Body Snatchers 1979

 DATELINE: Sequel, not Remake!

snatchers 3 Peas in a Pod?

The movie The Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy back in the late 1970s was not technically a remake, but a sequel.

Though it uses the same story-line by Jack Finney from his novel, it is slightly updated to contemporary times. Then, out of the original ending comes a running Kevin McCarthy, the original star, dashing through the streets of San Francisco like Paul Revere, calling people to alert.

The “pod people” are coming. Indeed.

This film is even more nightmarish in its paranoia than the original 1950s Commies under the bed movie.

Here the paranoia is steeped in everyone and everything. People are either inexplicably dashing to-and-fro in the background, or they are staring emotionlessly at you.

San Francisco, always weird anyhow, is the perfect backdrop for chaos and insanity.

Gathering some of the most familiar of sci-fi faces, the film puts Veronica Cartwright (Aliens) with Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park  ) and Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek) as a motley crew.

The film is surprisingly modern with the omission of Internet and PCs, which did not exist back then. However, the government control and conspiracy notions are heavy-handed. The use of public phones will be an incomprehensible throwback for young viewers who may wonder where the texting is.

Visual details are fascinating and complex. No one seems to wonder why rubbish trucks are constantly picking up  mounds of black cotton at night. This is the ultimate conspiracy theorist wallow.

If you are a conspiracy nut, then you will not have much restful sleep after watching this looney-tune of a science fiction horror. It puts together man-eating plants with the egg-head monsters of Alien.

Broken Hearts Club, 20 Years Later

DATELINE: Sexy Romantic Comedy?

stellar cast

Of all the weird elements of the Broken Hearts Club is its subtitle, a Romantic Comedy.  It is nothing of the sort, but rather a version of a gay sex farce. That takes nothing away from its polished and entertaining qualities.

The other oddity, still years later, is the cast of all-straight men, mostly at the start of their big careers, and all playing mincing gay boys of different stripes. It’s like one of those World War II platoons with different ethnicity and stereotypes.

The cast is stellar, including Timothy Olyphant (of Deadwood and Justified) giving a slightly off performance that nearly convinces us he is gay. Of course, his kissing abilities are hot, but he has been married for years.

So has Dean Cain as the Lothario of the group and Zach Braff as the gayest queen.

The ragtag friends work part-time in some capacity or other at Jack’s a gay friendly restaurant in Los Angeles, and they play softball for the business. This gives the actors a chance to prance around in queenly fashion.

When dramatic moments are called for, the actors are highly polished and strong, even in their disappointments with love. They seem to avoid falling into bed with each other, but when it happens, look out.

Greg Berlanti writes and directs with aplomb and wit, though stereotypes are required. The young men are all 20-somethings, in the tail end of the AIDS crisis and not really part of it.

We would like the director to do a sequel and show us these men and their dissipated lives at age 50. It might prove more instructive, if not frightening, to see what happens to handsome gay men in middle-age.

Children of Giant: Mexican POV in Marfa

DATELINE: Unavoidable James Dean Strikes Again

Children of Giant Children of Giant!

If you know anything about our Hollywood history books on the story behind making movies, you know that we would be hot on the trail of George Stevens’ 1955 classic epic Giant. 

Made On location in Marfa, Texas, with Elizabeth Taylor as an early feminist in 1920s Texas, and Rock Hudson as the laconic cowpoke who owned Reata, a cattle ranch, you are overwhelmed with James Dean who stood out on the landscape,

However much the director wants to make this a movie about the Mexican discrimination in Texas, James Dean is there to steal the movie. He dominates everything in the fascinating film called Children of Giant.

Actor Earl Holliman is still around to give his perspective, and Jane Withers appears to have declined to participate.

Director Stevens’s son, notable Hollywood producer George Stevens, Jr., offers many insights. They say little about Dean.

It was the film James Dean died making. It was a Western that showed the yellow rose of Texas was a yellow streak of Jim Crow laws against Mexicans. The children loved him, and they saw him as someone special and caring.

