Bright Star, Muse to Amuse Keats

DATELINE: Campion as Keats Champion

Whishaw as Keats Ill-tailored poet.

Ben Whishaw is John Keats in this sumptuous movie by Jane Campion. If you want a sense of what living in 1818 was like, this film will provide it—from drafty houses to ill-fitting clothes.

Director Jane Campion ended her feature-length movie association with this effort called Bright Star. She felt there was no room in movie universe nowadays for real literary films with the domination of cartoon heroes stealing all box-office receipts.

Keats is a Romantic poet, but that does not mean he should be presented as a Hallmark cable channel character. Romance is a 19th century philosophy, not a sentimental love story.

Campion illustrates the quaint conceits of another era when bohemian poets hit the wall of standard social norms.

This is a costume drama where the costumes are shabby because there really was no haute fashion when poet John Keats was putting ink to paper—with grubby ink-stained fingers.

Though Abbie Cornish is delightful as the “bright star,” in Keats’ life, she is maddeningly and alternately feminist and fading flower. It makes the movie almost guaranteed to please nobody. This film likely impressed Madonna enough to give Cornish the lead in her film of the romance of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in W./E. the following year.

Campion, as director, is an artist true to herself, like Keats, and she walks a fine line with her saucy seamstress as muse.

After playing Sebastian in Brideshead, Ben Whishaw had cornered the market on sensitive/effete men for a few years, and his Keats may be poetic, but we don’t have a sense of his “consumptive” doom within a few years. It may be a shock to those who don’t know the biographic facts. Marriage is not within his power because of debt, not illness.

This may seem a frivolous love story on some levels, but director Campion has eschewed directing films ever since—to our great detriment as followers of intelligent character study.

 

 

 

 

Unforgettable Vikings

DATELINE: Frolic in the Fjord

Viking Liking Sons of a Black Ram!

What a cast! Liking a Viking!

Forget the new-fangled cable TV series. Go back to the 1958 movie with Kirk Douglas as the Viking raider. If you have never heard the Mario Nascimbene theme, you are in for a treat—as it will stay in your head forever as the theme of Viking warriors.

If you have never seen The Vikings, prepare yourself.

This movie featured an all-star cast in bravura, over-the-top performances. Kirk Douglas and his costar Tony Curtis would return in Spartacus two years later and essentially play the same roles: Brothers under the tunic.

Here, Ernest Borgnine is the rapacious and fierce Viking king and father to Kirk (and to Tony, though no one in the movie ever learns this bit of dizzying plot complication). We are even more amused to learn that Borgnine was actually younger than the man who played his son!

Fresh off his Oscar for Marty, Ernie Borgnine is preparing to play McHale for his TV series by jumping off longboats. He calls Tony Curtis the son of a black ram, without realizing he was self-incriminating.

Throw in juicy actors like Frank Thring as an evil English king usurper (one in a line of magnificent villains—from Pontius Pilate in Ben Hur and King Herod in King of Kings). There is stalwart James Donald as the traitor to England and friend to the Vikings, and Alexander Knox as the suffering priest, with Edric Connor as Tony Curtis’s best friend.

Everyone shines. Director Richard Fleisher manages Viking chaos deftly.

Kirk Douglas plays nearly the entire film with one eye yanked out by a falcon (he wears a white contact lens).  It makes him even more frightful and plays the contrast to good Tony Curtis (whose wife Janet Leigh is the young woman every Viking wants.

This is one of those delicious fun movies you cannot believe they cannot make anymore. When the principals tried to do Spartacus, it became more message and less fun.

Every scene is exquisite in its outrageous melodrama, including amputations, eye-gouges, and a jump into a wolf pack to be chewed up. You can’t beat this stuff with special effects or computer-generated fakery.

With pure Hollywood magic, you have a truly atmospheric tale of 1000 years ago—filmed in magnificent fjords and drafty castles. The dangerous sword-fight atop the castle ramparts at the end will give you vertigo.

We lost track of how many times we heard that Nascimbene tune in various motifs. You will never forget it.

