Thursday, May 28, 2020

Seven Things to Know About Connie Stevens

1. Connie Stevens was married and divorced twice by the age of 31. Her first marriage was to actor James Stacy (from the TV series Lancer) from 1963-66. They met while he was filming the Disney movie Summer Magic in Palm Springs. Following their divorce, Connie wed Eddie Fisher in 1967. His marriage to Elizabeth Taylor had ended three years earlier. Although they divorced in 1969, Connie gave birth to two daughters: Joely and Tricia. In his second autobiographical book, Been There, Done That, Fisher wrote: "Connie Stevens remains the nicest ex-wife."

2. Connie was born Concetta Rosalie Ann Ingoglia in Brooklyn, New York. Her father was a jazz drummer who worked under the name Teddy Stevens. Connie adapted "Stevens" as her last name when she became interested in acting and singing. As a teenager, she sang in a quartet called The Fourmost (not to be confused the later British band). That group also included Tony Butala, who would later become a founding member of The Lettermen.

3. After several minor roles in films and TV shows, Connie Stevens landed the part of Cricket Blake on the Warner Bros. television series Hawaiian Eye. The bubbly Cricket was a photographer who helped out private eyes played by Anthony Eisley and Robert Conrad. Cricket also performed at a hotel's shell bar, which gave Stevens plenty of opportunities to sing on the show.

4. In 1959, Connie performed the song "Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)" with Edd Byrnes, who starred as Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip, another Warner Bros. detective show. The novelty song is mostly spoken, but it hit an impressive No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. A year later, Connie Stevens had a #3 hit with the song Sixteen Reasons. It was her only other Top 40 record, although she continued to record for many years.

Troy Donahue and Connie.
5. Concurrent with starring in Hawaiian Eye, Warner Bros. also cast Connie Stevens in movies targeted at young adult audiences. She had a supporting role as one of Troy Donahue's three loves in Parrish (1961), which made a nice profit at the box office. She was teamed with Troy again that same year as the title character in Susan Slade. In 1963, she made a third film with Donahue, the teen comedy Palm Springs Weekend--though her love interest was Ty Hardin and Troy was paired with Stefanie Powers.

6. When Hawaiian Eye was canceled, Connie Stevens starred in the TV sitcom Wendy and Me, in which she and Ron Harper played a young couple living in an apartment building owned by George Burns. In our interview with Ron Harper, he spoke fondly of working with Connie, but was frustrated with Burns' lengthy monologues which opened every episode. The series lasted one season.

7. When her film and TV career slowed down in the 1960s, she began appearing regularly in Las Vegas nightclubs--something that would continue for many years. In her autobiography Growing Up Fisher, daughter Joely Fisher wrote of her mother's Vegas act: "She was ahead of her time in her eclectic choices, which were sometimes met with criticism, because everyone wanted to hear 'Sixteen Reasons' ...It wasn't always what the audience thought they wanted but she wooed them, won them over with her set list, her sensibility, her sexual, sensual performance. It was electric."

Monday, May 25, 2020

Murder Must Advertise

My introduction to Dorothy L. Sayers' aristocratic amateur detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, was via the 1972-75 TV series broadcast in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theatre. Set in the 1920s and early 1930s, the series featured adaptations of five Sayers novels. Each mystery comprised four or five episodes and starred Ian Carmichael as the title character. The highlight of the series was The Nine Tailors (1974), which we reviewed on this blog previously. Today's review covers the third adaptation, Murder Must Advertise (1973), which is a faithful version of Sayers' 1933 novel.

Before apparently falling to his death, an employee at Pym Publicity, Ltd., an advertising agency, pens a vague note about suspicious activities taking place at the firm. The owner hires Lord Peter to conduct an inquiry, which he facilitates by hiring the amateur detective--under a false identity--as the new copywriter. It doesn't take long for Lord Peter to discover that his murder investigation is linked to a large-scale dope distribution case being worked by his brother-in-law, Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Parker.

Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey.
Murder Must Advertise differs from Carmichael's other four Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. First, Lord Peter's faithful butler Bunter (played three times by Glyn Houston) is missing from the plot. That's a shame since the pragmatic Bunter provided the perfect counterpart to the more intellectual Wimsey. However, Bunter is only mentioned briefly in Sayers' novel, so his absence is a result of remaining faithful to the book. In his stead, Inspector Parker has more scenes with Lord Peter.

Secondly, Murder Must Advertise is not a standard whodunit; it's more of a "how did they do it." There are only a few viable suspects, so it's not hard to guess the culprit. However, the method of the murder is quite clever--as is the criminals' elaborate scheme for distributing cocaine to the upper class.

By the time he starred as Lord Peter, veteran actor Ian Carmichael was 53. That made him at least a decade older than Sayers' detective. The age difference is not a factor in the other adaptations, but it is noticeable in Murder Must Advertise. Part of the plot hinges on the attraction that a young socialite has for Wimsey's "bad boy" alter-ego. As good as Carmichael is, he can't quite pull that off.

Veteran actor Peter Bowles.
The supporting cast includes some familiar faces to fans of British television. One of the Pym employees is played by Christopher Timothy, who charmed audiences for years as veterinarian James Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small. There's also Peter Bowles, best known in the U.S. for the quirky series The Irish R.M., who is convincing as a retired major eager to exploit drug addiction for profit.

Murder Must Advertise is not as strong as the other four Lord Peter Wimsey adaptations--but don't let that discourage you from watching it. It's still first-rate television and Carmichael makes it grand fun. Some of the best scenes are of Lord Peter writing his first commercial jingles and introducing himself to the staff. He states that his name is Death Bredon--making a point to note that while most people pronounce that name as "Deeth," he prefers to use "Death" (as in rhyming with "breath").

Thursday, May 21, 2020

John Wayne and Kim Darby Show Their True Grit

John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn.
The year 1969 was a remarkable one for the Western genre. The biggest hit of the year was the revisionist Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Sam Peckinpah's violent The Wild Bunch earned critical raves in the U.S., while Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West thrilled European audiences. Thus, it's not surprising that True Grit--a conventional Western compared to the other three--slipped under the radar. However, it gradually became the eighth biggest moneymaker of the year and earned John Wayne his only Oscar.

Kim Darby as Mattie Ross.
Kim Darby stars as determined teenager Mattie Ross, who arrives in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to bury her father. She also wants to know why the sheriff isn't pursuing her father's murderer. When he confides that his jurisdiction doesn't extend into the Indian Nation, Mattie seeks out a federal marshal. She sets her sights on Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) because she hears he has "grit." Cogburn isn't interested until Mattie agrees to a $100 reward--that plus the fact the grizzled lawman also admires the girl's spunk. Mattie and Rooster are joined by a Texas Ranger named Le Boeuf (Glen Campbell), who is seeking the same man for the murder of a Texas senator.

Based on Charles Portis' 1968 novel, True Grit benefits from an exceptional screenplay by Marguerite Roberts (Ziegfeld Girl, Ivanhoe). She imbues the dialogue with natural humor and captures the well-drawn characters from the Portis novel. I especially like how she introduces the outlaw Ned Peppers (Robert Duvall) through other characters' descriptions of him. It's not until late in the film that Peppers finally makes an appearance.

Wayne on stunt horse Twinkle Toes.
Marguerite Roberts was blacklisted in Hollywood for nine years, starting in 1951, for refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. John Wayne thought her True Grit script was the best he'd read in years. He was also a fan of the novel and told Roger Ebert in 1969: "I loved that book. Charles Portis has a real Mark Twain feeling, the cynicism and the humor. I tried to buy the book myself. I went up to $300,000, and that's pretty good going for an unpublished galley of a Western story. But (producer) Hal Wallis knew about this other book by Portis, Norwood, and he made an offer for both and outbid me. Then he came back to me to play Rooster."

