stop. They’re completely absent for the first almost half and then the rest of the movie is basically all about how these astonishingly broken and awful men abuse the women in their lives. It doesn’t become the a plot–which is about Falk trying to get Cassavettes out of town before out-of-town and unpleasant hit man Ned Beatty can get him. Of course, they don’t know how close Beatty is getting or even his identity. Cassavettes goes in and out of paranoia for the first forty minutes or so. The way the character development drives the subplots is phenomenal. Mikey and Nicky has some unstable elements–but May’s gently savage about character shifts and plot developments are always wondrous. Like, Cassavettes goes from being this potential scumbag at the beginning to this possibly likable one to a piece of crap as an aside, while family man Falk calling home is the initial scene focus. And the movie’s just got done with the big reveal. Everything else is fallout for the audience, but not the characters, which is just another layer for the audience. It’s breathtakingly.

Most of the movie is about whether or not Cassavettes is going to get killed; you can easily spend a third of it not caring, but also a third of it where you hope he does because he really deserves it. The film takes these vague caricature roles–background thugs–and fleshes them out in miserable detail. The film’s always aware of the crime genre and it respects it, but tries not to interact with it. It’s not against genre, it’s just not genre. At all. It’s comedy. Really, really, really dark comedy.

There are some smiles and maybe even a laugh at the beginning when it’s Falk and Cassavettes kind of being silly. You’re not sympathetic to Cassavettes, somewhat inherently, so you can laugh at him freaking out. But once the film introduces the women… well, you’re rooting for him to be in terror. Because about halfway through the film, Cassavettes takes Falk up to Carol Grace’s apartment. To have some drinks, be mean to her, but also for sex. Grace and the other two main supporting actresses have the hardest parts in the film. They’ve got to create a character where the stars–in performance, direction, script–don’t let them have any oxygen. It’s really unpleasant, because May doesn’t show them any sympathy. The film’s narrative distance to the toxic masculinity it showcases never wavers.

Joyce Van Patten plays Cassavettes’s wife and she ought to have the best performance in the film but there are all these visual flubs during her big scene. John Carter and Sheldon Kahn’s editing averages to be, well, pretty average but when they’ve got to deal with mismatched footage–from apparently two drastically different takes on the scene–it’s not good. They don’t get away with it and somehow they emphasize the mismatch, which is a bummer for the scene given how great Van Patten’s been until things get shaky. It still works for the film, because the film’s not about Van Patten at all. Except in how she’s a victim, just like Grace, just like Rose Arrick as Falk’s wife. See, Arrick shows up early when Falk’s calling home to check in. She’s established. And getting the reveal on her life towards the end is another of the film’s gut punches.

Gorgeous photography from… wait for it… Bernie Abramson, Lucien Ballard, Jack Cooperman, Jerry File, and Victor J. Kemper. The styles never clash–five photographers is a shock–and the film always looks right for what it needs to do at a given time. According to IMDb, Ballard did the last sequence and he does great work (he gets to bring in the daylight).

Also impressive is John Strauss’s score. Even when it’s excessive, it always fits. May’s got a great looking and sounding picture, just one with never great cuts.

Of the actors, Cassavettes is better more often, but Falk’s got some amazing scenes. Falk’s best scenes are better than any of Cassavettes’s scenes. Beatty’s fine as the hit man. It’s like an extended cameo. May plays Beatty more for laughs, but mean ones. There’s a lot of meanness to Mikey and Nicky.

So the film gets to the third act with a whole bunch of baggage, with the baggage getting heavier later on as the film transitioned from the sort of black comedy “adventure” or quest to the reflective visits to the three destroyed women. And May delivers on the finish perfectly. It’s so good. Even though the editors screw it up a little.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and by Elaine May; directors of photography, Bernie Abramson, Lucien Ballard, Jack Cooperman, Victor J. Kemper, and Jerry File; edited by John Carter and Sheldon Kahn; music by John Strauss; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Michael Hausman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Peter Falk (Mikey), John Cassavetes (Nicky), Ned Beatty (Kinney), Rose Arrick (Annie), Carol Grace (Nellie), William Hickey (Sid Fine), Sanford Meisner (Dave Resnick), Joyce Van Patten (Jan), and M. Emmet Walsh (Bus Driver).


