Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Blake Edwards Treatment

James Coburn--looking hip as always.
What can you say about a movie in which a director sued to have his name removed from the credits? Suffice to say that director Blake Edwards was mighty displeased with the version of The Carey Treatment (1972) that was released to theaters. However, before we discuss what happened behind the scenes, let's take a look at the finished product.

Jennifer O'Neill.
The Carey Treatment stars James Coburn as Dr. Peter Carey, a hip pathologist that accepts a job at a Boston hospital because he'll "make more bread" ($45,000 to be precise or $258,600 in today's economy). Carey never actually performs his hospital duties. Instead, he has an older colleague cover for him as he investigates a potential murder and makes out with an attractive dietitian named Georgia (Jennifer O'Neill in an awful performance).

The murder victim is 15-year-old Karen Randall, the hospital administrator's daughter, who died from what appeared to be a botched abortion. The police arrest Carey's friend Dr. David Tao, who admits to performing illegal abortions but not performing one on Karen. Carey clashes with everyone, including his boss and the police, as he aggressively seeks out what really happened to the dead teenager.

The Carey Treatment was based on the 1968 novel A Case of Need, written by Michael Crichton under a pseudonym while he was a medical student. The film version, though, likely owes more to private eye films such as Harper (1966) and Marlowe (1969). Frankly, it's hard to imagine that Peter Carey is actually an M.D. In one scene, he tries to get Karen's roommate to dish on the murder victim by driving recklessly with the girl in the passenger seat (e.g., he even drives over a drawbridge while the spans are separating!).

James Coburn tries to salvage The Carey Treatment by the sheer force of his personality, glittering smile, and ultra-cool silver hair. However, he is undone by more plot holes than your average slice of Swiss cheese. Why does Karen or her mother implicate Dr. Tao? If Georgia has custody of her young son, why does she seem to spend all her nights with Carey? Someone hires a photographer to take a photo of Carey and Georgia making love, but for what reason?

The answers to these questions may be addressed in the many scenes excised from The Carey Treatment after Blake Edwards turned in his final cut. Frankly, I suspect that Edwards might have never directed The Carey Treatment if not for the fact that his career was at a low point. After enjoying boxoffice success in the 1960s with Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Days of Wine and Roses, and The Pink Panther, Edwards started the next decade with a series of flops. The most notable was Darling Lili (1970), a vanity project for his wife Julie Andrews, that boasted a $25 million budget and earned only $5 million at the theaters.

Blake Edwards subsequently signed a deal with MGM--and then unfortunately ran afoul of budget-minded studio president James Aubrey. The executive, who famously sold Dorothy's ruby slippers because they had "no intrinsic value," tampered with Blake Edwards' Western Wild Rovers (1971) as well as The Carey Treatment. Edwards revived his career in 1975 with The Return of the Pink Panther, but he never forgot his awful MGM experiences and gained his "revenge" with the biting Hollywood satire S.O.B. (1981).

Skye Aubrey.
Interestingly, the cast of The Carey Treatment includes James Aubrey's daughter Skye in a key role. Actually, it was quite a family affair with smaller parts being played by Blake Edwards' daughter Jennifer and Mel Torme's daughter Melissa Torme-March. Look quickly and you might also see Olive Dunbar as one of the doctors. She played the lead role in the disturbing short film The Lottery, which we reviewed earlier this year.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Love It or Shove It (Classic Movie Edition II)

In this occasional feature, we'll make a statement about classic cinema and then ask our panel of movie experts to "love it" (they agree) or "shove it" (they disagree). This month, our expert panel is comprised of: Caftan Woman, Silver Screenings, and yours truly.

Vivien Leigh as Miss O'Hara.
1. No one could have played Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind any better than Vivien Leigh.

Caftan Woman:  Love it. Scarlett is on screen for most of the film and when she isn't, she is a presence. If the audience isn't interested or even enthralled with the character, the movie falls apart. The talent Vivien brought to the role was augmented by the audience not identifying her with another character. That combination gives Vivien Leigh ownership of the role.

Silver Screenings:  Love it. Other actresses at the time would have been good, but Vivien Leigh captures Scarlett's essence. She has the look, the attitude(!) and, most importantly, the voice. Leigh-as-Scarlett's overall tone is as sweet as pecan pie, but it also reveals the character's razor-sharp ambition.