The strength of True Grit, of course, is the relationship between Mattie and Rooster. He affectionately calls her "little sister" and, in a rare moment of insight, Rooster tells the teenager about his failed attempts at marriage and fatherhood. Wayne thought that scene was the best acting he had ever done, though he was surprised when he won the Oscar for Best Actor (he thought Richard Burton would win for Anne of the Thousand Days). Wayne is highly entertaining in True Grit, but some of the credit belongs to his co-star Kim Darby. Her gritty performance as Mattie provides the perfect counterpoint to the larger-than-life Rooster.

Kim Darby was not the first choice to play Mattie Ross. John Wayne promised the part to his daughter Aissa, who had a small role in McLintock, but Hal Wallis nixed her casting.  Mia Farrow turned down the role of Mattie when Robert Mitchum told her that Henry Hathaway was a difficult director. Wallis cast Darby after seeing her play an unwed mother in the Ben Gazzara TV series Run for Your Life. Darby's post-True Grit career was undistinguished, though she appeared in a pair of interesting telefilms: The People (1972) and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973).

Glem Campbell as La Boeuf.
Interestingly, Elvis Presley was among the choices to play La Boeuf before negotiations broke down.  Campbell, who had already scored several hit songs, was signed despite lacking any significant acting experience (he did a guest spot on The F.B.I.). His thespian skills are clearly lacking, though he appears to try hard. He also sings the pretty title song composed by Elmer Bernstein and Don Black, which peaked at #77 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Screenwriter Roberts, Darby, and Campbell teamed up again in 1970 in an adaptation of the Portis novel Norwood. It was about a Vietnam veteran who aspires to be a country singer and co-starred New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath.

Meanwhile, John Wayne followed up True Grit with the 1975 semi-sequel Rooster Cogburn (aka Rooster Cogburn and The Lady). It paired him with Katherine Hepburn in what has often been described as an unsuccessful mash-up of True Grit and The African Queen. Its screenplay was written by actress Martha Hyer under a pseudonym; she was married to producer Hal Wallis.

Warren Oates as Rooster.
In 1978, Warren Oates played Rooster Cogburn in the made-for-TV movie True Grit: A Further Adventure, with Lisa Pelikan as Mattie. And in 2010, Jeff Bridges played Rooster in True Grit, a memorable adaptation of the Portis novel by Joel and Ethan Cohen. It featured an ending closer to the book.

Friday, May 15, 2020

6 from the '60s Blogathon for National Classic Movie Day

To celebrate National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, we are hosting the 6 from the '60s Blogathon. Per its title, each participant has listed his or her six favorite films from the 1960s and explained why they deserve such an honor!

The 1960s was a one of the great decades for movies, spanning the transition from the Golden Age of Hollywood to a new era filled with young auteurs (e.g., Kubrick, Frankenheimer, Peckinpah), rising stars (e.g., Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway), and influential international filmmakers (e.g., Truffaut, Godard, Fellini). It featured beloved films like To Kill a Mockingbird, cult movies like Point Blank, blockbusters like The Great Escape, and ground-breaking movies like Bonnie and Clyde. It also marked the debut of James Bond on the big screen and the birth of Spaghetti Westerns.

Join us in celebrating the most beloved films of the 1960s by checking out the posts below!

Caftan Woman
Cinema Essentials
Cinematic Scribblings
Classic Film & TV Cafe
Classic Film Observations & Obsessions
The Classic Movie Muse
Critica Retro
4 Star Films
Hometowns to Hollywood
It's About TV!
The Lady Eve's Reel Life
Love Letters to Old Hollywood
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
Movie Rob
The Midnite Drive-In
Mrs. Charles
Old Hollywood Films
A Person in the Dark
Reel Charlie
Reelweegiemidget Reviews
A Shroud of Thoughts
Sibyl's Scribbles
Shadows and Satin
Silver Scenes
Silver Screenings
The Story Enthusiast
Taking Up Room
Twenty Four Frames
Unknown Hollywood
Whimsically Classic

My Picks for the 6 from the '60s Blogathon

This is our entry for the 6 From the '60s Blogathon in celebration of National Class Movie Day. Since the 1960s was an incredible decade for movies, choosing just six favorites proved to be incredibly difficult. While the half-dozen below are all marvelous films, I might pick a different six movies if faced with the same challenge next week!

Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
Lover Come Back (1961) - After mostly dramatic roles in the 1950s, Rock Hudson developed into a gifted comedian with Pillow Talk (1959) and this delightfully delirious follow-up. Rock stars as Jerry Webster, an unethical Madison Avenue advertising executive who will do anything to beat his rival, Carol Templeton (Doris Day). When Carol mistakes the womanizing Jerry as a nerdish inventor, he plays along--even to the point of emphasizing he's "never been with a woman." This leads to Rock's best scene, as Jerry tries to encourage Carol to seduce him in her apartment--during which a convenient phone call enlightens her about his true identity. While Lover Come Back is sometimes described as a variation of Pillow Talk, it's actually a superior film, with clever jabs at the advertising industry and sparkling supporting performances (especially from Tony Randall and Edie Adams).

Sidney Poitier ad Lilia Skala.
Lilies of the Field (1963) - Sidney Poitier won a Best Actor Oscar for playing Homer Smith, a drifter who stops to get water for his car at a southwestern farm run by German nuns. What Homer doesn't know is that the nuns believe he is the answer to their prayers--that he will build a chapel for them even though they have no money nor materials for the building. Often described as a feel-good movie, Lilies of the Field far exceeds that simple label with its inspirational message about faith and finding meaning in one's life. Poitier is at his most charming as Homer, a stubborn man who resists building the chapel initially. When he finally relents, he doesn't want anyone to help him. His scenes with the equally firm Mother Maria (beautifully played by Lilia Skala) are not to be missed.

Kirk Douglas in disguise.
The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) – John Huston’s mystery is best known for its gimmick: several famous stars make cameos in heavy make-up. While trying to spot the stars is undeniably fun, the gimmick disguises the fact that The List of Adrian Messenger is a highly-entertaining, crafty film that starts as a mystery and evolves into a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game. In the opening scenes, author Adrian Messenger provides a list of ten names to his friend Anthony Gethryn (George C. Scott), a former MI5 operative, and asks him to quietly find out if the ten people on the list are still alive. Gethryn agrees to undertake the assignment. A few days later, a bomb explodes aboard a plane carrying Adrian as a passenger. Based on a 1959 novel by mystery author and screenwriter Philip MacDonald, The List of Adrian Messenger borrows the killer’s motive from another famous detective novel (no spoilers here!). But the “why” is only part of the fun in The List of Adrian Messenger. It’s the “how” that differentiates it from other mysteries. Among his many skills, the murderer, played delightfully by Kirk Douglas, is also a master of disguises. That provides the opportunity for Douglas to don a number of incredible “looks” designed by make-up master Bud Westmore. Thus, the killer appears as a pointy-chinned priest, a short mousey man, a white-haired elderly villager, and others.

Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery.
Marnie (1964) – When I first saw Marnie as a teenager, it made no impression at all. I thought Tippi Hedren was miscast and Sean Connery dull. The plot--what there was of one--seemed thin and the characters lacked interest. Decades later, I watched it it again and, to my complete surprise, I loved it! Tippi Hedren's subtle detached performance made Marnie a vulnerable, intriguing character. The progressively complex relationship between Marnie and Sean Connery’s character generated suspense--in its own quiet way--worthy of Hitch’s best man-on-the-run films. I was captivated by Hitch's finest use of color (especially during the opening scenes). And finally, there was Bernard Herrmann's incredible score (which, for me, ranks second only to Vertigo among his Hitchcock soundtracks). I've often wondered how I missed all of this the first time around?