Today Marfa’s racism almost seems quaint, next to the horrors being inflicted on Mexicans under Trump.

New York historical novelist Edna Ferber was spot on depicting wild cat billionaire Glenn McCarthy (aka Jett Rink in the movie and book). James Dean’s makeup and style mimics McCarthy in his late middle-age.

Dean is remembered fondly by the Mexican children and adults whom he befriended in Marfa, Texas. Indeed, if you are looking for stories about Dean’s public urination in front of town onlookers, or even the tale of Dean going after director Stevens in a fight over his performance, you will find only slight nods in that direction.

Yet, as a social history document about a social history movie, you could not find a more spot-on documentary. It features townsfolk giving their insights and sharing their unusual photos.

It is nirvana for a movie maven who delights in the behind-the-scenes activity. This little PBS documentary packs a wallop and a message from the children of Marfa in 1955. Unfortunately, James Dean is still the big draw. George Stevens and Edna Ferber could not avoid him then or now.

 Dr. William Russo wrote The Next James Dean, which is available as an ebook and print work on Amazon.

 

The Wilder Sherlock

DATELINE:  Sherlock Takes a Bath!

 Stephens & Blakely

When master auteur Billy Wilder (who gave us gems like Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, One Two Three) gives us his take on Sherlock Holmes, we are ready for something unusual. So, we overly anticipated watching his film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

All that promise seems to go up in a cocaine dream as an overlong movie that could be half-an-hour shorter and more succinct, maintaining the early humor.

Wilder puts all your standard Holmes patter into the pot (Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, and irritation with Dr. Watson’s stories). That stuff is quite amusing.

The first third of the film is filled with the kind of humor you expect from Wilder—sophisticated, sharp, and delightful. He raises the ugly specter that Holmes and Watson are consenting adults—and he makes more comprehensible, Holmes turning to his seven-percent solution.

Funny bits with the Russian ballet, and boring cases about midgets, make us think we are entering a funnier world than Conan Doyle envisioned.

Colin Blakely is a delightful Dr. Watson, and Robert Stephens protests too much about being a woman-hating fop. He plays Holmes with a tad flamboyance, disdaining deerstalker hats and women equally. He is more than a fop. We are almost in panty-waist territory.

Christopher Lee is around as a more peripatetic Mycroft, showing up in places other than the Diogenes.

Wilder cannot throw away a line. Midgets come back to haunt us, after one bad joke. And having Queen Victoria seem to resemble a Munchkin is over the top and under the height limit for small talk.

Throw in the Loch Ness monster of sorts, and you have something that would later be taken as gospel by the Robert Downey school of Sherlock acting and writing.

We wished the Private Life of Sherlock could have been taken for better, not for worse. We remain loyal in sickness and health, good and bad.

 

 

Out of Time and Out of Clues

DATELINE: Dean Cain & Denzel Back in 2003

Dean & Denzel

Like Bruce Willis, for twenty years or more, Denzel Washington has showed a knack for picking interesting films and character roles. One of these is called Out of Time, a hackneyed suspense drama.

In 2003, he tried his luck as a semi-corrupt small-town sheriff in the Florida Keys. The film has all the workings of film noir in the 1940s that Robert Mitchum could have played.

Denzel is an anchor among some flashy performers, and the opening wit is entertaining before it devolves into a mystery muddier than anything Raymond Chandler could dredge up.

You will enjoy seeing Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain as a couple of reprobates, but their general dubious crime associations are masked by their attractiveness. The first-half fun is replaced by a phony suspense device in the second half.

Eva Mendes as Denzel’s ex-wife and John Billingsley as his slob of a medical examiner are worth having their own pictures. Sanaa Lathan and Eva play ping-pong with Denzel’s balls.

Plot holes start to do in the viewer as the complications become less amusing and more ridiculous. It seems Denzel’s sheriff is a dope (self-admitted by film’s end) and must work to extricate himself from a set-up that, for unknown reasons, makes him a fall-guy.

