Tuesday Weld

A Safe Place (1971, Henry Jaglom)

A Safe Place tracks the relationship of apparently financially secure but listless hippie Tuesday Weld and her square of a new boyfriend, Phil Proctor. Weld spends her time presumably stoned—though we don’t see her smoke, her friends are always rolling a joint or smoking one—and dwelling on the past. She can’t get over the lack of magic in the world today (today being 1971); there’s a great segment on how exchange names on telephone numbers were special while numbers are not. At times it feels like Safe Place can’t possibly have been tightly scripted but then other times feels like it must’ve been. The actors do a great job drifting between the two feelings, particularly Weld, Jack Nicholson, and Gwen Welles. Though Nicholson it’s a little different; he always makes it feel spontaneous, in which case extra kudos to Weld for not reacting.

Nicholson shows up at near the beginning of the film but we don’t have any real context for him, though it’s clear he’s a romantic interest for Weld, presumably one in her past. Despite Proctor’s constant pursuit of Weld, they never spark, especially since Proctor can never shut up. Weld wants things quiet so she can drift into her imagined past, to when she was a kid and would watch the magician across the street in the park. Orson Welles plays the magician. He never feels scripted, which is fine, it’s Orson Welles doing a bountiful performance complete with an Eastern European accent. He goes so big, relishing in it so much, you can’t quibble with any of it. The one real trick he’s always wanted to be able to perform is making something disappear. He takes Weld to the zoo and tries it out on the animals, which leads to some amazing moments.

Both Welleses, Orson and Gwen, are establishing tone for Weld to later interact with; the Orson Welles at the zoo stuff is a fun, carefree tone, while Gwen Welles has a phenomenally despondent monologue about being objectified and dehumanized living in 1971 New York. That monologue, which director Jaglom gives a showcase like nothing else in the film gets, not even Nicholson when he shows up proper, needs to be there to fully establish Weld’s ground situation too. She’d never have a monologue like it, it’d be out of character, but her experiences are clearly similar.

Once it becomes clear how the film “works,” how it moves from Weld to her imagined past, when the film’s following Weld there in her mind and when the film’s just going there—Weld’s the lead but not the protagonist, she’s the subject, with Proctor ending up being somewhat closer to a traditional protagonist role but only because he’s takes a lot of action. Or threatens to take action. He’s kind of exhausting in how much action he takes, which gives the film this wonderful sense of empathy for Weld even as she’s (ostensibly) inexplicable. Proctor’s a lot. Clearly he’s a lot.

Jaglom establishes the ebb and flow of the timeline visually, through editing, composition, and direction. Weld frequently looks directly into the camera, watching the world around her unfold. Jaglom also will shoot the Welleses straight on, but for different effect. With Gwen Welles, the eyes mesmerize against her story, offering the viewer a chance to examine her in this bare moment. Orson Welles it’s sometimes for humor, sometimes for magic. Except we already know it’s not real magic but is it something nefarious or just mirthful chicanery. It’s always hard to tell because while everyone exists in the same spaces—mostly around Central Park Lake, or at Weld’s apartment (or on its roof), Orson Welles doesn’t interact with anyone but Weld. The first act has a lot of cuts establishing how he’s been there but isn’t there but is there. He’s there when Weld needs him, but he’s not entirely dependent on her.

Gwen Welles, Proctor, Nicholson, they all interact in one way or another. Proctor’s in the room during the Gwen Welles monologue; his attendance of it is apparently around the time Weld gives up and just lets him in. Some time later, when Nicholson enters the action proper, it’s after Proctor has moved himself into Weld’s apartment and has assumed a male authority figure role, but not one Weld or anyone else takes seriously.

It’s all very intricate, very complex, entirely established and explored through anti-sensical conversations, camera movement, and editing, everything tied together with selections from the Columbia Records songbook playing in the background—Weld’s got a jukebox in her apartment, presumably filled with them, including some fantastic French language cover versions.

Phenomenal photography from Richard C. Kratina—even if you can’t get onboard Safe Place’s jumbled narrative (which still ends up being way too epical), the photography alone can keep interest. Then there’s Pieter Bergema’s editing, which is somehow even more exquisite than the photography.

Weld’s good, Nicholson’s good, Proctor’s okay. The Welleses are good, though Gwen’s better and has a lot more work to do. Jaglom’s direction is aces.

