Quincy Jones

John and Mary (1969, Peter Yates)

Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow are John and Mary, respectively, and they’ve just woken up after spending the night together. They met at a singles bar. Is it going to be a one night stand or is it going to be something more?

Both come with some baggage, though of different varieties. Farrow’s last serious relationship was with a married politican (Michael Tolan); they spent a lot of their time hiding from his family. Hoffman, on the other hand, had a model ex-girlfriend (Sunny Griffin) who moved in with him and wasn’t a good cook. Seeing as Hoffman’s a neat freak and a control freak, it didn’t work out.

John Mortimer’s screenplay uses a handful of techniques to fill in the backstory. For a while, there’s narration from both Hoffman and Farrow–the film takes place over a day, with the narration mostly taking place in the morning–then there are flashbacks (featuring Tolan and Griffin) and daydreams. Director Yates plays with how the flashbacks and daydreams relate to the present action–he and Mortimer end up using them to generate confusion to cause suspense for the viewer, which is effective enough… only it’s a little cheap.

Despite excellent cinematography from Gayne Rescher and production design from John Robert Lloyd–most of the present action takes place in Hoffman’s apartment, with the flashbacks (and daydreams) expanding to New York City–Yates doesn’t have a tempo for any of it. Farrow’s more compelling than Hoffman, but not because of her writing or because of how Yates directs her; she’s sympathetic. From the start, Hoffman’s a jerk. And as the film peels back the onion, he gets jerkier as things progress.

Yates and Mortimer lean the film’s entire weight on the effectiveness of third act reveals, only all those reveals are with the time shift gimmicks. There aren’t any character development reveals. Sure, it’s only a day, but Hoffman and Farrow’s performances don’t gain anything from all the flashback exposition. That particular failing is more Mortimer’s fault than Yates’s, however.

Though if Yates had come up with better–read, any–integration of the film’s various moving parts, he’d probably have been able to compensate.

Instead, John and Mary gets by thanks to Farrow and Hoffman’s performances. She’s got a better character, turns in a better performance. He’s Dustin Hoffman, he’s got some inherent likability–even if the film does sledgehammer away at it, particularly in the first act. When he does get big moments in the script, no one really knows what to do with them. They’re all kind of trite; someone–Yates, Mortimer, or Hoffman–needs to have a handle on the character. None do. Yet Hoffman is still able to get through. He wouldn’t be able to without Farrow.

John and Mary’s not bad. It’s just not successful. Yates is way too blasé about the whole thing.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Yates; screenplay by John Mortimer, based on the novel by Mervyn Jones; director of photography, Gayne Rescher; edited by Frank P. Keller; music by Quincy Jones; production designer, John Robert Lloyd; produced by Ben Kadish; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (John), Mia Farrow (Mary), Michael Tolan (James), Sunny Griffin (Ruth), Stanley Beck (Ernest), and Tyne Daly (Hilary).


The Getaway (1972, Sam Peckinpah)

From the lengthy opening credits to the big action finale, it's always clear sound is important in The Getaway. Editor Robert L. Wolfe does some wonderful transitions with sound foreshadowing the cut and the next scene, but there's something more to it. That something more is the isolation theme running through the film–Steve McQueen starts in prison, surrounded by these loud, garish, yet hollow sounds. The action finale, at a nearly deserted hotel, also has loud, hollow sounds. They amplify Peckinpah's composition–particularly for the finish–and reinforce the film's dreamlike quality.

The Getaway is a few things at once. It's a heist picture, it's a revenge picture, it's a seventies relationship drama. That relationship aspect to it, with recently released from prison McQueen and wife Ali McGraw having some big problems, is the film's quietest plot line… if only because there's so much noise around it. But Peckinpah, McQueen, McGraw and screenwriter Walter Hill always keep it present. McGraw's timid, nervous performance works wonders–she's apparently inscrutable, but not really.