Since he is a charmer and likeable, we figure that drug dealers have it in for him. We might be wrong, as usual. However, clever clues are not forthcoming to help armchair detectives figure out the thriller mystery. Yet, Dean Cain and Denzel are at the peak of their youthful good looks in this one, and they are highly watchable.

All your natural action ingredients are tossed in, and there is a time handicap that never really becomes a deadline of importance. The suspense is botched.

Yet, for Denzel’s fans, it is another masterful performance in a well-produced movie. For the rest of us, it’s a ho-hummer, beating the clock for an hour.

 

Two Mrs. Carrolls Lacks Noir

 DATELINE: Oldie May Not Be Goodie

  Stanwyk & Bogart Great Stars! Abysmal Script!

Back in the late 1940s, it was tough to find leading ladies who were strong enough to stand up to Humphrey Bogart. Usually producers fell back on his wife, Lauren Bacall, for a counterpoint.

In a rare miss, Bogart was teamed with one of the big misses of the era.

Big women movie stars on the screen—like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis—did not measure up to the scripts that suited Bogart.

On the other hand, Barbara Stanwyk was also a tough cookie to play against. She was so tough that her leading men came off as Neanderthal, if not pussycats. Gary Cooper was a regular costar, and after that, you were facing weaker characters (played by Fred MacMurray or Ronald Reagan, or the nice guys like Bill Holden).

After Sorry, Wrong Number, she took on more nasty victims, and so we come to teaming Bogart and Stanwyk, almost deserving of each other in the dull-witted murder-thriller The Two Mrs. Carrolls. Stanwyk is hysterical on the telephone once again, and rest assured, the rainy Scottish weather means that Bogart will don his obligatory trench-coat and fedora for at least one scene. It isn’t enough.

It was post-World War II and tough-guy actors were stretching into demi-villains. Thus odd-ball film is set in Scotland with an American cast of apparent expatriates. Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson) is on hand as a dotty doctor for Stanwyk as she is poisoned, and Alexis Smith is the new muse for the diabolical painter.

You keep wondering when Sydney Greenstreet will show up to trap Bogart’s bad guy.

As Geoffrey Carroll, Humphrey Bogart loses interest in his latest wife as muse, murders her, and finds another. It is kind of Andrea del Sarto as Bluebeard.

He plays an unconvincing American artist in this one, not a detective, and he seems to have headaches when the word “death” echoes behind him. He exhibits a bunch of the Deadly Sins—including rage, pride, jealousy, among others.

His alleged successful paintings are deplorable.

These are not good signs for Bogie in the last days of noir. They may be worse news for Stanwyk as victim. She is made so demure that the point of putting a strong woman opposite Bogart was lost. Bogart feeds poisoned milk to his wives, like Cary Grant in Suspicion by Hitchcock. It’s that kind of copycat movie.

This British play is devoid of wit, suspense, plot, action, or anything that could be saved by the high-powered actors at the top of their careers. This was not a Warner Brothers film, or it would never have been made like this.

The final few seconds are the high-point when Bogie offers warm milk to the policemen about to take him away. (Oh, it’s laced with that poison).

What a disappointment for the most part.

 

 

 

Cold Sweat and Unexpected Chills!

 DATELINE: Partial Classic Movie!

 James Mason Mason holds gun on Bronson.

Usually you can tell when James Mason, grand star of the past, took on roles for the money. He once told mega-movie critic Pauline Kael that these sort of films were candidates for the “ashcan.”

While traversing latest streaming lists of old movies now available, we came across something called Cold Sweat from 1970. It appeared to be a routine Charles Bronson crime thriller. It dated from before Death Wish, which meant it presented Bronson in a less iconic and caricatured role.

As the credits rolled, as there was no trailer, the shock value increased. Though Amazon Prime listed the costar as Jill Ireland, Bronson’s wife, the film’s leading lady was Liv Ullmann, fresh off her think-piece and highly acclaimed Ingmar Bergmann art house classics.