The Big Easy (1986, Jim McBride)

There’s not much script structure like The Big Easy’s script structure. It’s an exceptionally constructed screenplay. The film’s great, but it all hinges on how Daniel Petrie Jr.’s script works. As previously introduced (whether onscreen or off) come back into the film, expanding on their original impression, as the relationship–okay, hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Big Easy is about assistant district attorney Ellen Barkin trying to ferret out some bad cops. Possible bad cop Dennis Quaid is on hand not just to investigate–and hopefully dissuade Barkin about her impression of the New Orleans Police Department–but also to romance her. Romancing her quickly turns into this whirlwind love affair, with lots of sex (director McBride, cinematographer Affonso Beato, and editor Mia Goldman compose a wicked sex scene–no male gaze until after it’s all over), lots of working together (they’re supposed to be on the same side), and lots of general chemistry. The first act of Big Easy establishes Quaid and Barkin as a wonderful screen pairing.

Shame about Quaid maybe being a dirty cop, which then sends the narrative into an entirely different direction. But Petrie works so many plots and subplots in the film, it’s not until the third act everything is established. Barkin spent the first act as protagonist, with that focus moving more to Quaid (who always shared it to some degree), but in the third act, Petrie and McBride have ground situation revelations in store.

The other thing about the script is how quick it all moves. The film’s present action is maybe a couple weeks… maybe. There’s always time to relax though–as Quaid (and the title) reminds everyone, it’s The Big Easy, after all. McBride and Beato love the New Orleans locations, with Barkin’s recent transplant seeing everything fresh (for the viewer). It’s often delightful–funny, warm, beautiful–but it’s also very, very rough. McBride works wonders with the tone; Barkin and Quaid’s chemistry, regardless of what the narrative requires, always takes precedence. It’s what makes the film after all.

As far as lead acting goes, it’s hard to say who’s better. At first it seems like Barkin has a deeper character, albeit less flashy. The flashiness initially seems too much for Quaid, but once there’s a deep dive into his character, the performance becomes a lot fuller. It’s easiest to let them share the top spot; The Big Easy’s acting, how Quaid and Barkin deal with the script’s developments, how McBride frames them, is exceptional.

The supporting cast is all strong, starting with third-billed Ned Beatty. He’s Quaid’s boss and future step-father. Lisa Jane Persky’s Quaid’s girl Friday. She’s awesome in the part. It probably shouldn’t be a bigger part, since she’s just there for exposition and banter, but Persky could’ve easily run a spin-off herself. McBride’s tone for the rather serious film is often genial and welcoming. Persky and Beatty help a lot with it. John Goodman and Ebbe Roe Smith are funny as dumb cops. Grace Zabriskie is awesome as Quaid’s mom. And Charles Ludlam makes a great lawyer.

Great music, both incidental, soundtrack, and Brad Fiedel’s playful score. It’s technically outstanding–Beato excels at whatever he needs to be lighting and Goldman’s editing is strong from the start. McBride uses a variety of techniques–including actors looking directly into the camera, something I usually loathe–to facilitate performances. The second act, which is the least “pleasant” of the film, is the best directed.

The Big Easy is fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jim McBride; written by Daniel Petrie Jr.; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Mia Goldman; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Stephen J. Friedman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Remy McSwain), Ellen Barkin (Anne Osborne), Ned Beatty (Jack Kellom), Lisa Jane Persky (McCabe), Tom O’Brien (Bobby McSwain), John Goodman (DeSoto), Ebbe Roe Smith (Dodge), Charles Ludlam (Lamar Parmentel), and Grace Zabriskie (Mama McSwain).


Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977, John Boorman)

Oh, no, Ennio Morricone did the music for Exorcist II: The Heretic. I feel kind of bad now because the music is not good and I like Ennio Morricone. I’m sure I’ve liked something cinematographer William A. Fraker photographed too, but his photography in Heretic is atrocious. Because it’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, everything about it is atrocious. It doesn’t even look like anyone had any fun; it’s not like director Boorman goofed off and then slapped together some awful sequel involving hypnosis and super-beings among us. Maybe some stuff got changed, but all the stupid was always there.

In addition to the stupid there’s the bad. Bad acting. Lots of bad acting. Richard Burton is bad. I like Richard Burton but he is very bad in this film. Louise Fletcher isn’t great either. She might be better than Burton but has a worse part so it’s iffy. But then Burton does perv out on Linda Blair, who’s probably seventeen in a bunch of this movie, and she’s supposed to be playing a sixteen year-old. It’s strange because Boorman clearly tries not to get creepy with Blair when she’s doing a dance act, but then he’ll get creepy whenever she’s in a nightgown or something. It’s weird. It’s another weird, awful thing about this movie.

Awful cameo from Ned Beatty. Embarrassingly to both Beatty and the film. Kitty Winn’s bad. Belinda Beatty’s fine. She sort of disappears once it’s established priest Burton can understand the mental telepathy machine doctor Fletcher has cooked up to cure children of mental illness. Burton sees its potential in demon-hunting.

And then it just gets stupider. And stupider. And stupider. And the sets are crap and Fraker can’t shoot them and it’s long and why does Burton take Blair to a creepy hotel and how is it possible there isn’t a single line of good dialogue in the whole thing. It’s awful. But in a way you do want to watch it, you do want to see where it goes, because it goes all over the place.

The Heretic. Yuck. But kind of amusingly yuck.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Boorman; screenplay by William Goodhart, based on characters created by William Peter Blatty; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Tom Priestley; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Boorman and Richard Lederer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil), Max von Sydow (Father Merrin), Richard Burton (Father Philip Lamont), Louise Fletcher (Dr. Gene Tuskin), Kitty Winn (Sharon Spencer), Belinda Beatty (Liz), Paul Henreid (The Cardinal), James Earl Jones (Kokumo) and Ned Beatty (Obnoxious man).


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).


Switching Channels (1988, Ted Kotcheff)

In Switching Channels, Kotcheff attempts two styles he’s inept at directing—madcap and slapstick. He’s got Ned Beatty, who can act in both those styles, and Beatty does okay. He’s not any good, but one can’t hold the film’s failings against him.

But for his other buffoon, Kotcheff uses Christopher Reeve. The audience is supposed to dislike Reeve because he’s vain, wealthy and a nice guy. One of the biggest laughs in the film is supposed to be at Reeve’s expense, when he’s in an acrophobia-induced fit. Reeve’s got some decent moments (particularly at the beginning of the film), which makes it all the more unfortunate.

The hero of the film is Burt Reynolds, who doesn’t so much give a performance as audition for his subsequent sitcom. He and Reeve are rivals for Kathleen Turner’s affections… though not really. Turner and Reynolds have zero chemistry, making any romantic possibilities laughable.

If the film continued where it opened, with Reeve and Turner meeting and romancing in a tranquil Montréal resort, Switching Channels probably would’ve worked. Turner’s good. She’s just not the film’s protagonist and so, when it pretends she’s important to it, the film fails.

The film—and Kotcheff—do her and Reeve the most disservice.

Though set in Chicago, it’s a very Canadian one. City hall is apparently in an office park.

There’s some good supporting work from Henry Gibson and George Newbern’s endearing as Reynolds’s flunky.

Between Reynolds’s non-acting and Kotcheff’s awkwardness, it doesn’t have a chance.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; screenplay by Jonathan Reynolds, based on a play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; director of photography, François Protat ; edited by Thom Noble; music by Michel Legrand; production designer, Anne Pritchard; produced by Martin Ransohoff; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Kathleen Turner (Christy Colleran), Burt Reynolds (John L. Sullivan IV), Christopher Reeve (Blaine Bingham), Ned Beatty (Roy Ridnitz), Henry Gibson (Ike Roscoe), George Newbern (Siegenthaler), Al Waxman (Berger), Ken James (Warden Terwilliger), Barry Flatman (Zaks), Ted Simonett (Tillinger), Anthony Sherwood (Carvalho), Joe Silver (Mordsini) and Charles Kimbrough (The Governor).


