Patrick O’Neal

The Stepford Wives (1975, Bryan Forbes)

The Stepford Wives puts in for a major suspension of disbelief request in the second scene–what is Katharine Ross doing married to Peter Masterson. They’ve gone from being a somewhat posh New York couple to a New York couple with kids and so they’re moving to Connecticut. Lawyer Masterson is going to take the train in to town while aspiring photographer Ross hangs around in the country, ostensibly taking care of the kids.

Ostensibly because they disappear for the most part, even though they ought to be around all the time, yet aren’t. Not keeping track of the kids, except when they need to be around for emphasis or plot contrivance, is one of director Forbes and screenwriter William Goldman’s fails. It’s one of their joint fails. Both have their own personal fails. It’s not even one of their major joint fails. It’s one of the “oh, yeah, they forgot about this subplot” fails. There are many.

Ross is bored in the small town. She doesn’t have anything in common with the other wives, who seem solely interested in keeping a tidy houses for their hard-working men. And, right away, Masterson joins the town’s men’s club and starts spending every night with the boys. In their big scary restored mansion (more in it in a bit).

Luckily, Ross soon finds the other new “Stepford Wives”, starting with Paula Prentiss. They’re fast friends who, after consulting with another new-to-town wife, Tina Louise, decide to start a women’s group. Except it turns out all the other women have to complain about is not having enough time to clean their houses, which Ross, Prentiss, and presumably Louise (who gets one of the lousier roles in a movie with an endless supply) all find peculiar.

Meanwhile, at home, Masterson is drinking all the time but loving hanging out with the boys. The boys–Josef Sommer, Franklin Cover, and George Coe–are a bunch of bores. Creepy silver fox Patrick O’Neal runs the club. He used to work at Disney. The other guys all work in cutting edge technology. William Prince, playing a retired pin-up artist, is the only one with any social skills. Masterson only drinks to excess in private, like he’s got something to hide from Ross.

Not to entirely spoil the movie, but it’s because he and his friends are plotting to murder Ross. It’s not like Stepford isn’t in the dictionary. The “twist” is a whole other thing I don’t even want to talk about. It’s not undercooked, it’s raw; there’s a lot of undercooked material in Stepford, but the twist hasn’t even been in the oven. Not the way Forbes and Goldman want to do it. Apparently they disagreed on the ending and Forbes got his way, but even if Goldman had it his way, it wouldn’t make up for the awful character development throughout the film informing it.

Masterson’s kind of mean to Ross. There aren’t any good men in Stepford, which is fine and accurate, but Masterson’s still too much of a jerk right off the bat. He’s such a trollish jerk, it’s hard to believe he’s a lawyer. He’s not a jerk in the right ways. It’s also hard to believe he and Ross ever had chemistry. In the first act, before the murder plot, he thinks he’s piggishly charming, even though Ross never positively responds to him. Goldman entirely slacks off on Masterson’s character establishment and development.

Masterson doesn’t transcend the material. It’s also not entirely the material’s fault. Maybe it’s just the casting director’s fault. Or just Forbes’s fault. Forbes has a shockingly bad handle on the material.

There’s satire and commentary about commercialism–at times–in Stepford Wives. Goldman usually comes up with adequate material and then Forbes utterly flops on it when directing the scene and the actors’ performances. You can see where the joke ought to be in Stepford, but instead of getting there, you watch Forbes repeatedly miss it.

The only excellent performance in the film is Ross. She’s outstanding. She’s got a crappy, underdeveloped character who can’t keep track of her kids, doesn’t have a believable “art” arc in her photography, and is inexplicably married to a jackass, but Ross is outstanding. The one thing Forbes does right is let Ross be alone. It’s no good once Forbes is trying generate scares–in that aforementioned scary mansion–but when it’s just Ross existing in a moment, it’s great. Ross is acting in a far better film than Stepford Wives. She’s just doing it in Stepford Wives.

Prentiss is likable but not good. She’s funny and seems to have a better handle on how to do the satire scenes than Forbes; she’s the only one who doesn’t look lost. But who knows because Forbes is hesitant to let the Wives act against one another too much in the same shot. He avoids those shots, preferring two Wives at a time in close-ups.