Good grief, she plays Jill Ireland in this film! Well, you might as well bring in Laurence Olivier to play Jimmy Olson, cub reporter. Of course, Bronson’s wife Jill Ireland shows up as villain Captain Ross’s girlfriend Moira to round out the lunacy.

Sure enough, the third name on the film belongs to James Mason. Yikes. And what is more, the film was based on a Richard Matheson novel: yes, the man who gave us The Incredible Shrinking Man and so many other classic stories. This was his adventure story, Ride the Nightmare. It is not vintage Matheson.

When Mason showed up in the story, first in a shadowy flashback as a younger man a dozen years earlier, he only makes a background cameo. He is the leader of a villainous gang of prison escapees.

He also plays an American and a Southerner. Yikes, and double yikes. You mean you won’t have Mason doing what he does so well: a modulated, upper-crusty bad guy sucking each line like it’s a morsel of his last meal.

That usually signaled that James Mason was doing a walk-through in what he considered a meritless movie. Here, he dons a blue sailor cap with the rim pulled down. He also pulls down every other word in what appears to be an Alabama twang via Oxford.

Nevertheless, it is an unknown Bronson film with James Mason, Liv Ullmann, Jill Ireland, and a story by Richard Matheson. You could do worse, though Mason and Ullmann were not happy on this movie set, nor with Bronson, until the paychecks arrived.

 

 

Three. Two, One, Blasted Off Your Screen

DATELINE: Billy Wilder Classic

Cagney & grapefruit

Cagney reprises grapefruit scene.

Topical political humor has a short shelf life, and you have only to see a few clips from Saturday Night Live to understand how quickly controversial becomes outdated.

When a major film tries it, as did Billy Wilder in 1962, only a few morsels remain fresh.

Yet, to take in One, Two, Three, the Cold War comedy, is less satisfying than say, Dr. Strangelove, which maintains its relevance.

When Wilder’s outlandish satire was released, East Berlin put up a horrifying wall that changed history—and it was virtually ignored in the movie, except by a voice=over addition shortly before the film was released.

What survives in a favorite comedy is the manic performances.

James Cagney plays the head of Berlin’s Coca-Cola division, unhealthy capitalism at its best, and he is marvelous to behold. He grows more intense with each passing scene, stealing anything he make merry.

Others in the cast are less successful—but seem now perfectly placed in their roles:  game show actress Arlene Francis didn’t forget her line was snide off-put wife. She is surprising effective, though the German jokes are thick.

Pamela Tiffin as the sex kitten from Atlanta is decorative, but she faded fast, unlike Ann-Margaret who might have run with the role. And, as her East German Commie boyfriend, Horst Buchholz sends out a post-James Dean vibe that shows how misused he was.

Leon Askin as the Russian commissar is delightful, and Lilo Pulver dances on tabletops in the Grand Hotel with lesbian couples while a hapless band plays and sings,  “Yes We Have No Bananas,” in German.

The music of the intense and insane “Sabre Dance” is stirring to the break-neck pace of screwball comedy, already a dinosaur in Hollywood.

Cagney’s version of My Fair Laddie turns a Commie lout into Austo-Hungarian royalty during the hilarious second-half of the film.  Cagney hated working with Horst and quit movies for years after. His best line to Buchholz who wants to lead a revolt of workers is: “Put your pants on, Spartacus.”

You shouldn’t miss it but brush up on your Cold War etiquette before tuning on the stream.

The Lost Career of Richard Cromwell

 DATELINE: Baby Face Curse

Cromwell holding clock 

Cromwell Holding Clock in Tom Brown of Culver!

Baby-faced Richard Cromwell was a shoo-in to play the panty-waist Baby-Face Morgan for a poverty-row movie production. He was always professional on the set.

Cromwell’s character is the unlikely son of Machine Gun Morgan, notorious crime boss in the syndicate. With all the FBI overwhelmed with World War II Nazis and saboteurs at home, the mob needs a front man and fall guy. Cromwell’s looks bring disparaging remarks and innuendo as he is propped up as a fake mob boss.