Midnight Crossing (1988, Roger Holzberg)

Midnight Crossing is a terribly written piece of garbage, but there’s some definite potential to it. It takes forever for the potential to show.

The movie opens with one of the worst directed, worst written action sequences I can think of. Then it flashes forward to modern day and it’s bad, but sometimes funny. At this point, Holzberg’s direction isn’t terrible. He’s shooting in Miami and it’s generally pleasant looking. Then he gets on the boat, which should be better, but it isn’t. It’s worse.

The two big problems are the script and Daniel J. Travanti. Wisconsin-born Travanti is playing a redneck and can’t keep his accent. If you’ve ever wanted to see him in a speedo, this movie’s the one for you. It’s shocking he couldn’t find better work after “Hill Street Blues.”

Faye Dunaway, I can sort of understand. She was at the end of her career. She still gives the best performance by far. Even if it’s sometimes silly. She reunites with Network co-star Ned Beatty, who’s laughably awful as an Australian. They must have needed to make house payments.

Kim Cattrall is bad, with flashes of decent acting. She gives the second best performance.

Leading man John Laughlin is affably bad. Sometimes his Southern accent breaks through.

The film ends with a decent thriller sequence, then that interesting final development I mentioned earlier. Sadly, Holzberg didn’t build the film around those elements.

I imagine the production story is more interesting than the picture itself.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Holzberg; screenplay by Holzberg and Douglas Weiser, based on a story by Holzberg; director of photography, Henry Vargas; edited by Earl Watson; music by Paul Buckmaster and Al Gorgoni; production designer, Jose Duarte; produced by Mathew Hayden; released by Vestron Pictures.

Starring John Laughlin (Jeff Schubb), Faye Dunaway (Helen Barton), Daniel J. Travanti (Morely Barton), Kim Cattrall (Alexa Schubb), Pedro De Pool (Captain Mendoza) and Ned Beatty (Ellis).


Captain America (1990, Albert Pyun), the director’s cut

Captain America actually has a few interesting ideas. First is how Carla Cassola’s scientist (she creates the villain, Scott Paulin’s Red Skull, and Captain America—played by Matt Salinger) almost serves as a surrogate mother to the two boys. Well, they’re supposed to be boys when they change. Cassola probably gives the film’s best performance; she manages to imply depth rather well.

Second is how Captain America is a failure. The script touches on it and Salinger tries, but there’s just not enough character development to show it. Instead of focusing on the titular character, Captain America often focuses on the supporting cast.

The film reunites Christmas Story stars Darren McGavin (who’s awful) and Melinda Dillon (who’s just bad). Of course, they don’t have a scene together. Neither do Deliverance alumni Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty. Beatty’s bad, but Cox has his moments. One wonders if he wanted to be an action star, as he gets to beat up a bunch of eurotrash.

Oh, that element’s another amusing one. All of Paulin’s gang are eurotrash. It’s sort of funny.

Salinger’s not always terrible, but he’s too physically awkward to be believable. Not to mention the costume being a disaster. His love interest, played by Kim Gillingham, is bad. Except in her old age makeup.

Michael Nouri manages not to embarrass himself too much.

Pyun’s direction is mostly weak, often obviously due to the minuscule budget; he’ll occasionally have a profound shot.

It’s fairly awful, but at least it’s interestingly awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Pyun; screenplay by Stephen Tolkin, based on a story by Tolkin and Lawrence Block and characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Philip Alan Waters; edited by Jon Poll; music by Barry Goldberg; production designer, Douglas H. Leonard; produced by Menahem Golan; released by 21st Century Film Corporation.