A Safe Place is a qualified success—the third act is way too obvious and Proctor, both in terms of performance and character in the film, isn’t enough—and some absolutely exquisite filmmaking.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Henry Jaglom; director of photography, Richard C. Kratina; edited by Pieter Bergema; production designer, Harold Schneider; costume designer, Barbara Flood; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tuesday Weld (Susan), Phil Proctor (Fred), Jack Nicholson (Mitch), Gwen Welles (Bari), Dov Lawrence (Larry), and Orson Welles (The Magician).


Madame X (1981, Robert Ellis Miller)

Madame X never has good pacing. The movie starts with Tuesday Weld on trial, in old age makeup. She refuses to identify herself, hence the title, and won’t even assist her lawyer, Martina Deignan, in her own defense. Weld’s completely passive in the scene. Robert Hooks’s prosecuting attorney closing arguments dominate the scene, setting a problematic tone for the next hundred or so minutes.

Weld is the “star” of Madame X, and while she’s the subject of the movie, writer Edward Anhalt and director Miller never let her be its protagonist. Not for long anyway; not in the second half, when it matters. Instead, the supporting cast runs the movie. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. What’s worse is how good Weld is during most of the latter type. After a too long setup, Madame X turns into a series of vignettes with different guest stars. Weld doesn’t get much to do in these scenes, except be a little bit more of a fallen woman. Without material or even the movie’s attention, she’s great. While the script might not trying to build a character, Weld’s working on it.

And then in the narratively defective third act, when Anhalt’s script does give Weld some agency again, Madame X backtracks some of the work she’s done and gives her a shallow melodramatic finish. Madame X never wants to be anything but affecting melodrama; it’s one tragedy after another. And it’s not about them not adding up into anything, it’s about that anything not getting the time it needs.

The script has a real problem emphasizing the right character. Ellis’s direction doesn’t help. Some of the problems might just be the nature of TV movies, like defense attorney Deignan not getting enough time. When it seems like she might get some development, the third act surprise takes it away from her. That third act surprise disappoints too. There’s just no time for it–Madame X needed at least another ten minutes, maybe twenty.

So, while Weld’s the lead and she’s good at the beginning, problematic in the middle, great in the second half, persevering at the finish, Madame X is about the supporting cast. Weld might be in the foreground, but all the focus is on the background. Sometimes literally. Woody Omens’s photography is competent and effective; the content’s sometimes a mess but Omens shoots it fine. Madame X travels the world, but was probably all shot around L.A.; Omens hides it as well as he can.

Anyway. The supporting cast. Best is Jeremy Brett. He’s second-billed, which initially suggests he’s going to have a substantial presence. He doesn’t. But he’s great when he’s in the film. Then maybe Len Cariou. But the script fails him. So maybe Eleanor Parker. Script fails her too, but in different ways than Cariou. Parker’s one-note in her scenes with Weld. She’s a good mean matriarch but in her scenes with other people, she’s got a lot more texture. It’s the script. Anhalt’s script does no one any favors during dramatic sequences. Well, maybe Brett.

Then there’s Jerry Stiller. He’s not good, but he’s fine.

Granville Van Dusen is too slight. Even when he tries, he’s too slight. The script’s not good to him either. Robin Strand, billed like he’s going to have a real part, has a couple scenes. He’s not good. He’s likable, sort of, but he’s not good. The script even goes out of its way to make him sort of likable, which it rarely does for anyone.

Until the third act, Madame X seems like it’s going to be able to coast on Weld’s performance. It gets long once Weld gets demoted in agency–it’s long at the start because Van Dusen’s so boring and the script won’t get moving–but it gets real long once Weld stops leading it. Her performance develops to the point Madame X’s questionable attempts at soap opera melodrama don’t matter as much as what Weld’s going to do with them. Will it add up?

No. It won’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Ellis Miller; teleplay by Edward Anhalt, based on the play by Alexandre Bisson and the screenplay by Jean Holloway; director of photography, Woody Omens; edited by Skip Lusk; music by Angela Morley; produced by Paula Levenback and Wendy Riche; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Tuesday Weld (Holly Richardson), Granville Van Dusen (Clay Richardson), Eleanor Parker (Katherine Richardson), Len Cariou (John Abbott), Jeremy Brett (Dr. Terrence Keith), Robin Strand (Willy Dwyer), Jerry Stiller (Burt Orland), Martina Deignan (Elizabeth Reeves), and Robert Hooks (Dist. Atty. Roerich).