Rick:  Shove it. I think Vivien Leigh is very good as Scarlett, but I think GWTW would still be a classic without her. It's Selznick's vision on the screen. Olivia de Havilland provides the film with its heart and Clark Gable provides the needed intensity. Who do I think could have played Scarlett instead of Leigh? I admit that's a toughie. Gene Tierney is one possibility and Paulette Goddard doesn't look bad in her screen test (it's on YouTube).

2. The quality of classic films declined with the end of the studio system in Hollywood.

Caftan Woman:  Shove it. Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Over time fashions, mores, styles and technology bring changes to the art and business of cinema. Each generation of filmmakers and audiences will create their own classics.

Silver Screenings:  Shove it. I feel the quality of classic films initially decreased, then increased over the years. While overall quality may have stumbled somewhat in the 1960s, the 1970s produced some extraordinary films (The Godfather, All the President's Men, Rocky). A person can point to more recent examples, too, such as Dead Poets Society, Schindler's List, and The King's Speech. It's not like the the studio era never produced, um, "forgettable" films.

Rick:  Shove it. The independent films of the 1950s ushered in a new era of provocative cinema with filmmakers like Otto Preminger and Samuel Fuller. I do think the studio system made it easier for young performers to break into the business. Julie Adams once told me that she was thankful to have a "home base" at Universal.

One of the 1939 classics.
3. In terms of quality films produced, 1939 was the best year in the history of classic cinema.

Caftan Woman:  Love it. While many years may lay claim to a plethora of quality titles including personal favourites 1935, 1944 and 1950, 1939 was the year John Ford released Stagecoach. If that is not reason enough, simply check the other nine films nominated by the Academy for Best Picture.

Silver Screenings:  Love it. Although quality films are being made all the time, I agree 1939 has been the Bumper Crop Year so far.

Rick:  Love it. My runner-up would be 1967: The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Cool Hand Luke, To Sir With Love, The Dirty Dozen, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and Point Blank.

4. The MGM musicals set the standard in terms of innovation, spectacle and entertainment value.

Caftan Woman:  Shove it. MGM created an incredibly talented musical unit and gave us true classics in the field. However, their peak of innovation and spectacle in the 1950s coincided with the unfortunate decline of the popularity of movie musicals. Therefore, I deny they set the standard for other studios which created their own look and stars.

Silver Screenings:  Shove it – with a caveat: My complete lack of objectivity when it comes to musicals. MGM musicals are truly lovely, but I think Warner Bros. set the gold standard with Busby Berkeley musicals in the early 1930s. (Talk about innovation!) Then, of course, you have the sparkling RKO musicals of the mid/late 1930s. (Talk about entertainment!) You can't accuse MGM musicals of not having Spectacle, but they can be a test of endurance.

Rick:  Love it. While I'm a fan of the Paramount and Warner Bros. musicals, MGM produced more outstanding musicals over an extended period. Heck, MGM made four popular compilation films featuring highlights mostly from its musicals. I don't think any other studio could have done that.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was an MGM musical.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Paul Newman Gets Wet in "The Drowning Pool"

Harper arrives in New Orleans.
It probably sounded like a good idea at the time: Send Paul Newman's California private eye Harper to New Orleans and get him involved with a former flame, corrupt cops, a devious oil man, a dangerous young woman, and a whole lot of water. It took three screenwriters--typically a sign of trouble for a movie--to try to combine these elements into a coherent mystery. "Try" is the operative word here and, to the defense of the writers, I don't think Billy Wilder could have made a decent movie out of The Drowning Pool--though his version would have been more fun.

Newman first appeared as Lew Harper in the 1966 boxoffice hit Harper. That film was based on the Ross MacDonald novel The Moving Target, which featured private eye Lew Archer. There are several stories explaining the name change from "Archer" to "Harper," but--whatever his name--audiences loved Newman in the part. Still, sequels weren't as common in the 1960s as today, so it was something of a surprise when Newman decided to revive Harper nine years later in The Drowning Pool.
 
Joanne Woodward as Harper's client.
This time around, the easygoing detective goes to The Big Easy at the request of an old flame (Joanne Woodward) who has received an anonymous blackmail letter. Harper has barely walked into his motel room before a young woman (Melanie Griffith) tries to entrap him and he's arrested by an overprotective police detective (Tony Franciosa). He spends most of the film asking questions and getting beat up. There are two murders and a suicide along the way, but, to his credit, Harper eventually figures out the identity of the killer.

