Ned Beatty

Superman II (1980, Richard Donner), the Richard Donner cut

Superman II might just be broken. Watching “The Richard Donner Cut,” it’s an easy conclusion to come to–the greatly anticipated Marlon Brando scenes feature a callow, selfish Superman–not one who’s bursting with love for Lois Lane, like in the theatrical version. Also problematic is the utter lack of super–it’s a Superman movie, but this version of Superman II doesn’t actually have any real Superman scenes besides the rescue of the kid at Niagara Falls and then the last act city fight (which isn’t any better). He’s not doing anything super… it’s tedious, because so much of the Lois and Clark romance is shredded. I remember a review for the Daredevil director’s cut pointing out, although Jennifer Garner has the same amount of screen time, the film’s so much less painful because of the additional scenes without her. Well, this cut of Superman II has less Superman–and even has less Kryptonian supervillains–but it seems like they’re in it a lot more… and it’s not a good thing. They were shallow characters to begin with and they aren’t any better here.

While it was nice to see the Daily Planet newsroom under Donner’s vision again–and the maligned ending actually works out fine (if you forgive the uselessness of taking away Lois’s memory of Superman, which makes no sense in any version and does a disservice to the romance), well even–the only really nice stuff in the Donner Cut is extra Gene Hackman scenes. There are only a couple, both with Valerie Perrine, and they’re both great. I was hoping Perrine would show up again, but alas, she did not and the film was coasting along–most of the scenes not working because there was nothing connecting them anymore, with all the cuts of Lester-filmed material–until Hackman shows up again.

There’s one scene created from a combination of screen tests and, while the differences are noticeable, it’s a well-acted scene–even if it isn’t better than what was in the theatrical version. There are new special effects, some of which are fine, some of which needed something as simple as a black level fix and didn’t get it. John Williams has sole composer credit now and it’s all music from the first film recycled and you can tell. This version of Superman II sounds all wrong.

It’s unfortunate, after all the hubbub, it didn’t turn out to be a major achievement or something. Like I said, maybe it just doesn’t work in any form.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; 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 Stuart Baird, Michael Thau and John Victor-Smith; music by John Williams; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler and Thau; released by Warner Bros.

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



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

All the President’s Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula)

In an American history survey class, when we got to Nixon, one student asked if we could cover it. She felt we hadn’t covered it well enough. The professor said we would not be covering it–everyone knew it. He was–obviously–wrongly assuming some knowledge of history from college students, a foolish presumption (I have MFA instructors who know nothing about history). I actually have some sympathy for that student, since unless she read a book, she might not know a lot about Watergate. I read the book before I saw All the President’s Men and I still remember a couple things from that first viewing. One, the immediately odd opening credit: ‘A Robert Redford-Alan J. Pakula Film’, and the halving of the book. Given the historical importance of its contents, it’s hard not to look at President’s Men as a historical document, but it is not. It might very well be the Harry Potter of its day, actually.

From the beginning, following that odd credit, I noticed the perfection of the film’s production. Every shot is perfect, every edit. That scene with Redford on the phone (President’s Men, particularly in the first act, is probably Redford’s best work) is beautiful. Alan J. Pakula outdoes just about everyone with this film. Even after the first act, when the film’s odd pacing takes over (it’s made for a person familiar with the events, another comparison to Harry Potter), Pakula’s composition is still striking. David Shire’s score is very quiet and Pakula uses it sparingly, instead going for great sound.

Once into the film’s action, once it’s established there won’t be any real character relationships, since the principals of the film aren’t involved with the film’s major events, the film does begin to lose some steam. The wonderful character moments, when Redford and Hoffman interact with “real” people (the film’s filled with great small performances from Lindsay Crouse and Jane Alexander–Alexander in particular), stop and, while the film doesn’t get repetitive, it loses some of the charm. For that first seventy minutes, it establishes all these great little performances, then whisks them away from the viewer. Instead, there are other great performances, from Jason Robards, Jack Warden, and Martin Balsam, but somehow, those performances are less engaging. Especially when Warden effectively disappears from the film. Maybe in those more varied scenes, there’s some additional William Goldman goodness. All the President’s Men is Goldman at, if not his best then certainly his most skillful.

I thought watching the film today would be… not difficult, but somewhat sullied by the knowledge of the modern stooge media and knowing Nixon and his goons were nowhere near as bad as Republicans could get (in fact, they weren’t bad at all, all things considered), but it isn’t. The film stands on its own qualities and while it is a tad of the empty side of humaneness, it’s the best film ever made with that distance. It’s the kind of film Soderbergh wanted to make with Traffic, but couldn’t. Because he’s not Alan J. Pakula.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Robert L. Wolfe; music by David Shire; produced by Walter Coblenz; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Carl Bernstein), Robert Redford (Bob Woodward), Jack Warden (Harry Rosenfeld), Martin Balsam (Howard Simons), Hal Holbrook (Deep Throat), Jason Robards (Ben Bradlee), Jane Alexander (Bookkeeper), Meredith Baxter (Debbie Sloan), Ned Beatty (Dardis), Stephen Collins (Hugh Sloan Jr.), Penny Fuller (Sally Aiken), John McMartin (Foreign Editor), Robert Walden (Donald Segretti), Frank Wills (Himself), David Arkin (Bachinski), Henry Calvert (Barker), Dominic Chianese (Marinez), Lindsay Crouse (Kay Eddy), Valerie Curtin (Miss Milland), Richard Herd (McCord), Allyn Ann McLerie (Carolyn Abbot), Neva Patterson (Angry CRP woman) and Joshua Shelley (Al Lewis).