Paula Trueman is also fun. She apparently runs the town newspaper, or at least writes for it. She’s got a lousy part as it turns out. It’s like Goldman adapted the source novel without reading it. He never establishes continuity of behavior in the supporting cast. Trueman’s character doesn’t even get a name, even though the character–and actor–are a couple of the film’s stronger assets.

Otherwise the performances are basically just adequate. Even Louise, who gets a crap part, is just adequate. She just has more wasted potential than some of the other Wives, principally Nanette Newman. Newman is Ross’s neighbor who Ross never gets to meet without Prentiss being along because Newman has nooners with her husband. Is it for sure her husband? It’s worse if it is Sommer than if it isn’t, actually. There’s an extreme (and unexplored) connotation if it’s the latter, but if it’s the former… well, it’d be another of those major joint fails for Forbes and Goldman. Because even though the movie’s supposed to be satirical, Forbes doesn’t do metaphor. Even if it’s in the script. Forbes skips it.

I’m going a little longer than Wives deserves–unless one’s talking at length about Ross’s performance–but I do need to get to the finale. It’s like they ran out of money and decided to do a haunted house sequence. Because haunted houses always get scares. Except Owen Roizman doesn’t shoot Stepford like a thriller, he shoots it like a seventies drama. Michael Small’s score is for a seventies drama; mostly. When it’s trying for the horror, it’s for a bad horror movie. The music goes from one of the film’s pluses to minuses real fast.

So Forbes stumbles through the finale, which has Ross running from her fate. There’s no closure for Ross’s character arcs, not even the hint the character arcs have occurred. In fact, the finale gives one of the bad guys a monologue describing Ross to her. It’d be nice the monologue, which seems to greatly affect her, actually matched her character she’d been playing for the previous 110 minutes.

But it’s also a badly directed finale in a constrained set. It’s a bad, boring set and Forbes has no ideas for it. The movie deserves better. Ross deserves much better. She keeps Stepford afloat all by herself. Even as Forbes and Goldman try to sink it from under her.

The Stepford Wives is a peculiar, if predictable, fail.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Forbes; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the novel by Ira Levin; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Timothy Gee; music by Michael Small; production designer, Gene Callahan; produced by Edgar J. Scherick; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Katharine Ross (Joanna Eberhart), Peter Masterson (Walter Eberhart), Paula Prentiss (Bobbie Markowe), Patrick O’Neal (Dale Coba), Tina Louise (Charmaine Wimpiris), Nanette Newman (Carol Van Sant), Paula Trueman (Welcome Wagon Lady), George Coe (Claude Axhelm), Josef Sommer (Ted Van Sant), Franklin Cover (Ed Wimpiris), Neil Brooks Cunningham (Dave Markowe), Carol Eve Rossen (Dr. Fancher), William Prince (Ike Mazzard), and Robert Fields (Raymond Chandler).


Perry Mason Returns (1985, Ron Satlof)

The most impressive technical contribution to Perry Mason Returns has to be Dick DeBenedictis’s music. He lifts thriller style music, some horror, some whatever, then applies it to this somewhat bland TV movie. Albert J. Dunk’s photography is too muted and director Satlof, though very capable of setting up sequences, is mediocre (at best) at the talking heads and he doesn’t do the courtroom scene.

It’s Perry Mason Returns. Raymond Burr barely does anything for the first hour of the movie except be a jerk to William Katt for being not being miserable and consoles Barbara Hale. Hale’s on trial for murder. Hence the importance of a well-directed courtroom sequence. But Satlof tanks it. Dean Hargrove’s teleplay isn’t exactly outstanding, but the reveal is fairly solid. Satlof tanks it. The entire finale is a disaster. While Burr stalls in court, Katt has to reason with evil rednecks.

There’s some solid acting–Kerrie Keane, Holland Taylor, James Kidnie. There’s some not so solid acting. It’s a TV movie. Burr and Hale are likable. Katt’s sort of a dork, but Hale seems to like him so why not give him a chance, wasn’t he in Carrie? But Burr and Hale have undeniable chemistry and Burr’s best scenes are his moments with her. He’s the title character and he barely figures into the narrative. It’s the last scene before he finally shows some personality. Satlof’s inept direction of Burr’s scenes hurt Burr’s performance.