Allan Carr: A Spectacle to Behold

DATELINE: Carr-buncle

Carr

Can’t Stop the Hype!

It’s been 20 years since the grand poobah of film, TV, and stage producers has left the spotlight. And, boy, was Allan Carr a hog for the media.

The Fabulous Allan Carr is a misnomer. He was not the stuff of fables, nor legends and myths. He was an obese gay man with a knack for self-indulging and making fun for friends and audiences.

One supposes that such a life is enough to satisfy most people. Yet, Carr seemed a cuddly little buddha, but was more like a cactus version of Jekyll and Hyde. When the good times rolled, he was your pal.

He started out as a talent coordinator for Hugh Hefner’s late night TV show in the late 1950s, where he made the acquaintance of old and new Hollywood.

Carr produced Grease, Grease II, La Cage aux Folles, as well as stinkeroos like Can’t Stop the Music. He could do good stuff with all the bravura of Carmen Miranda and Chiquita.

He was a nightmare when failure knocked on his door, and his all-boy parties in Beverly Hills gave way to funeral processions when the AIDS crisis started taking all the twinks. A generation was decimated, and the Village People went into eclipse.

Carr was mostly voyeur, and he escaped infection from HIV. He lived life on his terms, caftans and moo-moo blouses to hide a multitude of rolls.

Born out of Middle America, he became a cocaine-motivated doyen of Hollywood and Broadway. He should have been nicer to the people going up the ladder because they remembered him when he started down the ladder.

His last years were sad, beleaguered with kidney problems and bone cancer. Every party became a line on his face, and in the end he was about as reclusive as an extrovert might never consider.

 

 

Rita, When She Danced

DATELINE: Abused Beauty

Rita Hayworth

Love Goddess: Rita Hayworth

 Marguerita Cansino danced with her father professionally at the Zeigfeld Follies. She was 13, and her abusive old man passed her off as an adult—and his wife.

She played Mexican dancers and cowgirls in westerns before making it big with red hair and molars extracted to make her face smaller.

So began the career of movie legend Rita whose Gilda electrified film noir in 1946.  The documentary of her life comes from France where she is more appreciated and is called Rita Hayworth: Man Created. More like “man dominated.”

Poor Rita was made by her first husband whom she married to escape the incestuous hands of her father. He pulled back teeth, dyed her hair red and made her lose weight. Thus was born the legendary dancer who partnered with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in musicals.

She was the power behind Columbia Studios, but other men like Harry Cohn tormented her and controlled her. She escaped with Orson Welles who likely treated her better than all the others. He educated her and made her an actress.

She became a World War II pinup girl and then startled returning GIs as Gilda, her seminal role. She often said men fell in love with Gilda but woke up with Rita.

Eschewing movie roles like The Barefoot Contessa, she married Prince Aly Khan and later singer Dick Haymes. Her later films were curios: playing aging women with Gary Cooper and Robert Mitchum and Glenn Ford.

Some thought she faded fast because of alcohol, but later diagnosis discovered a rare form of Alzheimer’s Disease, starting before she was 50, causing her memory loss and disorientation.

She had powerful friends like Glenn Ford and John Wayne who tried to help her, but she ended up in the care of her daughter Yasima Khan in whose home she died too young, at age 68. Tragic tale of a grand symbol of energy and talent.

Two Promising Stars of 1973

DATELINE:  Lost Causes

1973 stars Barry and Jan-Michael.

With some surprise, we noted that actor Jan-Michael Vincent was dead at 74. He had been a golden boy, playing the Disney star of World’s Greatest Athlete, always the derring-do hero.  He was at his pinnacle in 1973 when his adult role with Charles Bronson made people take notice in The Mechanic, wherein he played a bizarre homoerotic hitman.

He died weeks earlier, but no one bothered to release the information about his cremation—and his deterioration to amputee and drunkard. It was not a pretty picture at the end.