The Big Bus (1976, James Frawley)

Maybe I just don’t like absurdist comedies. I can’t remember why I wanted to see The Big Bus originally–it just came up again last week–maybe because of director James Frawley (who directed The Muppet Movie), but I doubt it. I’ve seen a couple IMDb comments comparing the film to Airplane!, which came out four years after The Big Bus and aped its style. A lot about the two films are the same… except The Big Bus has better acting.

It has a great 1970s cast–Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan, Ruth Gordon and Ned Beatty. Linking through the filmographies, one could find many great–but relatively (if Harold and Maude still qualifies) obscure 1970s films. The lead, Joseph Bologna, I have seen in other films, but I don’t remember him. He’s good in Bus, giving an appealing performance while understanding the absurd humor. Stockard Channing plays the love interest and is weak. She gets it, but the part isn’t right for her.

The best performances are the small ones. Besides Mulligan and Kellerman as an arguing married couple, Rene Auberjonois is great as an atheist, sex-starved priest. He’s probably the best in the film, but there’s also Beatty and Howard Hesseman, who play bickering co-workers. Stuart Margolin’s got a really small part, but he’s really funny… basically playing Angel (from “The Rockford Files”) again.

The writers, Lawrence J. Cohen and Fred Freeman, make amusing observations about film stereotypes (the graveyard full of people talking to their deceased relatives), but they let the film get too long. Of eighty-eight minutes, only the last twenty didn’t drag, since there’s a half-hour before the bus even appears. That idea, of a nuclear-powered Greyhound, is a funny idea… but, like The Big Bus, it’s not laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a pun. There are a lot of puns in The Big Bus.

Still, the cast makes it interesting (and entertaining), if not worth seeing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Frawley; written and produced by Fred Freeman and Lawrence J. Cohen; director of photography, Harry Stradling Jr.; edited by Edward Warschitka; music by David Shire; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Joseph Bologna (Dan Torrance), Stockard Channing (Kitty Baxter), John Beck (Shoulders O’Brien), Rene Auberjonois (Father Kudos), Ned Beatty (Shorty Scotty), Bob Dishy (Dr. Kurtz), Jose Ferrer (Ironman), Ruth Gordon (Old Lady), Harold Gould (Prof. Baxter), Larry Hagman (Parking Lot Doctor), Sally Kellerman (Sybil Crane), Richard Mulligan (Claude Crane), Lynn Redgrave (Camille Levy), Richard B. Shull (Emery Bush), Stuart Margolin (Alex) and Howard Hesseman (Scotty’s aide, Jack).


Superman II (1980, Richard Lester), the restored international cut

I read about the Superman II restored international cut (RIC)–a fan effort to compile all the extra Superman II footage from various television prints, mostly from foreign markets–in Entertainment Weekly. It said to head over to Superman Cinema to get a free copy, just so long as you provide free copies. By that time, however, Warner Bros. had shut distribution down. I got my copy through a nice guy in alt.tv.tape-trading. It cost eight dollars, which is well worth it, considering the disc has a bunch of special features. It’s an impressive package.

The “restoration” was done in PAL pan and scan, then transferred to NTSC for the DVD. As far as the prints, they look great. As good as a regular VHS. But I’ve been seeing Superman II letterboxed since 1997 or 1998, whenever Warner got around to releasing the remastered laserdisc. But I grew up with a pan and scan Superman II, so I didn’t think it’d hurt me too much. Thought it might even be nostalgic.

Superman II, the RIC, does have some nice “new” moments. Mostly with the cast from the original film. A little more of Ned Beatty, some amusing Lex Luthor/Jimmy Olsen interaction, an attempt at a better close for the Lois and Clark romance. But it doesn’t fix the problems with the film. And watching it in converted from PAL pan and scan–which makes the film look, to me at least, like an episode of “Three’s Company,” or some other TV shot on video–made me hypersensitive. I couldn’t get lost in the magic. And then I realized why.

Superman II doesn’t have any magic. It doesn’t have the wonder of the first film. In fact, the attempt at furthering Superman as a character never appeared before this cut. In the North Pole, in the Lois and Clark scene I just mentioned, Lois tells Superman to “never forget” their romance, echoing Ma Kent telling him never to forget his youth. This scene doesn’t appear in the theatrical version and the end of the film–the idiotic super-brainwashing kiss–invalidates it. Fans constantly attack Richard Lester for the films’ faults, but he’s only partly to blame. The story doesn’t respect Superman enough. There’s no real romance between him and Lois Lane. Once he gives up his powers, it’s obvious she wants the super-dude. He gives them up, gets laid for the first (and, presumably, only) time, gets beat up, then gets them back–all in ten or twelve minutes. There’s no drama to it.

The initial online outrage about Superman II, once enough folks got together and shared what they knew of Donner’s original intent, was directed at Tom Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz responded, defending himself, and placed the blame–I think–on the Salkinds and Lester. Richard Lester is not actually dead. I always thought he was, but he’s not. He’s never responded and, unless Warner taps him for a special edition, seems to have no interest in his Superman efforts.

Watching the film, obviously there are production faults, but it is mostly Lester’s. The moments of comedy when Metropolis is being “blown apart” are inappropriate. It’s laughing at victims. The bad guys are silly, which may be partly Donner’s fault, though I think he mostly shot the good scenes, the Lois and Clark scenes towards the beginning. Since much was shot at the same time, on the same sets, but to far lesser success, Superman II–in any version–seems a disrespect to the first film. Maybe even to the characters themselves. The first film–through the wonderful combination of production, writing, and acting–created people we cared about. Hell, it did such a good job, we even cared about them in Superman IV. Superman II plays off that sentiment.

Sitting here, twenty-five years later, I can see, dramatically, what went wrong. This restored international cut shows, at the time, someone else cared about these characters, cared about developing them further, cared about doing good work. Unfortunately, whoever this person was, it wasn’t the people in charge of producing Superman II.

1/4

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.
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