In case you hadn’t caught on, this was meant to be a comedy, featuring dumb blonde secretaries and mugs who are morons.

Cromwell’s career was already in the toilet, owing to the closed shop from the studios. After the pinnacle years of the 1930s when Cromwell appeared with Gary Cooper, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, and other stars, he was in rapid descent.

He married Angela Lansbury when he was 35 and looked like a teenager at the altar. Their marriage lasted only a few months and later rumors came forth that he was gay.

Cromwell remained on the periphery of Hollywood, having many friends in the industry. When he tried to make a comeback at age 50 in 1960, he became ill and did not survive, replaced in the movie.

In Baby Face Morgan, he is referred to as a kid when he was 33. A few years later, the same fate of looking young befell Audie Murphy for his entire career.

Cromwell’s movie is only passable to watch with flat yokel humor. It’s one of the forgotten tragedies.

 

 

 

Please Murder Me! TV Titans in Film Noir!

DATELINE: Perry Mason Meets Murder, She Wrote!

TV titans

When Perry Mason meets Jessica Fletcher, we have a murder mystery donnybrook, she wrote. Murder Me Please is a surprise of the first magnitude. Who knew?

In 1956, fresh off Godzilla, Raymond Burr took on another role in which he spoke into a tape recorder while murderous film history was made around him. It was likely this movie role, heroic and protagonistic, that won him the lifetime achievement as lawyer Perry Mason. This is his first true Perry Mason role.

Here, he must defend a woman he knows is guilty of murder—and live with the consequence of exonerating a danger and menace.

His nemesis is Angela Lansbury, looking all too femme fatale before moving into matron roles. Here she gives one of her last great villain acting jobs (culminating in Manchurian Candidate).

This film noir is so dark during the first 15 minutes that you want to scream at the screen to turn on a light.

It is classic 50s nighttime in Los Angeles among the upper-classes. The supporting cast is gem-laden:  Dick Foran is the cuckold husband, and John Dehner is the Ham Burger to Burr. Young Lamont Johnson is the callow artist in his final acting job before going on to direct movies.

This is a Peter Godfrey picture, meaning it is stylish and professional, before he slipped into directing routine television anthology shows.

The fireworks between Burr and Lansbury are worth your time. It was a forgotten B-picture in its era of 1956, with far more interest today as a sign of great actors having a field day.

One problem is the print of the movie, clearly abused by time with scratches, lines, and other distractions coming from careless handling of the prints. Yet, the film itself transcends with its harsh, hard-knocks, noir crime thrills.

Lansbury and Burr would become TV icons as Fletcher and Mason, but that is mere promise in this movie. This is acting war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hostiles: Not So Friendly West

DATELINE: How the Western Is Lost

 Bale's beard Bale’s Beard

A few more Westerns like writer/director Scott Cooper’s Hostiles and the Western will be killed unceremoniously, gutted “from stem to stern” as they repeatedly say in this movie. And don’t smile when you say that, pardner.

Though we might make a comparison to John Ford’s The Searchers, we’d be way out of line. Though Ford’s John Wayne classic dealt with Indian massacres and brutal revenge, it was also human in its emotions and veered away from tedium in the stunning Western settings.

Christian Bale is a laconic cavalry captain who participated in a massacre of native Americans at Wounded Knee—and now in his final assignment must take a hostile chief and his family to a Montana sanctuary by order of the President.

Constantly prattling on that he merely follows orders, he is prepared not to follow these orders. Yet, this hero is like a good Nazi soldier, doing only his job. Cruel violence pockmarks the storyline amid the tedium. All we hear is discouraging words.

In the older Westerns, you had some likeable characters and some sense of humor to keep sane in the desolate West. Here, the characters are driven mad by their dour natures.

The Captain rescues a woman whose family has been killed by Comanches, and she joins the odd caravan through desert and mountain settings. Along the way we meet Ben Foster as a nasty Indian killer (apparently along to re-team Bale from their successful work in 3:10 to Yuma). Also along briefly is young star Timothy Chalamet, wasted mostly as an inexplicable French horse soldier out west.