Almost a bookend in 1973 was another promising star who burst onto the scene. His name was Barry Brown. If Jan-Michael was golden, then Barry smoldered in swarthier looks. One director who worked with him, Peter Bogdonavich, claimed Barry was the only American actor who actually looked like he had read a book.

Brown had aspirations to edit and to write. His seminal performance was in Daisy Miller, opposite Cybill Shepard. He played Winterbourne, the oblivious intellectual. A year earlier he costarred with Jeff Bridges in Bad Company. He was in that league.

You don’t remember him because he died in 1978 of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head at his home. Who knows what demons drove him?

They were likely similar to the demons that caused Jan-Michael to indulge in a slow self-destruction, inebriated and useless, throwing his career into the garbage pail.

The promising stars of 1973 were polar opposites and similar in so many ways. They never appeared in one scene together, and they could have controlled a generation of buddy films.

We think of them at their acme often. Their great movies are watchable today and brilliant, likely owing to plot, direction, and costars, as well as their own contributions.

We might watch Daisy Miller and The Mechanic on a double-bill to toast these lost boys of the movies. Alas, it was our loss.

 

Really Antony & Cleo

DATELINE: Streaming & Steamy History

Octavian Richard Dempsey

Richard Dempsey as Octavian!

A real surprise is a British documentary a few years ago, now on Amazon Prime for free, called The Real Antony and Cleopatra.

Imagine a British doc that never mentions the Shakespearean plays, nor quotes from them. Instead, we have a series of experts and scholars sitting on a stuffed Roman chaise lounge, somewhat uncomfortably. No, they do not recline as they drop morsels and bombs about the famous duo.

Did we say duo? It’s almost like the casting crisis of the 1963 Joe Mankiewicz movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  Rex Harrison felt slighted and left out, and he sued the studio to add his image to the suitors around the bed of Cleopatra.

The Egyptian queen was fond of murdering her younger brothers, and she was really Greek, descendant of Ptolemy. As an attractive 20-year old, she seduced the 50-year old Julius Caesar and later Marc Antony.

Cleopatra was all you might expect. She was a showgirl who knew how to stage publicity stunts better than Jussie Smollett. And, she was “attractive,” meaning she made the most of her plain looks. She was fluent with tongues (speaking six) and apparently used the tongue talent too in the boudoir.

Romans were aghast at Cleopatra’s morals, which may tell you something, considering the loose attitudes of the Romans.

As if to prove her sexuality, she had one child by Caesar and two more by Antony. He had a mixed manhood, being thought of as nearly exclusively homosexual, unless political marriage was involved. This film also lets you know he was well-endowed both on and off the battlements.

The real surprise here is the delightful re-enactors. Marina Morgan flashes eyeshadow as well as Miss Taylor, but the real delight here is young Octavian. He reportedly slept with Julius too in order to be adopted as a nephew.  As a 19-year old rival to Antony, Richard Dempsey is the golden-haired boy.

Octavian outmaneuvers Cleopatra militarily, but her symbolic death by snake bite left Augustus Octavian the one with the punctured ego.

This is an off-beat historical documentary that will tantalize all the fake news you learned from Hollywood Cleopatras.

 

 

 

 

 

Listening to Marlon Brando

DATELINE:  Method Man

Marlon Brando Fires Point Blank.

With its odd title, you may have trouble discerning what exactly is being told to whom.  Yet, Listen to Me Marlon is an affecting and striking documentary Showtime documentary about the legendary star of The Godfather, Streetcar Named Desire, and Reflections in a Golden Eye.

We wrote extensively about Brandon in Troubles in a Golden Eye, our movie biography, done with Hollywood master, Jan Merlin.

Intensely private and hostile to the press in the second half of his life, Brando made dozens and dozens of audio tapes of his philosophy, problems, and feelings. He clearly wanted to be remembered.

At the last he even had a digital map of his talking head so that it could be used sometime in futuristic movies.

In the meantime, we find many unusual photos and recreations of his unpleasant childhood in Omaha that he idealized. Though you see photos of associates and workmates, there is no gossip talk of colleagues. He speaks most admirably of Stella Adler, his acting teacher.