Rock Rock Rock! (1956, Will Price)

Some of Rock Rock Rock! is awful. Director Price goes for the most boring shot every single time–with his cast members on cheap sets, never making it into location establishing shots. Just once would’ve been great. There’s some really bad acting too. Fran Manfred, Teddy Randazzo, Jacqueline Kerr. Randazzo has the “excuse” of being a singer acting, but Manfred and Kerr are just atrocious. Price can’t direct, of course. When there’s a good moment from Jack Collins, it’s because he’s visibly bored and trying something with his performance.

But some of Rock Rock Rock! is great. Chuck Berry’s performance is great, some of the other performances are excellent too. Of course, these performances are when Tuesday Weld–who plays the lead in the rather strained narrative tying together live rock performances–is watching Alan Freed on television. When Weld and the rest of the cast go to their prom–Randazzo has arranged to have Freed come and DJ the prom, bringing a variety of performers with him–those performances aren’t so good. The narrative, at its most dramatic point, stops.

And it’s a bunch of groups performing on a terrible country club banquet hall stage. Still, La Vern Baker’s performance is good; the rockabilly guy seems a tad embarrassed to be situation in front of a giant paper maché fireplace though.

And Randazzo’s performance–after two generally okay in scene numbers–is weak. Probably because the film doesn’t acknowledge he’s part of the narrative. He just steps out of it for a second, even though his performance should have all sorts of dramatic overtones. Like I said, bad direction from Price.

Weld’s pretty darn good. She gets some terrible scenes, some terrible writing, but she gets through it all. She’s great at lipsyncing to Connie Francis too.

Blandine Hafela’s editing doesn’t help things–it’s amazing how there are clearly good dancers and Price and Hafela butcher their abilities.

And the film does have one excellent scene where Weld, previously played as something of a dope, outsmarts her nemesis.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Will Price; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on a story by Subotsky and Phyllis Coe; director of photography, Morris Hartzband; edited by Blandine Hafela; produced by Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by Distributors Corporation of America.

Starring Tuesday Weld (Dori), Teddy Randazzo (Tommy), Fran Manfred (Arabella), Jacqueline Kerr (Gloria), Ivy Schulman (Baby), Jack Collins (Dori’s father), Carol Moss (Dori’s mother), Eleanor Swayne (Miss Silky) and Alan Freed (himself).


Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (1958, Leo McCarey)

It’s hard to describe what’s wrong with Rally ’Round the Flag, Boys!; not because its ailments are mysterious but because the sentence is just a little problematic. Rally is a light handling of what should be a mature comedy. It deals with big issues–fifties suburban malaise and boredom, not to mention a strange post-war animosity towards the military–but director McCarey tries to do it all Cinemascope slapstick.

He does not succeed.

He’s lucky to have such a strong cast, because they really get the film to its finish. Its finish involves a Fourth of July pageant. The script lays the groundwork for that pageant real early, before taking a detour into a comedy of errors where Paul Newman can’t get away from Joan Collins’s roaming housewife, much to his chagrin and wife Joanne Woodward’s anger. The first twenty or so minutes setting up this part of the film are boring but gently amusing. Woodward and Newman are great together and Collins has a lot of fun.

Until her goofy dance sequences. There are maybe three of them. They all stop the film for a moment because they’re so awkward. Maybe if the editing were better. Louis R. Loeffler does a real bad job editing Rally.

But there’s also a tangent with teenager Tuesday Weld, who’s appealing but pointless if the film’s about Newman and Woodward. McCarey seems to be aiming high with the film’s ambitions, but he fails on all of them so maybe he wasn’t.

Rally’s fine, just unsuccessful.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Leo McCarey; screenplay by Claude Binyon and McCarey, based on the novel by Max Shulman; director of photography, Leon Shamroy; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Paul Newman (Harry Bannerman), Joanne Woodward (Grace Oglethorpe Bannerman), Joan Collins (Angela Hoffa), Jack Carson (Capt. Hoxie), Dwayne Hickman (Grady Metcalf, Comfort’s suitor), Tuesday Weld (Comfort Goodpasture), Gale Gordon (Brig. Gen. W.A. Thorwald), Tom Gilson (Corporal Opie) and O.Z. Whitehead (Isaac Goodpasture, Comfort’s Father).