Costars are impressive actors like Wes Studi, Stephen Lang, and Scott Wilson. They give the film true grit, however unhappy their roles are.

Bale is so laconic that his imperial beard has more life than he. Not a twitch from that mustachioed hero

The film is so serious about its political messages, all mixed up with revisionism and apologies, that we recognized the genre only in fleeting glimpses. The movie is in the long run, long and predictable.

 

 

Springtime for Trump

DATELINE:  Trump Sings & Dances!

springtime for trump

In the classic Ponzi comedy The Producers, the big Broadway musical number that did in the crooks was called “Springtime for Hitler”. They oversold the show, hoping it would flop and they’d walk away with tons of money. Manafort and Cohen are the new producers. They oversold Trump to the gullible public.

In Springtime for Trump, his investors (all Russian mobster types) expected him to lose—and make a big profit. Alas, he won—and the undoing of these producers is now unfolding. May they all wind up in federal prison where they can put on a show.

In Mel Brooks’ original version of The Producers, Zero Mostel was the overweight man with the appalling comb-over. In the White House today is an overweight man with an appalling comb-over. He is a bigger crook than Zero’s character.

Mostel’s producer would sleep with dozens of women to procure their investments in his musical. In Trump’s world, he pays off dozens of women with campaign funds and a crooked lawyer to guarantee his tenure in office.

The big musical number was meant to shock people: goose-stepping showgirls in formation, a la Busby Berkley, dancing in a swastika conga lines. Trump’s conga lines include words like “dog”, “lowlife”, and “rat.”

Alas, they all apply to the biggest shyster ever to sully the white White House where Nixon claimed there would never be a white wash.

After Trump is impeached, we may need to fumigate the place.

We laughed uproariously at Zero’s crook, and we fumed at Nixon’s crook. Trump’s crook is still lining up the chorus.

Cue the dancing girls: we are about to sing the refrain from Springtime for Trump.

 

More Deadwood on TV

DATELINE: Return from the Ash Heap

olyphant

Word has reached us that David Milch, erstwhile Western producer, has decided finally to finish his notable series, Deadwood, with a TV movie.

It will tie up loose ends. The old HBO series starred beautiful Timothy Olyphant and John Hawkes with Ian McShane in a hilarious foul-mouthed turn as Swearingen the saloon town boss. There were more F-bombs C-suckers than could normally fit into a Marine Drill Sergeant convention.

The only problem is that they are tying up the loose ends 14 years after the last episode. It seems that we may be looking at the end of Deadwood from the front porch of the nursing home. Olyphant, as the hot young sheriff, is now 50.

Powers Boothe, one of the original stars, has long since departed Deadwood on the final stagecoach to heaven and the emerald forest.

Timothy Olyphant justified six years as deputy Rayland Givens on Justified in the meantime. And, co-star John Hawkes has become a well-known character actor.

We took in season one again (there were three increasingly shrill seasons) and found the streets as dirty as the language of the characters. For us the highlight was when Hawkes reminded Olyphant that his fly was open as he was about to leave their business tent. “Bad image for business,” he reminds his partner. Later, Ian McShane took a turn for witty and baddie.

You have a tomboy Calamity Jane in full drunk, and Keith Carradine killed off in 4 episodes as Wild Bill Hickok.

You may wonder too how much of the series is historically accurate. How accurate can it be with a 14-year hiatus between episodes? We are curious as to how this problem will be handled when filming begins in the fall.

The over-the-hill gang will return, sort of.

Dead Again, Hysterical Satire

DATELINE: Reincarnation Mystery

kookoo mystery Kookoo Noir Takeoff

There was a time nearly 30 years ago when Kenneth Branagh was considered the reincarnation of Orson Welles, with a dollop of Laurence Olivier thrown into the mix.

So, the time has arrived to re-assess one of his early efforts called Dead Again from 1991.