It’s a really lazy script though. Katt doesn’t even do the private investigator bit, he just inexplicably annoys cop Paul Hubbard into doing all the work. Katt’s probably got the most screen time in the movie too; it’s boring Glen A. Larson TV show p.i. action. Katt’s maybe likable as a sidekick to patient and older Burr and Hale, not as a lead. He’s not unlikable, but he’s clearly out of his depth. Because dumb writing and bad direction.

Still, it’s a good reveal, the principals are likable, Keane’s good, Taylor’s good. It’s just a poorly directed Perry Mason TV movie, it doesn’t have to do much but divert.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Dean Hargrove, based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Albert J. Dunk; edited by Edwin F. England and Robert L. Kimble; music by Dick DeBenedictis; produced by Barry Steinberg; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William Katt (Paul Drake Jr.), Patrick O’Neal (Arthur Gordon), Holland Taylor (Paula Gordon), James Kidnie (Bobby Lynch), Richard Anderson (Ken Braddock), Kerrie Keane (Kathryn Gordon), David McIlwraith (David Gordon), Roberta Weiss (Laura Gordon), Lindsay Merrithew (Chris), Al Freeman Jr. (Lt. Cooper), Paul Hubbard (Sgt. Stratton), Cassie Yates (Barbara Scott), Kathleen Laskey (Luanne) and Charles Macaulay (Judge Whitewood).


Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972, Theodore Gershuny)

Silent Night, Bloody Night is notable for three things. First, but sadly not foremost, is Adam Giffard’s daytime photography. Not much of the film takes place during the day, but when it does, Giffard makes it look fantastic. Even though he’s shooting questionable settings… which contributes to the second notable item.

Director Gershuny is not asking his audience for the willful suspension of disbelief. He’s asking the viewer to be pretend dumb things are not dumb. For example, those nicely shot daytime scenes? Patrick O’Neal is walking around, telling his dimwit Swedish squeeze (Astrid Heeren), about the beautiful town. It’s a dump. They’re parked next to a wrecking yard. It’s a dump.

But Gershuny also asks the viewer to ignore the stupidity of the script. The whole film–which is basically Eight Little Indians (I did count characters, but had guessed eight before I counted)–centers around this horrifying incident in the past. Except the incident is really outrageous and nonsensical as to how it plays into future events.

Finally, the film was dubbed–apparently entirely–in post-production. Tom Kennedy’s editing is bad enough, but he and Gershuny did a terrible job cutting in the audio. Especially when it sounds like O’Neal is in an echo chamber.

As for the acting, Mary Woronov is easily best. She’s not very good, but she’s all right. Fran Stevens and Walter Klavun–oh, and Heeren–they’re all awful. James Patterson isn’t bad in one of the sillier roles.

It’s a bad Night.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Theodore Gershuny; screenplay by Gershuny, Jeffrey Konvitz and Ira Teller, based on a story by Konvitz and Teller; director of photography, Adam Giffard; edited by Tom Kennedy; music by Gershon Kingsley; produced by Ami Artzi and Konvitz; released by Cannon Releasing Corp.

Starring Patrick O’Neal (John Carter), James Patterson (Jeffrey Butler), Mary Woronov (Diane Adams), Astrid Heeren (Ingrid), Fran Stevens (Tess Howard), Walter Klavun (Sheriff Bill Mason), John Carradine (Charlie Towman) and Walter Abel (Mayor Adams).


The Stuff (1985, Larry Cohen)

According to IMDb, Larry Cohen cut about a half hour out of The Stuff. It’s entirely possible with that added footage, the movie might have made sense. As it’s cut now, it’s a somewhat diverting–at least until the third act–cross between The Blob and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Unfortunately, Cohen’s direction is weak throughout, so when he loses track of the story in the third act… there’s nothing to keep the film going.

