Ruth Gordon

Adam’s Rib (1949, George Cukor)

Adam’s Rib has a great script (by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin), but outside director Cukor not being as energetic as he could be—he might’ve been able to compensate—the script is the biggest problem with the film. There are the really obvious problems, like when Spencer Tracy gets reduced to a supporting role in the third act but instead of giving that extra time to Katharine Hepburn, which would make sense because she’s the other star, it spreads the time out way into the weeds. Not the courtroom resolve, of course, but every other scene is just contrived to not get too close in on the lead characters. And there are some communication issues—like were we supposed to get Tracy’s bigger philosophical objection to Hepburn taking her case, which is his case too.

Let me back up.

The movie opens with this great exterior sequence in New York City, following Judy Holliday as she stalks some guy (Tom Ewell). Turns out he’s her husband and he’s cheating on her so she’s got a gun and she’s going to do something about it. He doesn’t die; she’s arrested and charged with attempted murder. Hepburn wants to defend her—the jilted husband gets a pass on shooting at cheating wives and their lovers, why not women too. Tracy’s the assistant district attorney. He doesn’t agree with Hepburn’s opinion, then really doesn’t agree with her becoming Holliday’s defense attorney.

Most of the movie is them fighting it out in the courtroom, then catching up with them in the evenings, seeing how the professional competition is taking a toll on their marriage. But a comedy.

A comedy with what turn out to be a lot of big ideas, which it would’ve been nice if they’d talked about during the movie instead of doing a big subplot around Tracy and Hepburn’s neighbor, David Wayne, who’s a popular musician; he’s also got the hots for Hepburn and sees his chance as the case starts to destabilize the usually wonderful marriage.

That usually wonderful marriage is what makes Adam’s Rib so much fun. Tracy and Hepburn are phenomenal together. Their married banter, thanks both to the actors and their script, is peerless. And they’ve got a great relationship. The script does a great job in the first act establishing their wedded bliss separate from their careers, which then collide and spill over, but not in a way the first act’s handling would predict. The script’s much tighter in the first act as far as establishing the ground situation but it doesn’t do anything to set up the character development. Again, great script, but a big problem one too.

Also in the first act the film seems like it might take Holliday’s murder trial seriously. Like as a procedural. Because the film tries not to utilize screwball humor. It can’t resist, which is a problem as the film’s set up to not be screwball so the screwball scenes don’t play. That lower energy Cukor direction; he respects and enables the actors but nothing else. He doesn’t even showcase them as much as their ability to execute the routine. Good, but not as good as it should be.

Anyway, Holliday—who’s sort of the protagonist of the whole thing, or ought to be—disappears into background. She’s great, but she gets almost nothing to do. There’s potential for some kind of relationship, though not friendship, between Holliday and Hepburn—even a client and attorney one—but the film doesn’t do anything with it. And Tracy never gets shown presenting his case. Or working on his case. So not a good procedural, which is a bummer since—once the finale reveals Tracy’s motivations—it could’ve been a great courtroom drama.

Instead, it’s a wonderfully charming and almost always entertaining Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn picture. The production values are strong, Cukor’s more than adequate, the script’s great, Holliday’s excellent, Wayne doesn’t get too tiresome even though it seems like he might, George J. Folsey’s photography is nice, George Boemler’s editing not so much, but… it works. It all works. It just doesn’t try hard enough. Maybe some of it is Production Code related. But the way the script compensates really doesn’t work, leaving Tracy and Hepburn with good roles in a fun comedy instead of great parts in a better film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin; director of photography, George J. Folsey; edited by George Boemler; music by Miklós Rózsa; produced by Lawrence Weingarten; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Adam Bonner), Katharine Hepburn (Amanda Bonner), Judy Holliday (Doris Attinger), Tom Ewell (Warren Attinger), David Wayne (Kip Lurie), Jean Hagen (Beryl Caighn), Hope Emerson (Olympia La Pere), Eve March (Grace), and Clarence Kolb (Judge Reiser).



Two-Faced Woman (1941, George Cukor)

Two-Faced Woman is the story of a successful New York magazine editor, played by Melvyn Douglas, who marries his ski instructor (Greta Garbo) while on vacation. It’s a whirlwind courtship, with one condition of the marriage (for Garbo) being Douglas is giving up New York. Turns out he’s not and off he goes to New York.