Hayley Mills spying.
The Chalk Garden (1964) – My favorite Deborah Kerr film is this offbeat, poignant tale about secrets and the passing of judgment on people, often without charity. Ms. Kerr stars as a governess (once again), hired by a dowager to care for the elderly lady’s out-of-control teenage granddaughter (Hayley Mills). The girl has a fondness for setting fires and delights in threatening to burn down the gloomy mansion set among the isolated cliffs. As the story progresses, its focus shifts from the young girl to the governess—a mystery woman who paces her room at night “like a caged animal,” has only new possessions, doesn't have a picture of a loved one in her room, and receives no letters or phone calls. This quiet film is content to rely on its carefully-crafted characters and wonderful performances (to include John Mills). They will ensure that The Chalk Garden lingers with you long after its secret is revealed.

Charles Bronson as Harmonica.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – "Epic" and "sprawling" are the words critics frequently used to describe this now-revered 1968 Spaghetti Western. Yet, despite its lengthy running time and visually massive backdrop, Once Upon a Time in the West focuses tightly on the relationships among four people over a relatively short period of time. These characters are: Frank (Henry Fonda), a ruthless gunfighter who aspires to be a powerful businessman; Cheyenne (Jason Robards), a rascally outlaw with killer instincts; Jill (Claudia Cardinale), a former prostitute in search of a more meaningful life; and a mysterious revenge-minded stranger whom Cheyenne calls Harmonica (Charles Bronson). It took multiple viewings over the span of several years for me to fully appreciate Sergio Leone’s masterpiece. In the end, I was won over by its fascinating characters, overarching theme, Ennio Morricone’s score, and some marvelous set pieces (especially the opening and climactic showdown between Frank and Harmonica).

There are too many honorable mentions to list, but it's just wrong not to include: Bunny Lake Is Missing, Jason and the Argonauts, Von Ryan's Express, Where Eagles Dare, Goldfinger, To Kill a Mockingbird, Splendor in the Grass, Brides of Dracula, Flight of the PhoenixQuatermass and the Pit, 101 Dalmatians, and To Sir, With Love.

Click here to check out all the fabulous entries in this blogathon.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney.
A year after her husband's death, widow Lucy Muir has made the bold decision to move to the coastal village of Whitecliff-by-the-Sea with her young daughter and housekeeper. It's a decision that's derided by her sister-in-law and mother-in-law--but Lucy (Gene Tierney) knows her mind and no one is going to change it.

A village realtor learns that same lesson when he tries to talk Lucy out of renting Gull Cottage, an isolated home previously owned by a sea captain. Lucy falls in love with Gull Cottage instantly--despite the rumors that it's haunted by the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison). On the family's first night in their new home, Captain Gregg appears before Lucy. Instead of screaming and running away, Lucy talks with the salty sea man and convinces him to let her family stay on a "trial basis."

It's the beginning of a friendship between Lucy and Daniel that develops into something more. But what future can there be in the love between a very human woman and a ghostly man?

Gene Tierney as Lucy Muir.
Based on Josephine Leslie's 1945 novel, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1948) is a grand Hollywood romance made with care and craftsmanship. Set at the turn of the century, it offers a unique mix of quaint charm and haunting imagery. Famed cinematographer Charles Lang earned an Oscar nomination for his striking black-and-white photography. Composer Bernard Herrmann should have been honored as well. His beautiful, expressive score will linger with you long after the movie. The composer considered The Ghost and Mrs. Muir his finest film score. Entire books have been written about it (e.g., Bernard Herrmann's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir: A Film Score Guide).

George Sanders as a suitor.
While The Ghost and Mrs. Muir earned mixed reviews on its original release, it has become a bona fide classic over the years. In the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest movie love stories, it ranked #73 (far too low in my opinion). Its enduring popularity has much to do with the natural chemistry between stars Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison and Philip Dunne's masterful screenplay that makes the audience invest fully in this unlikely romance. It helps, too, to have a wonderful supporting cast that features George Sanders as a cad (who writes children's books, no less) and Edna Best as Mrs. Muir's housekeeper and friend.

