Susannah York

A Man for All Seasons (1966, Fred Zinnemann)

What’s so incredible about A Man for All Seasons is how big director Zinnemann makes it while keeping it small while keeping it big. The settings are big—palaces, estates, and so on—but Zinnemann keeps the set pieces small. He and cinematographer Ted Moore will do big establishing shots, but only after they’ve gotten into the details of the places. They incorporate the technique into the opening titles, then keep going with it throughout the film. The film’s all about the small actions and pettiness of important men, those establishing montages bring them down to Earth. Or at least establish a grounded Earth in which to play.

Georges Delerue’s regal but also demure score perfectly accompanies.

The film’s about Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield in a singular performance); he refuses to publicly support King Henry VIII’s first divorce. Robert Shaw plays the King; he’s great too. Only in it for a couple scenes, but great. And a grandiose enough performance to cast a shadow on the film after he’s established. You’ve got to believe Shaw can be so petty about Scofield not supporting him, without ever establishing Shaw’s regard for Scofield. At least, not until after Scofield’s pissed him off. Man for All Seasons has a wonderful sense of how to elucidate history—writer Robert Bolt (adapting his play) does “pepper” the exposition with historical detail, but only ever for the characters’ edification, not the audience’s. And when doing historical exposition, Bolt’s default is for the common man—or at least the more common man, let’s say still identifiable if not sympathetic upper middle class—not the nationstate politics. Yes, Scofield toggles between kingmakers and kings like Orson Welles and Shaw, but he also deals with ambitious bureaucrats like Leo McKern (and unambitious de facto ones like Nigel Davenport). His would-be protege, John Hurt, is just a man trying to make something of himself out of university and Scofield tries hard to protect him for the realities of corruption. For Scofield’s More, the corruption tends to have a religious bent but the film never particularly gets into the religiosity. Bolt, Zinnemann, and Scofield examine More’s actions and how his beliefs chart those actions, not the content of the beliefs. They’re kind of lucky to have More as the subject, as him not voicing any opinion whatsoever is what gets him into trouble. A man keeps his thoughts his own when in Tudor England, something Scofield tries to impart on friend and foe alike, which leads to some wonderful moments.

Scofield’s family also plays a big part. There’s wife Wendy Hiller, who doesn’t get much to do but is good, daughter Susannah York, who’s awesome and gets lots to do—sometimes just reacting; the film sets her up as Scofield’s intellectual heir, if she weren’t a girl anyway, and so her perception of the events and behaviors she experiences are another storytelling slate for Zinnemann and Bolt. Man for All Seasons is very quiet, very simple, very complicated. The film deliberates, even when it doesn’t have enough information (usually because Scofield’s keeping his mouth shut about it).

Scofield’s the protagonist; his actions and reactions drive the plot. A constant undercurrent is the story of ambitious, not entirely dim-witted, but morally corruptible Hurt, who ends up finding a mentor in McKern. Only McKern’s a jackass, power hungry bureaucrat jealous of Scofield’s intellectual powers (no matter what McKern accomplishes, Shaw’s never going to love him for his mind whereas Scofield manages to disrespect the King and maintain the intellectual regard). And Hurt’s aware he’s going to the Dark Side, providing yet another storytelling slate. Man for All Seasons never feels stagy, never feels like its a series of vignettes whether the most character development happens off screen, yet it is that series of vignettes. Zinnemann, Moore, Delerue, and editor Ralph Kemplen just make sure it never feels like one. Zinnemann maintains the importance of the film’s visual style even when the dramatics are center stage (Moore’s beautiful “natural” lighting helps), which allows for nimble style changes. It’s magnificently executed. Zinnemann’s direction is assured but never showy, confident but ambitious; the chances the film takes are almost exclusively on the actors—at least into the second act—and Zinnemann facilitates the performances, but the actors are the ones who have to nail the moment, which seems like it should lead to at least the acknowledgement of the stage adaptation but it never does. Because the film’s limited world is so big.

All of the acting is great. Some of the cast get to have more fun—Welles gets to have a lot of fun, McKern’s a delightful weasel—but the ones who have major constraints (Hurt’s weasel-in-training, Corin Redgrave’s obnoxiously Lutheran Lutheran who’s courting York) are still excellent. York, Davenport, and Hiller all deliver in some hard scenes; York and Davenport get the bigger ones, but Hiller’s got to do a lot in short amounts of time. The film often uses Hiller to establish character stuff for Scofield. She’s part of his ground situation, revealing more as the film progresses, without ever doing exposition dumps. Far from it. Hiller’s concise.

As for Scofield… the story’s about people wanting to hear what Scofield’s going to say next and the film’s about staring at Scofield and waiting to see what it’ll be. He’s in the spotlight the entire film. Great direction, great script, great supporting cast, but Man for All Seasons is Scofield’s performance. And it’s an exceptional one.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Fred Zinnemann; screenplay by Robert Bolt, based on his play; director of photography, Ted Moore; edited by Ralph Kemplen; music by Georges Delerue; production designer, John Box; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Paul Scofield (Thomas More), Susannah York (Margaret), Wendy Hiller (Alice), Leo McKern (Cromwell), John Hurt (Rich), Nigel Davenport (Duke of Norfolk), Corin Redgrave (Roper), Orson Welles (Cardinal Wolsey), and Robert Shaw (Henry VIII).


Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987, Sidney J. Furie)

Roughly a third of Superman IV is missing, so it’s a little difficult to really form an opinion of the filmmakers’ intentions. I mean, it was an anti-nuclear proliferation movie… which suggests they were well-intentioned, but it’s impossible to know what they were trying to do with it as a film. For instance, it doesn’t have an ending. It also doesn’t have any real drama, but you can have an ending without any drama.

Some of the edits make me curious if anyone noticed, while it was being cut and recut and so on, if there’s the serious implication Lois Lane knows Clark Kent is Superman. There’s this weird scene at the beginning where we find out Superman takes Lois Lane out on flying dates then brainwashes her with the magic kiss (last seen in Superman II) whenever the date’s over. But the later scenes with Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve… it’s like they’re playing it like she knows. There’s a definite subtext. It’s nearly interesting.

The opening actually seems like the first real Superman sequel. It’s not awkward like II or gimmicky like III, as a tabloid tycoon swoops in to buy out the Daily Planet. It gives drama to the Clark Kent side of things and lots of opportunity for returning cast members Jackie Cooper and Marc McClure… then doesn’t do anything with them.

Furie’s actually got some good shots and the effects are–while terrible–occasionally ambitious.

And Hackman… even with terrible lines, he’s great.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney J. Furie; screenplay by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, based on a story by Christopher Reeve, Konner and Rosenthal and on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Ernest Day; edited by John Shirley; music by Alexander Courage; production designer, John Graysmark; produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Superman / Clark Kent), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Jon Cryer (Lenny), Sam Wanamaker (David Warfield), Mark Pillow (Nuclear Man), Mariel Hemingway (Lacy Warfield), Damian McLawhorn (Jeremy), William Hootkins (Harry Howler), Jim Broadbent (Jean Pierre Dubois), Stanley Lebor (General Romoff), Don Fellows (Levon Hornsby) and Susannah York (Lara).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

The Silent Partner (1978, Daryl Duke)

The Silent Partner starts a little bit better than it turns out in the end, from a filmmaking standpoint. The sound design is so phenomenal in the build-up, I actually made note of it. I usually don’t make notes unless it’s something terrible and I want to make sure to bring it up. I fully expected to keep making that sort of note during the film, but I didn’t. I’m not sure, had Silent Partner kept that meticulous approach, if it would be a better movie, but I would have had a lot more notes.

It’s a weird film for a few reasons. Most visibly because it’s a Canadian film with an American screenwriter (Curtis Hanson), an American lead (Elliott Gould), an English romantic interest (Susannah York), but Canadian bad guys, Christopher Plummer and Céline Lomez. There’s an odd feel to the film, which is nice, especially since Gould’s an exceptionally strange protagonist. Most of the characters are established as being lousy people. Plummer’s bad guy is a complete psychopath, shown with a pervasive violence throughout–and he needs to be, just because Gould’s not exactly sympathetic. Sure, York makes fun of him and his boss is a complete worm, but there’s very little redeeming about Gould. But he’s human and he appeals to the viewer on that level. The Silent Partner very quickly (and masterfully, in that fantastic opening) makes the viewer complicit in, essentially, being a criminal. It does a great job of it, but then the film gradually changes.

Halfway through, Hanson’s script fast forwards a couple weeks or a month, something indeterminate but not too long. It pulls off the transition well and gives the film a fresh start, even bringing in Lomez as the deceptive, but still appealing, second romantic interest. This reset button’s particularly interesting because the film–after spending ten minutes setting up the new situation–returns to the existing conflict with York. In the second half of the film, York really becomes essential–mirroring Lomez’s importance too. Hanson’s script presents all of its principle characters as unhappy people who desperately need a drastic change, investing the viewer with concern–not so much for Gould, because he’s so abrasive–but for the female characters.

Gould’s good in the film, steady and sure, but maybe a little uncomfortable playing such an impenetrable character. He has a couple scenes displaying great weakness and without them, the film wouldn’t work. As his nemesis, Christopher Plummer’s terrifying. The way the film sets him up, wearing some black mesh wifebeater, he just oozes violent creepiness. Again, if he weren’t so dangerous–and there is something about Captain Von Trapp being a sadistic monster–the viewer might not feel for Gould.

I saw The Silent Partner for the first time about ten years ago and it’s finally come out on DVD, a decent release from Lionsgate (of all people). I have the feeling it’ll be even better the next time I see it. There’s something really great about York’s performance and I don’t think I appreciated it enough this time through.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Daryl Duke; screenplay by Curtis Hanson, based on a novel by Anders Bodelson; director of photography, Billy Williams; edited by George Appleby; music by Oscar Peterson; production designer, Trevor Williams; produced by Joel B. Michaels and Stephen Young; released by EMC Film Corporation.

Starring Elliott Gould (Miles Culien), Susannah York (Julie Carver), Christopher Plummer (Harry Reikle), Céline Lomez (Elaine), Michael Kirby (Packard), Ken Pogue (Detective), John Candy (Simonson), Gell Dehms (Louise), Michael Donaghue (Berg), Jack Duffy (Fogelman) and Nancy Simmonds (Girl in sauna).


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