The Drowning Pool is a sluggish affair peppered with dull characters. It's hard to fault the actors. After all, Newman, Woodward, and Franciosa all appeared in another Southern drama, The Long, Hot Summer (1958), and that turned out marvelously. In The Drowning Pool, though, even Mr. and Mrs. Newman don't seem to have any chemistry in their scenes. It doesn't help that their tender moments are inexplicably underscored by a sappy instrumental version of "Killing Me Softly With His Song."

Newman and Gail Strickland in the best scene.
As for the title of The Drowning Pool, that brings us to the movie's best scene. Murray Hamilton, sporting a stylish red, one-piece jumpsuit, strands his wife (Gail Strickland) and Harper in a hydrotherapy room in an abandoned mental institution. Not wanting to face Hamilton's goons the next day, Harper decides to flood the room so he and his companion can float up to the ceiling and escape. It doesn't work as planned, but Harper still breaks free.

Of course, it could also be that The Drowning Pool refers in some esoteric way to the films's characters who are emotionally drowning in a swamp of apathy. Frankly, though, I think it refers to the angst experienced by unfortunate viewers who sit through this vapid mystery for 109 minutes.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

That Man from Rio: Foreshadowing Indiana Jones?

Cruising Rio to find the lost statuette.
When a priceless statuette is stolen from a Paris museum and a young woman is kidnapped, her boyfriend follows her captors to Rio de Janeiro. He befriends a resourceful shoeshine boy, survives numerous attempts on his life, and rescues his girlfriend. The undaunted couple figures out that the statuette, which forms a set with two others, leads to an ancient treasure. They try to thwart the bad guys while bickering playfully along the way.

Is this a lost script to an Indiana Jones movie conceived by Steven Spielberg? No, it's the plot from the 1964 international hit That Man from Rio, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Françoise Dorléac.

In the movie, it really looks like Belmondo is on the ledge!
Naturally, there are distinct differences between That Man from Rio and the Indiana Jones movies, with the most obvious being the hero. Indiana is a "professional" adventurer while Belmondo's Adrien is strictly an "amateur" (even though he's a soldier taking a week of leave). Adrien doesn't understand archaeology and he's not proficient with any kind of weapon. Still, his spirit of adventure and determination certainly rival Indy--as evidenced by his willingness to climb onto high building ledges, jump out of an airplane in flight, and participate enthusiastically in a huge barroom brawl.

That Man from Rio is the kind of movie that doesn't withstand close scrutiny; heck, the villain is obvious from his first appearance. Its strengths are swift pacing, quirky touches like the helpful shoeshine boy, and a charismatic star.

Jean-Paul Belmondo as Adrien.
For those film fans who know Belmondo best from foreign classics such as Breathless and Two Women (both 1960), That Man from Rio will be a revelation. The French star runs, jumps, and swings (literally...on vines) in an incredibly athletic performance. Some of the scenes were likely performed by stunt professionals, but Belmondo does his own share of acrobatics (reminding my wife of Cary Grant in Holiday). He seems to be enjoying himself immensely and that feeling of jubilation leaps from the screen.

Françoise Dorléac as Agnes.
As his flighty companion, Françoise Dorléac can't match the charm of her co-star. Indeed, That Man from Rio is at its best when it focuses on Adrien and his attempts to rescue his girlfriend Agnes. I blame the Oscar-nominated screenplay more than Ms. Dorléac. Incidentally, she was the elder sister of Catherine Deneuve and a rising star in her own right when she died in a car accident in 1967 at age 25. Her final film appearance was opposite Michael Caine in the Harry Palmer spy film Billion Dollar Brain.

Director Philippe de Broca, who co-wrote the screenplay for That Man from Rio, has said it was partially inspired by the Tintin comics that first appeared in 1929. Tintin was a young Belgian reporter who had various adventures with his dog Snowy. Spielberg adapted Tintin for the big screen as The Adventures of Tintin, a 2011 animated film. That's not the only Spielberg connection with That Man from Rio. According to a 2015 New York Times article, Spielberg has reportedly watched That Man from Rio at least nine times.

So, perhaps, That Man from Rio really did inspire Indiana Jones....

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dr. Kildare: Perfect Television Viewing for the Summer

Richard Chamberlain as Jim Kildare.
Most of our summer viewing this year has consisted of movies and TV series on two streaming services: Acorn TV and Warner Archive. The latter features both classic films and television, including all five seasons of Dr. Kildare (1961-66). It has turned out to be the most pleasant surprise of the season! That shouldn't come as a shock, I suppose, since the 1960s produced many of our favorite television shows, including The FugitiveThe Defenders, and The Twilight Zone.