She and McQueen have fantastic chemistry, which they need to give their story more gravitas than Al Lettieri's subplot. Lettieri is a opportunist thief who kidnaps Sally Struthers and Jack Dodson in his pursuit of McQueen. Lettieri runs away with a bunch of the film. He's spellbinding; no other word for it. Struthers is rather good as well.

Technically, the film's a marvel. The Lucien Ballard photography is phenomenal, day or night, action or drama.

The Getaway is a fantastic motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by Walter Hill, based on the novel by Jim Thompson; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Robert L. Wolfe; music by Quincy Jones; produced by David Foster and Mitchell Brower; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Steve McQueen (Doc McCoy), Ali MacGraw (Carol McCoy), Ben Johnson (Jack Beynon), Al Lettieri (Rudy Butler), Slim Pickens (Cowboy), Richard Bright (The Thief), Jack Dodson (Harold Clinton), Dub Taylor (Laughlin), Bo Hopkins (Frank Jackson), Roy Jenson (Cully), John Bryson (The Accountant) and Sally Struthers (Fran Clinton).


In the Heat of the Night (1967, Norman Jewison)

Warren Oates can be affable. I had no idea.

In the Heat of the Night is a bit of a disappointment–not the acting, not the directing, just the script. The film plods as the script tries to come up with excuses to keep going. Stirling Silliphant’s dialogue is good, there’s no problem with it on that level–it’s just the plotting. The film’s a thriller masquerading as a social film. Every single thing in it turns out to be a red herring (I can’t even figure how the murderer had time to commit the crime, but it didn’t bother Sidney Poitier or Rod Steiger so I guess I shouldn’t worry).

Poitier and Steiger are both great–though Steiger’s got a better written role, which seems unfair since Poitier’s the lead and his story is potentially a lot more interesting–but the supporting cast is amazing too. Scott Wilson, Oates, Lee Grant, William Schallert… there are some fantastic performances here.

And then there’s Jewison.

Jewison was forty-one when Night came out, so he wasn’t a young Turk, but it feels like it. His composition is just amazing (especially with Haskell Wexler shooting it). Maybe Jewison’s career just went on too long. When I hear his name, I think of awful, trite eighties movies, but he once was an outstanding filmmaker. In the Heat of the Night really showcases it.

It’s a very good film; but it would have been amazing one if it were about two men working together.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, based on the novel by John Ball; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Hal Ashby; music by Quincy Jones; produced by Walter Mirisch; released by United Artists.

Starring Sidney Poitier (Virgil Tibbs), Rod Steiger (Gillespie), Warren Oates (Sam Wood), Lee Grant (Mrs. Colbert), Larry Gates (Endicott), James Patterson (Mr. Purdy), William Schallert (Mayor Schubert), Beah Richards (Mama Caleba), Peter Whitney (Courtney), Kermit Murdock (Henderson), Larry D. Mann (Watkins), Matt Clark (Packy), Arthur Malet (Ulam), Fred Stewart (Dr. Stuart), Quentin Dean (Delores) and Scott Wilson (Harvey Oberst).


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The Italian Job (1969, Peter Collinson)

What a strange film. I’d never really heard of it, past the title, so… I didn’t know what to expect, but even if I’d known something about it, I doubt I could have expected it.

Collinson is a fantastic Panavision director, so the Italian Job is always watchable, even through the awkward opening. The first act or so pretends it’s a traditional heist movie with Michael Caine as the lead. In addition to playing a lucky recently released convict (the heist has nothing to do with his ability, just his enthusiasm), he’s also the most irresistible man in all of England. The first fifteen minutes do little but feature women swooning for Caine.

Also incredibly strange is Noel Coward’s criminal mastermind (imagine a Bond villain as an affable British gentleman). It’s silly, but funny… especially his cell walls covered in pictures of the Queen.

It takes a while to make itself clear, but the Italian Job is a farce. It’s not a spoof of a heist movie, instead it is farcical.