In hindsight, it's also interesting to note that Lucy Muir is a very strong, independent woman for a Hollywood romance of this period. She takes bold risks, doesn't frighten easily, and isn't afraid to face loneliness. One of the film's best scenes is when she reflects back on her life with her grown daughter near the end.

Hope Lange & Edward Mulhare.
Though The Ghost and Mrs. Muir has never been remade, it was adapted for radio twice: in 1947 with Madeleine Carroll and Charles Boyer and in 1951 with Jane Wyatt and Charles Boyer. It was adapted into a TV sitcom in 1968 with Hope Lange as Carolyn Muir and Edward Mulhare as Captain Gregg. The TV series added another child (as in the novel) and a dog. The show only lasted two years--despite the fact that Hope Lange won two Emmys for playing Mrs. Muir!

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Dark Side of Human Nature in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole

Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tatum.
There are plenty of cynics in Billy Wilder's films, but none perhaps can match ambitious newspaper reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) in Ace in the Hole (1951). Once a star reporter, Tatum's womanizing, drinking, and tendency to bend the truth have gotten him fired from all the major newspapers. He still has enough talent to convince the publisher of the small-scale Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin to hire him. Chuck's plan is to hang around until he can find a story that will return him to the big time.

Fate provides just that when Chuck and young photographer Herbie stop at a desert gas station en route to a rattlesnake hunt. They meet platinum blonde Lorraine Minosa (Jan Sterling), whose husband Leon has become trapped in a mountain cave while hunting for Indian relics. Chuck takes charge of the situation--quickly dispatching with a sheriff's incompetent deputy--and promises Leon that he will be free in no time.

Chuck brings news to Leon.
Within 24 hours, Chuck is writing front page headlines and transforming the isolated locale into a bustling hub of activity. He even convinces the crooked county sheriff that his re-election hinges on Leon's rescue. However, Chuck and the sheriff receive "bad news" when a chief engineer informs them that Leon's rescue is imminent. They want the story to last longer, even if it means leaving Leon in the cave for a few additional days. Hence, they direct the engineer to drill from the top of the mountain, an endeavor that will require much more time to free the trapped man.

In the opening scenes, there appears to be a glimmer of humanity in Chuck Tatum. He has the pluck and courage to navigate the dangerous cave tunnels to check on Leon's condition. He calms Leon, gives him hope, and seemingly offers genuine friendship. However, Tatum's motives become questionable when he prevents others from visiting the trapped man. His access to Leon makes him powerful and he uses that to manipulate the media. By the time Tatum intentionally prevents Leon's timely rescue, it's clear that his chief concern is his own career. As Lorraine so elegantly puts it: "I've met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my time, but you--you're twenty minutes."

Jan Sterling as Lorraine.
Billy Wilder, who also co-wrote the screenplay, softens Tatum's edges by making Lorraine an even more unappealing character. She shows no interest nor sympathy in her husband's plight. In fact, she sees it as an opportunity to get away from Leon--until Tatum convinces her that she can make money from the situation. (For his part, Tatum needs a grieving wife to write about!)

Kirk Douglas plays Tatum as a driven, ruthless man--a master manipulator who can fake empathy when reporting to the public about Leon's condition. He is both attracted to and repelled by Lorraine, whose heart may be colder than his own. The heartless wife is the kind of role that Jean Harlow would have played in the 1930s, although Jan Sterling--in her first starring role--is quite convincing.

The strength of Wilder's film, though, is the director's transformation of the isolated gas station/diner into a mecca filled with gaping tourists, news media, and even a carnival. The level of spectator interest is cleverly conveyed by showing a sign about access to the Indian caves. There is no cost in the beginning, but then there's a 25¢ admission charge which goes up to 50¢ and finally $1. The film's alternate title The Big Carnival, is actually a very appropriate one.