Chamberlain and Suzanne Pleshette.
However, while those three series are widely hailed as critical favorites, I don't recall a lot of praise being heaped on Dr. Kildare. While it may not reach the same heights, the first season of Kildare still boasts exceptional writing and strong acting. It helps, of course, when you have guest stars such as: Suzanne Pleshette, Charles Bickford, Anne Francis, William Shatner, Ross Martin, Ellen Burstyn, Beatrice Straight, Richard Kiley, Dorothy Malone, Glynis Johns, Rip Torn, Joan Hackett, Joseph Schildkraut, Martin Balsam, and Julie Adams. Plus, there are a number of future TV stars in small roles such as Jean Stapleton, Ted Knight, Edward Platt, and Gavin MacLeod.

Raymond Massey as Dr. Gillespie.
The strength of Dr. Kildare, though, is the casting of the leads. Richard Chamberlain earned his reputation as a fine actor after he left Kildare (and appeared on stage as Hamlet and became "King of the Miniseries"). But the truth is that he's quite good as the inexperienced intern in Dr. Kildare. Naturally, it helps when you're acting opposite Raymond Massey, who is marvelous as Jim Kildare's mentor Dr. Gillespie. I have no idea how Massey wasn't nominated for at least one Emmy during his five years in the role. He and Chamberlain share some brilliant scenes during the show's first season.

The writers do a nice job of showing the challenges of being an intern in a large hospital. Jim Kildare makes $60 a month (about $500 today), works long hours, rotates through the various medical departments, and sometimes has accurate diagnoses overruled by more senior physicians. Kildare greatly admires Gillespie, but his mentor often admonishes him for his behavior. Jim would never consider himself Gillespie's favorite, but others have taken note (one bitter doctor refers to Kildare as "Gillespie's fair-haired boy").

Richard Chamberlain and Anne Francis.
Most of the episodes take place at Blair General Hospital, but the series still ventures outside those antiseptic walls. In "The Lonely Ones," Jim visit his parents and we learn that his father is a small-town general practitioner. In "A Million Dollar Property," Jim spends a weekend with an insecure actress (Anne Francis) who wants to find more meaning in her life.

The plots deal with a wide range of medical and social issues. Examples include: a smallpox scare in "Immunity"; an ageing surgeon who may no longer be competent in "Winter Harvest"; drug addiction in "The Lonely Ones"; malpractice in "Admitting Service"; and a mercy killing in "For the Living." In "The Patient," an episode with comedic overtones, Kildare injures his back and learns what it's like to be a patient.

If you've never seen Dr. Kildare or haven't watched it in a long time, then we recommend that you check out the first season. I can't vouch for seasons 2-5, but the inaugural one is quality television that will keep you entertained and make you think. Who could ask for more in terms of summer TV viewing?

Here's a clip from Dr. Kildare that includes Dick York and Dick Sargent--the two future Darrins in Bewitched--in back-to-back episodes. How's that for foreshadowing? You can view this scene full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe's YouTube Channel. You can also stream the entire Dr. Kildare series at warnerarchive.com.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dirk Bogarde and Olivia de Havilland Seek the Truth in "Libel"

Dirk Bogarde as Sir Mark Loddon?
During a two-day stopover in London, a Canadian World War II veteran named Jeffrey Buckenham sees a snippet of a television show about English country estates on a pub’s television. Buckenham recognizes the estate’s owner and is next seen participating in a tour of the manor house. He remains behind when the tour departs and confronts the owner, Sir Mark Loddon.

Buckenham is convinced that the man claiming to be Loddon is a nefarious imposter named Frank Wellney. Loddon acts perplexed and becomes angry when Buckenham snarls: “I want to see you crawl, Frank.”

Buckenham pursues his contention and convinces a local newspaper to publish an open letter in which he exposes Loddon as a fraud who assumed a dead man’s identity during an escape from a prisoner of war camp.

Loddon claims to have virtually no memory of his pre-war life due to his traumatic war injuries. He wants to ignore the allegations. However, his wife Margaret feels strongly that he should file a libel lawsuit against Buckenham and the newspaper. Loddon reluctantly agrees—even though it’s quite possible that it will become a trial to prove his identity.
Olivia de Havilland and Dirk Bogarde as the Loddons.
Based on a 1934 stage play by Edward Wooll, Libel (1959) is an exceedingly well-crafted film with plenty of drama inside and outside the courtroom. Its most intriguing element is that there are three possible outcomes to the story: (1) Frank Wellney could be impersonating Loddon; (2) Loddon could be the real Loddon; or (3) Loddon could be Wellney, but doesn’t know it because of war-induced amnesia. During the trial, though, the evidence against Loddon becomes so persuasive that even his wife begins to have her doubts. (It’s interesting to note that the plot wouldn’t work today as DNA tests could determine Loddon’s identity.)