Starring Matt Salinger (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Ronny Cox (Tom Kimball), Ned Beatty (Sam Kolawetz), Darren McGavin (General Fleming), Michael Nouri (Lt. Colonel Louis), Scott Paulin (Red Skull), Kim Gillingham (Bernice Stewart / Sharon), Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Rogers), Bill Mumy (Young General Fleming), Francesca Neri (Valentina de Santis) and Carla Cassola (Dr. Maria Vaselli).


Superman II (1980, Richard Lester)

There are, now, three versions of Superman II. The theatrical, an extended television version (not officially released) and original director Richard Donner’s take on it. Unfortunately, Superman II is–as a narrative and a sequel–rife with problems. Drawing attention to these problems is a bad idea. And the version with the least emphasis on them? Richard Lester’s original.

Whatever Lester’s problem with the Superman character, it’s not really apparent here. Superman II feels like a good Superman movie should feel–some of the campy humor works, some of it doesn’t. I’d say about fifty percent of Terence Stamp’s lines fail. The successful ones, however, are great. And Sarah Douglas is fantastic.

Most importantly, Lester gets some wonderful acting out of Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve. The somewhat nonsensical romance doesn’t fit in the picture–and never will, no matter how many revisions people make–but it makes the film singular. Superman wasn’t a particularly long film series and the familiarity Lester gets out of Kidder and Reeve in this one, the first sequel, is something television shows usually have to go three or four seasons to achieve.

The special effects–particularly the flying sequences–are occasionally weak. There are a lot more complicated rear projection sequences than in the first film and they don’t work out very often.

Like I said before, Superman II‘s basically a bad idea for a movie. But it works out in the end, thanks to the actors and, yes, Lester.

That Paris opening’s great.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lester; written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, from a story by Puzo, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; directors of cinematography, Robert Paynter and Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Ken Thorne; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher), Susannah York (Lara), E.G. Marshall (The President), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Terence Stamp (General Zod).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981, Joel Schumacher)

I’m not sure I have the vocabulary to properly discuss The Incredible Shrinking Woman. It’s an experience–Ned Beatty was in Network and he appeared in this one? Sorry. Anyway, according the IMDb, the movie might have made money–in fact, it might have even been a hit. I always assumed it was an enormous failure, but if it was a success… well, first, I’m very confused. Second–there is no second. I’m still perplexed by the idea The Incredible Shrinking Woman was a hit.

Apparently, there were some really bad comedies in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Shrinking Woman is one of them. It’s a gimmick comedy, but the idea of Lily Tomlin shrinking isn’t even the gimmick–her adventures at one foot tall are pretty tame–wow, a talk show. Instead, the gimmick is Lily Tomlin appearing in multiple roles. Besides the main character, she also plays the main character’s best friend. Or the neighbor lady who annoys her until she’s shrinking, then she relies on. The movie doesn’t really have character relationships–much less development–so you have to kind of guess what it’s trying to say.

But Tomlin’s bored with her roles. She’s visibly phoning in her performance on both of them, obtuse to the goings on–it’d be hard for her to be engaged with the material, but still… she’s sleepwalking through her own vanity project.

The script’s atrocious. I don’t think it got a single laugh out of me, only because it’s condemning materialistic American culture–but it’s doing so by making everyone emotionally removed. It’s impossible to care about the characters, much less their problems. They don’t even have real problems, because Beatty and John Glover aren’t just regular businessmen, they’re about to take over the world. It’s absurdist humor without much humor.

Glover mugs through his performance, which means he doesn’t appear to be exerting or embarrassing himself. Beatty doesn’t get away clean though. His character is terribly written and he’s in it a lot.

Charles Grodin plays Tomlin’s husband and his part in the narrative is one of the bigger defects. He kind of becomes the protagonist for a while, but not long enough for it to matter, which means it was all a waste of time–and Shrinking Woman is a less than ninety-minute movie. If it has to tread water to make its running time, there’s something wrong.

