Rod Steiger

Doctor Zhivago (1965, David Lean)

When Doctor Zhivago got to its intermission, I assumed director Lean would keep things moving as fast in the second half as he did in the first. These expectations were all high melodrama. Instead, the post-intermission section of Zhivago feels utterly detached from the first, even though there are a lot of returning faces. But there’s not much connection with the characters as they’ve grown in the film. I don’t know if it’s from the source novel or just Robert Bolt’s screenplay; Alec Guinness–in a glorified cameo doing the questionably useful narration–disappears too.

So the second half (or last third more appropriately) of Zhivago is the film’s problem. It has problems before, like Julie Christie being too old for her part (even though she’s far more interesting than anything else going on) or Geraldine Chaplin not having a character to play. Of course, Omar Sharif’s barely got a character and he’s Doctor Zhivago. Lean and Bolt keep everything as removed as possible.

There’s some great supporting work from Rod Steiger and Ralph Richardson, particularly Steiger.

Technically, the film’s grandiose but not particularly grand. Maybe it’s Norman Savage’s editing, but Zhivago never feels as sweeping as it should. It feels very slapped together. Lots of extraneous scenes. The post-intermission parts–featuring Sharif wandering around frozen Russia–miss all sorts of opportunities for good scenes.

Another big problem is Zhivago’s amazing poetry. Lean never lets the audience experience it at all.

It’s too big, too narratively unfocused.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Lean; screenplay by Robert Bolt, based on the novel by Boris Pasternak; director of photography, Freddie Young; edited by Norman Savage; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, John Box; produced by Carlo Ponti; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Omar Sharif (Yuri), Julie Christie (Lara), Rod Steiger (Komarovsky), Alec Guinness (Yevgraf), Tom Courtenay (Pasha), Geraldine Chaplin (Tonya), Ralph Richardson (Alexander), Siobhan McKenna (Anna), Jeffrey Rockland (Sasha), Lucy Westmore (Katya), Klaus Kinski (Kostoyed) and Rita Tushingham (The Girl).


On the Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan)

On the Waterfront is relentlessly grim until the strangest moment in the finale. As the film finally reaches the point of savage, physical violence–it opens with the implication, but not the visualization of such violence–a supporting character (familiar but mostly background) makes a wisecrack. Until that point in the film, director Kazan forcibly pushes even the possibility of a smile away.

And even though Waterfront is desolate–gorgeously desolate with Boris Kaufman’s photography–there’s still positive emotion among its residents. Eva Marie Saint’s compassion and tenderness, not to mention she and lead Marlon Brando’s love story, aren’t grim but Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg don’t let any light in. There’s no beauty in tenderness, just the inevitability of it being taken away. With prejudice.

But Kazan acknowledges this level of negativity. Leonard Bernstein’s score booms and quiets, races and slows, drawing attention to grim realities (and the film’s willingness to confront them) while giving the viewer the illusion of a comfortable distance. That distance gets smaller and smaller throughout until it becomes clear the distance was itself a mirage.

All the actors great. Brando and Saint transfix. They work on a plane elevated from the grime of the waterfront. Co-stars Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger seem natural inhabitants of the waterfront, which makes them different to watch. Brando’s got to do so much in every scene; without him, without his conflict, there’s no movie. He’s got to sell every second.

He does.

Waterfront’s magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Elia Kazan; screenplay by Budd Schulberg, suggested by articles by Malcolm Johnson; director of photography, Boris Kaufman; edited by Gene Milford; music by Leonard Bernstein; produced by Sam Spiegel; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Marlon Brando (Terry Malloy), Eva Marie Saint (Edie Doyle Karl Malden (Father Barry), Lee J. Cobb (Johnny Friendly), Rod Steiger (Charley Malloy), Pat Henning (Kayo Dugan), Leif Erickson (Glover), James Westerfield (Big Mac) and John F. Hamilton (‘Pop’ Doyle).


Incognito (1997, John Badham)

Despite trying to appear dark and serious, Incognito is actually a rather light outing. Sure, protagonist Jason Patric is something of a jerk, but he’s a lovable jerk. And he’s usually in the right.

Patric is an art forger who reluctantly sets about creating a new Rembrandt. He’s working some very annoying people, played by Thomas Lockyer, Simon Chandler and Togo Igawa, but the money’s good and Patric also wants to tour Europe with his ailing father (Rod Steiger showing off he can still run away with a glorified cameo).

Europe’s a big thing in Incognito. It almost feels like a continental adventure until Patric ends up stuck in England, though he’s got Irène Jacob as a love interest and she’s definitely not English. Patric and Jacob have a nice little arc together, which probably takes up twenty minutes–Jordan Katz’s script is smart enough to bring her in earlier so the viewer is already hoping she’ll come back. Like I said, Incognito is a light thriller. There’s a lot of humor eventually

There’s also a lot of awesome montages involving art forging. Director Badham has some terrible crane shots in the film, but he does a good job for the most part. He makes England very exciting. It helps he’s got Patric and Jacob; they both do great work, even though she doesn’t have much of a character. Patric’s got more depth, but he brings it, not the script.