Soldier in the Rain (1963, Ralph Nelson)

Soldier in the Rain is a peculiar film. It’s one of Steve McQueen’s odder performances–his character is a doofus, both the protagonist and the subject of the audience’s (intended) laughter. Jackie Gleason gives an excellent performance, though his scenes with McQueen compare poorly to the ones with Tuesday Weld. Their scenes really bring something special of out of Soldier, so it’s a big disservice when their importance is ignored, the film instead concentrating on gags. The problem with the film–besides the script, which I imagine is partially William Goldman’s novel’s fault, the wandering emphases, but also the terrible Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin script–not so much the dialogue, but the plotting. It’s separated into a handful of scenes, almost intended more for the stage. And Ralph Nelson really tries to be an interesting director–whether it’s the omnipresent (sometimes louder than dialogue) Henry Mancini score, or the silent scenes with nothing but breathing–Nelson is definitely trying for something and he’s failing miserably. The film’s atrociously edited, discombobulating at times. Nelson will occasionally have a good shot, a good sequence of shots, then he’ll toss any goodness away with a terrible cut. Either he didn’t get enough coverage or he’s just incompetent and sporadically lucky.

Nelson’s problems don’t just hinder the film visually (and audially, that music gets annoying fast)–every scene is told in summary until the last half hour. Worse, the actors aren’t working towards anything. While Gleason has a good role and even with the film’s problems, it turns out very well for him, McQueen’s is convoluted. He goes from being a doofus to being a smart guy in a flash (the film needs a conclusion, after all). Weld’s similarly wronged. All of those scenes in summary suggest the film is leading up to something, even though it’s long clear it’s not. They’re starter scenes, ones to be expanded one on later, but Soldier in the Rain never goes in a traditional or good direction. While it’s the closest Edwards has probably ever come to art house, it’s not intentional–the scenes are ripe for trailer moments and commercial breaks. Edwards and Richlin’s script isn’t just erratic (it either takes place over a week or a month, there’s nothing definite and a few contradictions), it’s cheap. Soldier in the Rain feels incomplete, slapped together and pushed out the door.

I remembered thinking it was a stunning piece of work–and with McQueen and Gleason and Weld, it could have been–but instead it’s a mishmash. A poorly directed one too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ralph Nelson; screenplay by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin, from the novel by William Goldman; director of photography, Philip H. Lathrop; edited by Ralph E. Winters; music by Henry Mancini; produced by Edwards and Martin Jurow; released by Allied Artists.

Starring Jackie Gleason (MSgt. Maxwell Slaughter), Steve McQueen (Sgt. Eustis Clay), Tuesday Weld (Bobby Jo Pepperdine), Tony Bill (Pfc. Jerry Meltzer), Tom Poston (Lt. Magee), Ed Nelson (MP Sgt. James Priest), Lew Gallo (Sgt. Fred Lenahan) and Rockne Tarkington (Sgt. William Booth).


Falling Down (1993, Joel Schumacher)

When the film started, I sort of marveled at how absurd it was–Joel Schumacher and Michael Douglas making a subversive movie, then I quickly realized Falling Down isn’t subversive… it’s “controversial.” Obviously, Schumacher doesn’t have a controversial bone in his body–and neither does Douglas–so Falling Down gets repetitive and boring before too long. I suppose one can enjoy watching Douglas only hurt bad people in his “everyman” gone psycho role. Everyman is in quotes because I’m sure they used it in the promotional material for the film.

Douglas is terrible, playing Michael Douglas playing a psycho (a really, really stupid one–my fiancée asked if he was mentally ill, before we started the film and I told her no, but watching it, it’s obvious Douglas’s character has the mental processes of a nine-year old. A dumb one). Schumacher’s direction is also pretty bad, both of his actors and just composition-wise. He has this whole LA in orange smug thing going for Falling Down and it makes the film ugly, not realistic.

There are a handful of good things about Falling Down, however–though certainly not the music. I can’t forget the music. The film is, again, supposed to be mainstream gone indie, pre-Miramax, and James Newton Howard contributes the score to a Predator movie, possibly even lifting some of the themes. It’s laughable.