Joel Schumacher–making his theatrical, directorial debut–has a few good shots. It’s pretty bland, but the sets look cheap and unfinished, so what was he going to do. He starts it–relatively–strong; I was surprised when the mediocrity set in.

I’d heard of Shrinking Woman many, many years ago. Maybe even when I was a kid–probably then, because I still would have wanted to see it because of the title. Bad idea.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Schumacher; screenplay by Jane Wagner, based on a novel by Richard Matheson; director of photography, Bruce Logan; edited by Jeff Gourson; music by Suzanne Ciani; produced by Hank Moonjean; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lily Tomlin (Pat Kramer / Judith Beasley), Charles Grodin (Vance Kramer), Ned Beatty (Dan Beame), Henry Gibson (Dr. Eugene Nortz), Elizabeth Wilson (Dr. Ruth Ruth), Mark Blankfield (Rob), Maria Smith (Concepcion), Pamela Bellwood (Sandra Dyson) and John Glover (Tom Keller).


Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)

Network lost Oscars. It doesn’t really matter what it lost them to, because the absurdity of the Academy Awards is summed up in that one statement. Network lost Oscars.

I’m not sure what shot is Sidney Lumet’s best in the film, because I’m remembering two of them from the last half. These aren’t necessarily the best shots in the film, but they’re memorable because I can’t quite remember ever seeing anything like them before. The first is for Ned Beatty’s big scene. It’s an amazing scene from Beatty, but Lumet’s composition, the lighting scheme, the cuts to Peter Finch, it’s a singular filmic moment. The second, unfortunately in some ways, summarizes the popular half of Network. It’s the network executives sitting around Robert Duvall’s office, deciding what must be done. It’s been about ten years since I’ve seen Network and I don’t know if I passively remembered the resolution or if, in those ten years, I’ve consumed enough media the resolution just became the most logical thing in the world. Lumet makes enough room for six people in his shot and lets the camera sit. Duvall might even walk into the shot. There’s only one close-up I can remember, otherwise Lumet just lets it sit.

The popular half of Network is the one where people remember the lines, the one acclaimed in modernity as a classic of 1970s cinema. Network is–and I’m only going to talk about this aspect for a second–more obviously true today than it was in 1976. The Saudis buying up America, for example, much more pertinent these days than then. The dehumanizing effects of television, much worse today than then… at least then, television wasn’t apathetic to suffering. It had yet to become the idiot box. It’s funny in that sad, tragic way how much acclaim the sound bits from Network get–the lip service. Makes one wonder if those giving the awards (the American Film Institute) watches the film.

The other half of Network is, much like the non-pioneering half of Citizen Kane, forgotten. And it’s, like Kane, the more important one. In Network, it’s the William Holden side. Holden’s performance–which, incredulously, he reportedly got due to The Towering Inferno–is astounding. Network wouldn’t work if any of the cast couldn’t hold with Holden or Finch or Faye Dunaway. Duvall’s part, in the first half, is the sketchiest, just because of the plot, but Duvall holds it and makes it work and it pays off big in the end. Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting for less than six minutes. Easily deserved it. The combination of Lumet’s direction and Chayefsky’s script for scenes like Straight’s… it’s truly special filmmaking. Everything else aside, all of Finch’s hysterics aside (as well as the wonderfully absurd scenes, like the terrorists worrying about syndication rights), Network is a quiet film.

I could go on ad nauseam–I have not, for instance, discussed Dunaway’s performance or Chayefsky’ script the editing or the sound design–but it’ll turn into a list. Overanalyzing Network isn’t useful, it’s far too consequential.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; written by Paddy Chayefsky; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Alan Heim; music by Elliott Lawrence; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Howard Gottfried; released by United Artists.

Starring Faye Dunaway (Diane Christenson), William Holden (Max Schumacher), Peter Finch (Howard Beals), Robert Duvall (Frank Hackett), Wesley Addy (Nelson Chaney), Ned Beatty (Arthur Jenson), Darryl Hickman (Bill Herron), Beatrice Straight (Louise Schumacher) and Marlene Warfield (Laureen Hobbs).


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