Once in New York, Douglas keeps putting off returning to Garbo. Fed up, Garbo comes to the city and finds Douglas out on the town with mistress Constance Bennett. Garbo just wants to go home, but then she’s about to be discovered and decides instead to pretend to be her own twin sister. Hence the film’s title.

While one Garbo is “proper,” the other is a “vamp.” She goes out with Douglas’s business partner, Roland Young, and attracts Douglas (out on a date with Bennett). Then he finds out she’s really his wife and spends the rest of the movie tormenting her.

There are some Catholic Church-mandated (yes, really) changes to the film, which make Douglas’s arc a lot more manipulative in regards to Garbo, but the film still ignores the Bennett situation. The extant version has Douglas dumping Bennett to prime Garbo for mental abuse. Without the changes, he’s just done catting around with Bennett and ready to cat around with his wife’s twin sister.

Needless to say, S.N. Behrman, Salka Viertel, and George Oppenheimer’s script doesn’t have much going for it. Ruth Gordon–as Douglas’s assistant and Garbo’s confidant–has some great scenes, but it’s more in Gordon’s performance than anything else. It’s the presence of the scenes and Gordon. Gordon and Garbo’s relationship is about the only positive to come out of Two-Faced Woman and it seems entirely accidental.

Cukor’s direction, as far as composition goes, is fine. Joseph Ruttenberg’s photography is solid. The matte paintings of the ski lodge are distractingly weak. Cukor’s direction of actors is similarly fine. He doesn’t do anyone any favors, but he doesn’t hurt anyone too much either.

The performances are generally fine or better. Douglas is not. Even without the mandated revisions, his arc in the script is a mess. He starts the film is a doofus, then gets to romance Garbo. In their first scene together, Douglas can’t stop pawing at her and there’s some energy and brewing of real chemistry. But then it’s back to work and the movie’s then double deception and no more real scenes for Douglas and Garbo. No more chemistry.

Garbo’s good. Her parts aren’t well-written, but she tries and sometimes succeeds. The movie’s tone is all off though, thanks to the edits, so it’s hard to know if she’s succeeding because of something revised or something intentional.

There’s a great ski finale. The script runs out of ways to prolong the third act and instead there’s a ski chase sequence. It’s lots of physical humor and expert stunt skiing. Almost like a reward for sitting through more now humorless scenes of Douglas teasing Garbo. Again, maybe they were humorless before.

Either way, Two-Faced Woman doesn’t do anyone any favors. It does Garbo the most disservice and was her last film, though she didn’t intend to retire because of it. But even if it wasn’t responsible for Garbo’s retirement, you wouldn’t really blame her if it were.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by S.N. Behrman, Salka Viertel, and George Oppenheimer, based on a play by Ludwig Fulda; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by George Boemler; music by Bronislau Kaper; produced by Gottfried Reinhardt; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Greta Garbo (Karin), Melvyn Douglas (Larry Blake), Constance Bennett (Griselda Vaughn), Roland Young (O.O. Miller), Robert Sterling (Dick Williams), and Ruth Gordon (Miss Ellis).


My Bodyguard (1980, Tony Bill)

My Bodyguard is more than a little frustrating. Alan Ormsby’s script either completely changes in the second half–just in terms of how he constructs scenes, how much willful suspension of disbelief you need, whether or not lead Chris Makepeace is ever going to have a story of his own–or director Bill chucked a lot of material in editing. And given Stu Linder’s editing is phenomenal–the slow motion isn’t his fault–and I kind of doubt it. When he can, Linder finds just the right cuts. Bill’s got coverage issues, especially on action sequences–Michael D. Margulies’s photography is always just right though–and Linder still saves them. The second half of the picture’s mess seems to be Ormsby’s fault, with Bill’s approval, of course.

Here’s the thing–My Bodyguard, which is supposed to be this sensitive movie about a sensitive teenager (Makepeace) going to a tough inner-city school and having to convince loner giant Adam Baldwin to protective him from bully Matt Dillon. Makepeace’s home life is different–his dad (Martin Mull) runs a classy hotel. They’re not rich but they pretend to be rich. There’s a lot of class politics in play somewhere in My Bodyguard, but not thoughtfully. They’re just on display as narrative tropes and shortcuts. Kind of like Makepeace. He’s not the protagonist. There’s one scene with him having personality before he’s just Dillon’s target. All of his scenes with Baldwin are a completely different character. My Bodyguard feels like three different scripts forced into this idea of high school protection rackets.