Anyway, good things about the film. I’d like to say Tuesday Weld, but the script runs her in such a dumb direction, I don’t get to say it. However, Robert Duvall’s fantastic. Wonderful in fact. His part is poorly written, but seeing Duvall act in such a big role is still a treat. Barbara Hershey’s also all right, so is Lois Smith (in the film’s second or third worst role). Frederic Forrest is terrible in his role, easily the film’s worst.

The terrible script was written by Ebbe Roe Smith. I’d actually list his other screenwriting credits to let you know what to avoid, but I’ll just assume anyone would avoid Car 54, Where Are You? on his or her own.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Schumacher; written by Ebbe Roe Smith; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Barbara Ling; produced by Arnold Kopelson, Herschel Weingrod and Timothy Harris; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Douglas (D-Fens), Robert Duvall (Prendergast), Barbara Hershey (Beth), Rachel Ticotin (Sandra), Tuesday Weld (Mrs. Prendergast), Frederic Forrest (Surplus Store Owner), Lois Smith (D-Fens’s Mother), Joey Hope Singer (Adele), Ebbe Roe Smith (Guy on Freeway) and Michael Paul Chan (Mr. Lee).


Return to Peyton Place (1961, José Ferrer)

I’ve read a review of Return to Peyton Place positing the whole film as a disservice to Mary Astor. It might have been Maltin. Right now, I’m reading Bruce Eder’s review over at allmovie. Eder’s a smarty-pants (he does or did a lot of scholarly audio commentaries) and I’d almost recommend it over my own post, because I made a few of the same observations. Return to Peyton Place starts out bad, with Rosemary Clooney singing a silly song over location shots of the town. The first Peyton Place had a great score–if it was a little derivative of Aaron Copland’s Our Town score–and the first couple seconds of music in Return to Peyton Place seemed all right… then the singing started. Clooney was married to director José Ferrer at the time and one imagines there’s a connection to her involvement.

Worse, the first scene is with Carol Lynley. I’m a Peyton Place fan and I can imagine how upset people seeing this film in the theater would have been. Lynley is a poor substitute for Diane Varsi, who originated the role. Poor substitute might be too polite. Lynley’s acting is a crime against celluloid. But then Eleanor Parker and Tuesday Weld and Mary Astor show up–and here’s where Eder and I agree–and Mary Astor’s first scene is really good. Immediately after, she becomes Mrs. Bates, complete with haunted house, but the first scene is good. Tuesday Weld manages to have a few good moments, but she’s busy being in love with Swedish sky instructor–she visibly competent, though I don’t know if I’d say anything if I didn’t know she turned well. Eleanor Parker–replacing Lana Turner, who was the lead in the original Peyton Place–is around because she has to be, but there’s no emphasis on her. It’s a bad sequel in that way–it’s set after the events in Peyton Place, but certain things didn’t happen….

The idea of the film–besides Mary Astor combating her son’s new, pregnant Italian bride (Fox was very international with Return to Peyton Place)–is Lynley writing a book a lot like… Peyton Place. The novel was (I’m Googling for the appropriate adjective) notorious at its publication. That idea of turning that notoriety into filmic content in a sequel, it’s not a bad one. It would allow for the film to cover the existing situations in the narrative and create all sorts of conflicts and yada yada yada, but it’s so poorly handled, it just doesn’t work. Jeff Chandler–who’s good–is bad in Return to Peyton Place. He doesn’t fit the role of book publisher and his scenes are all with Lynley and… oh, they’re awful together.

It’s hard to imagine a good sequel to Peyton Place. You would need the entire cast to return. You would need five or six stories, good ones (instead of two and a half bad ones). You’d need a good writer–though, Return to Peyton Place’s scenes are competently paced–and you’d need a good director. But still, even with all of those components (and Return to Peyton Place has none of those components), there still isn’t a good artistic reason for a sequel….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by José Ferrer; screenplay by Ronald Alexander, based on a novel by Grace Metalious; director of photography, Charles G. Clarke; edited by David Bretherton; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Carol Lynley (Allison MacKenzie), Jeff Chandler (Lewis Jackman), Eleanor Parker (Connie Rossi), Mary Astor (Mrs. Roberta Carter), Robert Sterling (Mike Rossi), Luciana Paluzzi (Raffaella Carter), Brett Halsey (Ted Carter), Gunnar Hellström (Nils Larsen) and Tuesday Weld (Selena Cross).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 3: Baroness.
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