The heist sequence, which removes actors and gives the audience cars to root for and identify with, is exhilarating. It’s not particularly strikingly choreographed for a car chase, but the Italian locations and Collinson’s composition make it great to watch.

Speaking of Italian locations, the film’s so outrageously anti-Italian, I can’t believe they were allowed to film there.

And a great score from Quincy Jones.

It’s slow to define itself, but once it does… it’s a great time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Collinson; written by Troy Kennedy-Martin; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by John Trumper; music by Quincy Jones; production designer, Disley Jones; produced by Michael Deeley; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Charlie Croker), Noel Coward (Mr. Bridger), Benny Hill (Professor Simon Peach), Raf Vallone (Altabani), Tony Beckley (Freddie), Rossano Brazzi (Beckerman), Margaret Blye (Lorna), Irene Handl (Miss Peach), John Le Mesurier (Governor) and Fred Emney (Birkinshaw).


The New Centurions (1972, Richard Fleischer)

I was going to start this post saying complementary things about Richard Fleischer, something about how his mediocrity doesn’t get in the way of the film (and the film’s melodramatic mediocrity). Then he goes too far at the end, plunging the damn thing ever further into the muck. And The New Centurions is unbearably melodramatic. Stirling Silliphant loves every convention he can find–whether it’s the early scene with the cops telling each other it isn’t like the movies or the later one where the cops talk about being new Centurions. For such an influential (more on that part in a bit), the film’s got maybe one or two good moments. Overall, it’s a failed attempt at an honest portrayal of police officers (albeit, really, really good and honest cops). Basically, it’s an episode of “Hill Street Blues,” with James Sikking and his pipe no less, with more attention paid to the home lives of the cops. The ending invalidates the whole thing–and I just checked wikipedia, the first time I’ve compared novel to film since Tess–and the ending is a filmic creation. The book’s ending seems like it might make sense.

For the majority of the film, until that absurd ending, actually, The New Centurions isn’t terrible or even bad. Silliphant’s dialogue is horrendous and the actors stumble over lines, but the plot of the film is fine. Standard and melodramatic, but fine. Some of the episodes–obviously from novel writer Joseph Wambaugh’s time on the LAPD–are really amusing.

Of the actors (not the ludicrous ones, like Erik Estrada, who’s terrible), George C. Scott probably gives the worst performance, with Jane Alexander following closely. In Alexander’s case, she’s got nothing to do. In Scott’s, he’s got something to do but it’s often crap (his character’s story arc is terrible, regardless of its realism, simply because the film doesn’t really pay any attention to him). The supporting cast is generally good–Scott Wilson’s fine, so’s Rosalind Cash; Isabel Sanford shows up in fantastic cameo. William Atherton puts in a few minutes and he’s good.

But the real surprise of New Centurions is Stacy Keach. He’s amazing. He’s got the worst dialogue in the film too, but it’s still a privilege to watch his performance. It’s one of those unbelievably good performances, indescribably good; textured, nuanced, every positive adjective in that vein one can imagine.

I can’t not mention the score. I was trying and I couldn’t. I wanted to go upbeat on Keach (I’m hoping the white space does that work). It’s a Quincy Jones score and it’s terrible, but the interesting part is he lifts some of the theme to Shaft.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Fleischer; screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, based on the novel by Joseph Wambaugh; director of photography, Ralph Woolsey; edited by Robert C. Jones; music by Quincy Jones; produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring George C. Scott (Andy Kilvinsky), Stacy Keach (Roy), Jane Alexander (Dorothy), Scott Wilson (Gus), Rosalind Cash (Lorrie), Erik Estrada (Sergio), Clifton Jones (Whitey), Richard E. Kalk (Milton), James Sikking (Anders), Isabel Sanford (Wilma), William Atherton (Johnson), Ed Lauter (Galloway) and Dolph Sweet (Sergeant Runyon).


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