But in the first act, Bill covers it all. Thanks to Linder and Margulies and a very cheerful but introspective Dave Grusin score, the first half of My Bodyguard feels like it’s going to go somewhere. There’s a narrative progress to the school year unfolding, kids doing activities, time moving. It’s not because of Makepeace and his home life subplot (Ruth Gordon’s his sassy, drunk grandmother). It’s because there are supporting cast members with lives going on. Attention to Paul Quandt, Joan Cusack, and Kathryn Grody creates the film’s verisimilitude as it were. It needs to wander aimlessly at times.

Once Baldwin goes from being Makepeace’s mystery thug classmate to his surrogate big brother, which Bill and Ormsby don’t address because My Bodyguard is kind of cheap and it does want to present a working class to yuppie life goal (Mull has to fend off a yuppie underling). It’s got its problems, but it’s also a missed opportunity. The film’s technically marvelous. The photography of the Chicago locations are so good, you don’t forgive Grusin’s soulful saccharine, you allow for it. And Linder’s editing, especially in the first half and during Baldwin’s fight scene in the finale, is marvelous.

Sadly, following Baldwin’s fight scene is Bill’s worst direction in the film. Coming in its last few minutes–Bodyguard cheats out on a real ending, as the second half tries hard to infantilize its teenage characters. Kids movie is only a pejorative if its characters are static. And My Bodyguard does go in that direction in its second half.

Great performance from Dillon. Baldwin’s good with tough material and not the best direction for it. Makepeace has a two-dimensional (at best) character. He’s not unlikable, but he also doesn’t commandeer the role. Gordon’s awesome. Mull’s fun. John Houseman has a nice cameo.

My Bodyguard acknowledges what it could do, what it could be, then it goes the easy route. It’s disappointing, though probably not surprising.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Bill; written by Alan Ormsby; director of photography, Michael D. Margulies; edited by Stu Linder; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Jackson De Govia; produced by Don Devlin; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Chris Makepeace (Clifford), Adam Baldwin (Linderman), Ruth Gordon (Gramma), Matt Dillon (Moody), Martin Mull (Mr. Peache), Paul Quandt (Carson), Craig Richard Nelson (Griffith), Joan Cusack (Shelley), Kathryn Grody (Ms. Jump), and John Houseman (Dobbs).


Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)

From the first scene of Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski establishes the style he’s going to use until the big reveal at the end. He shoots a lot of over-the-shoulder shots with people moving around out of frame, causing a startling effect when the viewer finds out they’re now in a completely different location. He does it in the first scene with Elisha Cook Jr., who might also be there to encourage unease in the viewer.

The film runs over two hours, but never feels long. There’s a lengthy period at the beginning before Mia Farrow–the titular mother–gets pregnant, involving she and husband John Cassavetes moving into a new apartment. It’s sort of a relationship drama at that point. Cassavetes is the struggling actor, Farrow’s his supportive wife. Throw in the odd neighbors–Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer–and there’s nothing particularly ominous about the film.

Except Farrow has these dreams–three times in the film and Polanski does wonders with them. There’s never a question of whether what’s happening to Farrow is real or not; Polanski never has Farrow outright question it either. It’s like he cut all the scenes with her wondering if she’s crazy and just leaves the before and after. It creates a wonderful effect.

Farrow’s amazing, as is Cassavetes. Gordon’s good, but the role’s not hard. Blackmer and Ralph Bellamy are outstanding. At times, Polanski treats Blackmer like the only real person in the picture besides Farrow. Again, great result.

Rosemary’s fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roman Polanski; screenplay by Polanski, based on the novel by Ira Levin; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Sam O’Steen and Bob Wyman; music by Krzysztof Komeda; production designer, Richard Sylbert; produced by William Castle; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mia Farrow (Rosemary Woodhouse), John Cassavetes (Guy Woodhouse), Ruth Gordon (Minnie Castevet), Sidney Blackmer (Roman Castevet), Maurice Evans (Hutch), Ralph Bellamy (Dr. Sapirstein), Victoria Vetri (Terry), Patsy Kelly (Laura-Louise), Elisha Cook Jr. (Mr. Nicklas), Emmaline Henry (Elise Dunstan), Charles Grodin (Dr. Hill), Hanna Landy (Grace Cardiff), Phil Leeds (Dr. Shand), D’Urville Martin (Diego) and Hope Summers (Mrs. Gilmore).


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).


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