As a satire, it’s only moderately successful. Cohen has a lot more success when he’s dealing in absurdity, like Paul Sorvino’s extremist militia leader who ends up saving the world. The way Cohen presents the character–clearly a nut job, but also one who genuinely cares about people and is completely ethical–is maybe the best thing about the film. It’s a small thing, but it just makes for some great scenes.

Sorvino’s not the lead though. Michael Moriarty is the lead. I’m not sure Moriarty could ever give a bad performance and he doesn’t here, he just doesn’t have a character arc. It seems like Cohen cut out the romance between Moriarty and Andrea Marcovicci, which is unfortunate. It would have given them both something to do when they weren’t doing the horror scenes.

I was a little surprised by Cohen’s bad direction, since it’s pervasive. The budget contributes to some of the problems, but certainly not all of them.

Garrett Morris is wasted, as is Danny Aiello.

Anthony Guefen’s goofy music doesn’t help.

Still, never boring.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Larry Cohen; director of photography, Paul Glickman; edited by Armond Lebowitz; music by Anthony Guefen; produced by Paul Kurta; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford), Andrea Marcovicci (Nicole), Garrett Morris (‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs), Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears), Scott Bloom (Jason), Danny Aiello (Vickers) and Patrick O’Neal (Fletcher).


Under Siege (1992, Andrew Davis)

I suppose, if there were a quiz or something and I thought about it real hard, I’d remember Under Siege brought Tommy Lee Jones… well, not back exactly, so I guess just brought Tommy Lee Jones. Looking at his filmography and the dates, someone could wrongly argue Oliver Stone tried championing him–but it didn’t work out. Under Siege kicked off the unending deluge of bad Tommy Lee Jones movies and signaled the end of Steven Seagal’s career in a way. Seagal ruined the success it gave him.

Watching the film, which I haven’t seen since in twelve years or so, I was surprised at how passable a job Seagal does acting in much of the time. He has absolutely no chemistry with female “actor” Erika Eleniak, but she’s so terrible, it might not be Seagal’s fault. The only reason I thought he might be contributing is how bad he is in certain scenes–like when he has to play the character in a verbal, not physical fashion. Seagal’s first few scenes in the film, when he’s hanging around with the familiar-looking 1990s action movie supporting cast–he’s good in those scenes, he’s visibly having some fun. When he’s alone, he’s fine too, but once he and Eleniak are going on adventures throughout the ship, it’s painful to watch her performance.

Under Siege also put Andrew Davis into the Hollywood mainstream and it’s a little perplexing. While Davis did cast a lot of his standard character actors, only some of them are good, and I’m sure the script had the structure–keep Seagal peripheral for the first act, letting Tommy Lee Jones run away with the movie and give it the pretense of some solid quality–but maybe that one was Davis’s idea. He sure didn’t coax a good performance out of Gary Busey, who’s so annoying the film loses a lot of credibility when the bad guys don’t just kill him so they don’t have to hear him talk anymore.

The action scenes are rather blah too–Seagal’s an unbeatable killing machine–he mows down fifteen guys in one part–and understanding his role as an unbeatable killing machine is part of watching Under Siege. But he doesn’t really kick any ass. I mean, the guy can kick ass, but instead he just shoots at people. It’s boring. The film never establishes itself as “real,” so Seagal’s feats are never particularly exciting.

Also, I’m not sure what the end is supposed to mean–it seems to suggest Seagal, while he doesn’t agree with it, understands why Hawaii needs to get nuked.

But it’s still mildly entertaining, if only because the first act is so incredibly well-done. I mean, the moment where I was wondering when the hostage-taking was going to start (thinking, it’s getting to be about as long as one can wait for it), it started. So it does do something significant right.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Davis; written by J.F. Lawton; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Robert Ferretti; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Arnon Milchan, Seagal, Steven Reuther, Jack B. Bernstein and Peter MacGregor-Scott; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Casey Ryback), Tommy Lee Jones (Strannix), Gary Busey (Commander Krill), Erika Eleniak (Jordan Tate), Patrick O’Neal (Captain Adams), Colm Meaney (Doumer) and Andy Romano (Admiral Bates).


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