Dirk Bogarde is superb in the lead role, leaving the audience to determine if his character’s perpetual haunted look is because he can’t remember what happened during the POW escape or because he fears being exposed as a fraud. His most impressive work is in the flashbacks in which he portrays both Loddon and Wellney in the same scene.


Olivia as Margaret Loddon.
The rest of the cast provides outstanding support. As Margaret Loddon, Olivia de Havilland has one of the best roles of her later career and her climactic scene with Bogarde is charged with emotion. Paul Massie is quietly convincing as Buckenham. The only other film I’ve seen him in was Hammer’s The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, in which he played Jekyll as a milquetoast and Hyde as a dashing villain. Finally, British veterans Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White are ideally cast as the battling barristers who are best friends outside the courtroom.


Robert Morley as a barrister.
Director Anthony Asquith obviously knew his way around cinematic courtrooms, having earlier helmed legal dramas The Winslow Boy (1948) and Court Martial (1954). He also directed several other highly-regarded British classics, to include Pygmalion (1938), The Browning Version (1951), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1952).

Libel was nominated for one Academy Award…for Best Sound. Inexplicably, it’s not a well-known movie despite the acting pedigree and intriguing plot. Fortunately, it’s currently available on Warner Archive’s streaming service. Really, though, TCM should have a Dirk Bogarde day and include Libel as part of the schedule.

Here's a clip from Libel. You can view it full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe's YouTube Channel. (You can also stream the entire movie at warnerarchive.com).

Monday, July 3, 2017

Perry Mason Returns!

Nineteen years after the last Perry Mason episode aired on CBS, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale returned to the small screen in their most famous roles. The only surviving members of the original cast, they reprised Perry and Della for the logically-titled Perry Mason Returns, a 96-minute made-for-TV movie on NBC.

Barbara Hale as Della.
Della has spent the previous eight years working for Arthur Gordon (Patrick O'Neal), a wealthy executive that runs Gordon Industries. Gordon chooses his birthday celebration to inform his three children and wife (stepmom to the kids) that he has written all of them out of his will. He plans to leave the bulk of his fortune to his foundation and appoint Della to manage it. Later that night, Gordon is stabbed to death! We see the face of the murderer, but that's really irrelevant because it's obvious that he's just performing a job and isn't the brains behind Gordon's death.

The real culprit has gone to great pains to ensure that Della is framed for the murder. When she's arrested, Perry Mason steps down as an appellate court judge so he can defend her. In need of a good detective agency, Perry turns to Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt). Initially, Perry is concerned that Paul, who plays sax at a local jazz club and dabbles in writing, lacks the experience for such an important investigation. Their developing relationship plays out in the background of Della's case.

Holland Taylor as a suspect.
Fans of the Perry Mason TV series may be disappointed with this revival. Whereas the TV episodes were typically concise, well-written mysteries, this TV movie lumbers along and takes its time to reach the courtroom climax. The suspects are a pretty lame bunch, too, with the exceptions of Holland Taylor (who plays the widow) and Richard Anderson (Donovan's lawyer). Anderson was actually a regular on the final season of the Perry Mason TV series, playing Lieutenant Drumm. Taylor later won an Emmy for portraying a judge on the legal TV series The Practice. She also had a connection with Barbara Hale (more on that later).

William Katt as Paul Drake Jr.
Still, the reason to watch Perry Mason Returns is to see Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale return to their famous roles. They do not disappoint--though it did take awhile for me to accept Perry with a beard. This telefilm became the second highest rated show for the 1985-86 TV season and led to 29 additional films that aired between 1986 and 1995. William Katt, Barbara Hale's real-life son, played Paul Jr, in the first nine. He was replaced with William R. Moses portraying a different private investigator in the remaining installments.

Burr starred in 26 of the 30 telefilms. When he died in 1993, each of the four remaining films were subtitled A Perry Mason Mystery (even though Perry was "out of town" during each case). Paul Sorvino was the lead attorney in The Case of the Wicked Wives, while Hal Holbrook played lawyer William "Wild Bill" McKenzie in the last three. Barbara Hale still played Della, though she only appeared briefly in the final installment The Case of the Jealous Jokester. Holland Taylor portrays McKenzie's assistant in that one.