He was a promising and brilliant director of unusual fare and acted well too. This looney mystery deviated from his usual Shakespearean play adaptations by entering the film noir, detective story, broadly copying Warner and Parmount features of the late 1940s.

What most missed back then was the fact that this overwrought tale of reincarnation and murder was overdone deliberately. We cannot believe Branagh was dumb enough to think this was not a comedy.

The film does double duty: telling a modern case of a detective Mike Church in LA today, and the strange killer, Roman Strauss, a composer and conductor of 1948, who was executed for murdering his wife. The black and white noir flashbacks are spot on for 1940s imitation. Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott are suitably channeled.

Branagh is a little weird as a detective (his reincarnated self) who is an LA sleuth with a Brooklyn accent. That might be the first mistake, or first clue.

The cast is equally impressive, with Emma Thompson as Strauss’s wife, the concert pianist victim, and the modern woman with amnesia that Church must help.

Call in Derek Jacobi as some kind of psychic hypnotist to regress the woman to 1948, and you have another brilliant performer slightly out of place in an American movie.

Also hanging around in cameos are Robin Williams, Scott Campbell, and Andy Garcia. This film is no slouch when it comes to top-level talent. Yes, Wayne Knight is here too.

We are a sucker when it comes to transgender resurrection and timeless love stories.

Everyone immediately notices that Emma Thompson resembles a woman dead in 1948, but no one seems to notice that Kenneth Branagh resembles her convicted murderer, executed in 1949.

Oh, well, that’s Life Magazine for you. In the meantime, the movie moves more and more toward utter lunacy, skipping over plot holes like hopscotch gone to bad karma.

We like our twist of reincarnation with a bitter of gender bending. Add some lemons and you have Branagh imitating Paramount and Warner Brothers murder mystery thrillers of the 1940s with panache. We are Between Two Worlds and the Two Mrs. Carrolls.

Like a warm British beer, this movie is all frothy, and the suds will make you queasy. It’s eye-rolling fun.

 

 

In from the Cold? Richard Burton

DATELINE: Portrait of Welsh Rare-bit

Burton & Hamlet Yorick with Burton!

Just a few years after his death in 1984, a comprehensive documentary biography of the great stage and film actor Richard Burton stands as the definitive word on his career and life. It is called, overly rococo, In from the Cold? Portrait of Richard Burton.

To put Elizabeth Taylor and two-time husband Burton into perspective, they were the Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen of their era.

A poor Welsh boy, Richard Jenkins found success through his good looks and well-modulated voice. His legal guardian was Philip Burton who helped him achieve his initial goals.

Only later did he seem to sell his soul for international fame and money. It seems to have brought him emptiness and unhappiness.

Generous to a fault, he supported dozens of people with his film revenue. It underwrote some of his great stage work:  Camelot, Equus, Hamlet, and even Private Lives.

We see him playing Edwin Booth as Laurence Olivier as Richard III. Indeed, Olivier asked him whether he wanted to be a great stage actor or a rich movie star. He was both.

The film contains some fairly unflattering interviews with Lauren Bacall, Joe Mankiewicz, and Mike Nichols, who seem to trace his downfall to the soul-selling deal with Elizabeth Taylor. Indeed, the film uses clips from Virginia Woof, Faustus, Wagner, and the Spy Who Came in from the Cold, as biographical annotations on Burton’s predicament, in his own words. He is hoisted on the petard ruthlessly.

The man was far gentler than his righteous angry young man personality—and dissipated roue of later years.

If Elizabeth Taylor was his Waterloo and Watergate, he was complicit in the lifestyle. The film skips over a few morsels but stays away from trivia that might be too revealing. He did a guest bit on The Lucy Show to satirize his own character. He gave interviews in which he seems to be acting, or not. It is hard to tell.

To hear that grand voice again, and see those notorious news reel clips, is shocking to reveal how long he has been gone, and how much he is missed. There has never been a replacement—in movies, or the sad last years of Miss Taylor’s life.