Ace in the Hole was a rare Billy Wilder flop when originally released. I rate it as "good" Wilder, but not among the director's best work. It's too long and the ending comes across as a compromise with the censors. Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling both deserved Oscar consideration, but the film's only nomination was for screenplay.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Volume 6)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a classic movie and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it! Note that the alternate title may be a variation of the original title or plot description.

1.  Incident at the Black Mesa Bar-B-Q.

2.  Obsession with Carlotta.

3.  Don't Water the Rocks!

4.  King Kelly and the Wood Repellent.

5.  Looking for Debbie.

6.  Professor Challenger's Expedition.

7.  Tumak Loves Loana.

8.  Harry Worp's Body.

9.  Wilbur's Brain.

10. Gull Cottage.

11. The Id Monster.

12. Mrs. Lane's Deceit.

13. Chris and The Other Six.

14. Dr. Robert Merrick.

15. The Midwich Children.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Kevin Costner Looks for a Way Out

Kevin Costner as Tom Farrell.
Unless you've seen No Way Out (1987) or The Big Clock (1948), be forewarned that this review will contain plot spoilers. The former film is a updated remake of the latter, with both films being based on the 1946 novel The Big Clock by author and poet Kenneth Fearing.

The 1987 adaptation stars Kevin Coster as Commander Tom Farrell, a Naval officer stationed in Washington, D.C., who has a torrid one-night stand with socialite Susan Atwell (Sean Young). They put their relationship on hold when he is deployed to the Philippines. When a heroic act gets Tom reassigned back to Washington, their affair heats up again. However, there is a problem: Susan is also the mistress of David Brice, the Secretary of Defense, who just happens to be Tom's boss at the Pentagon.

When Brice (Gene Hackman) discovers that Susan is seeing another man, he flies into a rage and accidentally kills her. Instead of going to the police, Brice confides in his right-hand man Scott Pritchard (Will Patton). Pritchard comes up with a plan to blame the murder on "the other man" and suggests he may be a Russian spy. He then assigns his most competent officer to conduct the investigation and find the killer. That turns out to be Farrell--who now has the unenvious task of framing himself for murder!

Gene Hackman as David Brice.
While No Way Out retains the basic premise of Fearing's novel, it makes major changes to the characters and setting. In the book and the 1948 film version, a wealthy publisher murders his mistress and assigns his best investigative reporter to uncover the murderer--not knowing that the reporter was seeing the same woman. The setting is New York City and, yes, there is a big clock. The bulk of the plot takes place inside the publisher's building.

Director Roger Donaldson "opens up" his film by setting most of it in the U.S. capital and taking advantage of the locations. From Susan's townhouse to the Pentagon to a foot chase through the streets, the city shines almost as brightly as Kevin Costner's white Navy uniform. The setting seems to inject a feeling of realism in what turns out to be a pretty far-fetched plot.

However, Donaldson and screenwriter Robert Garland also slow down the action by spending too much time on the affair between Tom and Susan. Their sizzling love scene in the back of a limousine--which incidentally features no nudity--gets their relationship off to a memorable start. However, Susan's murder doesn't occur until almost 45 minutes into the film. That's a long time before the audience reaches the central premise.

Sean Young as Susan Atwell.
While neither Costner nor Hackman are required to play complex characters, they are convincing in their roles. The standout, though, is Sean Young as the confused mistress whose underlying fear of Hackman's character keeps her from breaking off the affair earlier. Young's once-promising career derailed in the 1990s for a variety of reasons.

No Way Out opens and ends with framing scenes that culminate in what was intended to be a big twist. The twist doesn't add anything to the film, at least not now in the absence of a Cold War. Still, it doesn't detract from a fairly efficient thriller that relies on author Fearing's ingenious premise to carry the day.