Incognito works out rather nicely. It’s confident, measuredly ambitious and rewarding.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; written by Jordan Katz; director of photography, Denis Crossan; edited by Frank Morriss; music by John Ottman; production designer, Jamie Leonard; produced by James G. Robinson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jason Patric (Harry Donovan), Irène Jacob (Prof. Marieke van den Broeck), Thomas Lockyer (Alastair Davies), Simon Chandler (Iain Ill), Togo Igawa (Agachi), Michael Cochrane (Deeks), Pip Torrens (White), Ian Richardson (Turley) and Rod Steiger (Milton A. Donovan).


The Specialist (1994, Luis Llosa)

Technically speaking, the best thing about The Specialist is probably John Barry’s score. Except he ripped off his James Bond scores and threw in some of his Body Heat music. Neither mood fits The Specialist, which isn’t glamorous enough to be Bond and isn’t sexy. I would have liked to say “isn’t sexy enough to be Body Heat” but The Specialist just plain isn’t sexy.

It’s supposed to be sexy, given how much emphasis director Llosa puts on stars Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone in various stages of undress (not to mention the two carry on some painful phone flirting), but it isn’t. While Llosa’s direction is lame and both Stallone and Stone are bad (Stone’s worse), Llosa simply doesn’t realize the picture right.

It might be sexy if it were about a broken-down ex-CIA assassin and a damaged woman who’s prostituting herself to avenge her dead parents (long story). But The Specialist treats Stallone and Stone as megastars, not people. The scenes where James Woods–in a great performance as the bad guy–berates her and Stone actually gets to show emotion, those scenes almost work. They suggest a film worthy of a good John Barry knock-off score.

Eric Roberts costars as her target and he’s nearly good. Alexandra Seros’s script is too laughable for anyone (save Woods, who mixes insanity and mocking contempt) to actually be good.

As for Rod Steiger’s Cuban gangster? He’d be funny if he weren’t such offensively bad.

The Specialist‘s awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Luis Llosa; screenplay by Alexandra Seros, suggested by novels by John Shirley; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Jack Hofstra; music by John Barry; production designer, Walter P. Martishius; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Ray Quick), Sharon Stone (May Munro), James Woods (Ned Trent), Rod Steiger (Joe Leon) and Eric Roberts (Tomas Leon).


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 January Man (1989, Pat O’Connor)

People hate The January Man, just hate it. It’s famous for being hated, in fact. It’s one of the earliest movies I can remember real bile about. Dune’s another one, but Dune deserves it. The January Man gets a lot of it because it’s from the pen of John Patrick Shanley, that screenwriting whirlwind behind Congo and Moonstruck. Oh, Moonstruck, that Academy Award-winning overrated embarrassment. Going after The January Man so hard–saying it’s unbelievable Shanley wrote this one and that one–provides an excuse… The January Man is about well-written as Moonstruck and it’s about as well as Shanley can write.

I started it with an open mind, I really did. I thought maybe I was wrong about Shanley and I was all set to hurry to watch Moonstruck and queue up John Versus the Volcano. But I wasn’t wrong about Shanley. When I saw Susan Sarandon’s name, I assumed she would be terrible–I was wrong, she’s solidly mediocre. When I saw Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s name, I assumed the same and I was much wronger. And wronger is a word, I thought it might not be. Mastrantonio is excellent in the movie. She gives, easily, the best performance and now I’m thinking about queuing a couple of her movies.

It’s not well-written, the mystery is uninterestingly investigated, and the character melodramas are pat and standard and were tired in 1933. Man in love with his brother’s wife and, oh, what a shock, turns out the bad brother framed the good brother and on and on. When Wallace Beery made these movies, there were at least guns.

It being an incredibly standard exercise, The January Man is actually believably set in New York City and that facet makes–by today’s standards, when Hollywood shoots LA for New York–somewhat unique. It’s a welcome aspect, I suppose.

Kevin Kline’s not particularly good. He has accent in some scenes and in other ones he does not, but he carries the film. He’s particularly bad whenever he and Mastrantonio talk about her being so young (at thirty she’s playing Hollywood twenty-three) and their romance is only made palatable by her performance. Kline’s best when he’s bickering with Danny Aiello (who gets the film’s worst dialogue) and Harvey Keitel (who gets the film’s lamest character… well, him or Sarandon).

Rod Steiger’s not particularly good, but he’s real funny–the movie tries to be a comedy but Shanley wrote it, so it isn’t funny… Alan Rickman has a little bit more fun, with only two really terrible lines, which is quite an achievement in this film. Brian Tarantina has a small role, but he’s good.

The big problem with the film is the present action. It takes place over five days, in which time, Kline–in three nicely directed scenes–learns more about the case he’s been on for twenty hours than the entire NYPD did in a year. It’s convenient. It’s all contrived and all convenient.

But it’s not that terrible.

And, except a handful of bad parts, Marvin Hamlisch’s score is nice.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Pat O’Connor; written by John Patrick Shanley; director of photography, Jerzy Zielinski; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Norman Jewison and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Kevin Kline (Nick Starkey), Susan Sarandon (Christine Starkey), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Bernadette Flynn), Harvey Keitel (Police Comissioner Frank Starkey), Danny Aiello (Captain Vincent Alcoa), Rod Steiger (Mayor Eamon Flynn), Alan Rickman (Ed), Faye Grant (Alison Hawkins), Kenneth Welsh (Roger Culver), Jayne Haynes (Alma), Brian Tarantina (Cone), Bruce MacVittie (Rip) and Bill Cobbs (Detective Reilly).


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