He does discuss his tortured children:  one committed suicide after her half-brother murdered her boyfriend. Christian died of pneumonia a few years after his father died.

He is thoughtful and sensitive, clearly appalled more and more by the money, profits, and legalities of movie-making. He worked three months a year for enormous salaries—and grew increasingly difficult to work with (ask Francis Ford Coppola).

A mutual friend of ours once told that Marlon was not like his public image: he was much, much softer. And that clearly comes across in his tapes.

Brando even rehearses how to die, which is chilling. He calls life the real improvisation and acting merely a deception of truth.

If you are a fan of Brando, or ever wondered about him, there may never be a more accurate depiction of his life—if only through his own distorted vision of self.

Jan Merlin & William Russo wrote Troubles in a Golden Eye, nonfiction about making the John Huston movie version of Carson McCullers’ novella Reflections in a Golden Eye. Brando and Elizabeth Taylor starred.

 

Sahara: Classic Desert War Movie

DATELINE: Bogie in a Tank

Bogie:Sahara

Seventy-six years old, and still modern. It is called Sahara from 1943. That is the condition of the new HD version of Humphrey Bogart’s best World War II movie.

It was meant to be a throwaway propaganda piece. Director Zoltan Korda made something far more reaching and lasting.

You can take all the clichés here and wrap them up as a gift. Three lost American soldiers in a tank (Bogart as Sgt. Gunn, Dan Duryea and Bruce Bennett) motivate their lone tank, Lulubelle, across the desert south to avoid the Nazi onslaught.

Along the way they meet a bunch of ragtag men without units: South African, Sudanese, Dublin, France, and even an Italian prisoner of war.

The cast is your exemplary second-banana team, including Lloyd Bridges and J. Carroll Naish. Every costar is given a big scene in which he bares a soul to the others and has a moment of glory.

There is plenty of foreshadowing with talk of miracles, and the dirty bunch end up at some abandoned mosque in the middle of nowhere with a dry well. Well, not so dry. There is a trickle of water to give them life and hope.

Rex Ingram, notable black actor and director, has a particularly large role and heroic one as Tambul. When a Nazi officer resists being searched by Ingram, Bogart tells him not to worry: the black won’t rub off on his pretty uniform.

The movie is loaded with timeless bits that were the stuff of a great America.

Korda even films one moment of flowing sand that is a mirage: it looks like cascading water.

The Nazis are ruthless and nasty, demanding “Wasser,” and dying of thirst while a handful of rainbow troops from all manner of places and races holds them off in a kind of Alamo stand. It was filmed at Palm Springs desert, but you’d swear you were in Africa.

You owe yourself to see what a studio could produce in its heyday of glory.

 

John Wayne Revisited, 50 Years Off the Saddle!

DATELINE:  Too Late for Words!

Duke, Duck!Duck, Dodge, and Hide, Duke!

Fifty years after John Wayne gave an interview to Playboy, it has been re-discovered and has become an interesting, revisionist historical document that berates black people, Native Americans, and gays.

Wayne was home on the range but would be shocked by today’s brave new world. He would have punched Trump in the nose for suggesting America is no longer great.

Actors have never been known for their giant brains. You have only to look at stories about Jussie Smollett to learn that hard lesson.

So, it is not surprising that an interview given by Duke Wayne in 1971 is rife with frightful prejudice against black people and Native Americans. You should add women to the list.

Wayne played an array of Union soldiers and military heroes often in defense of America, popular ideas in his movies. He was in real life only one step to the left of J. Edgar Hoover and not much removed from a political Know-Nothing.

If you put his statue in front of a Confederate stronghold, the rebels would have ripped it down.

John Wayne refused to work with “liberal” Dirty Harry Clint Eastwood on a movie.

Well, the shocks mount up like Wayne on a charging steed with the reins in his teeth and six-shooters firing at will.

Young anti-Vietnam war Americans of the “hippie era” hated John Wayne for his backward view of politics. He was right up there with Bob Hope as a supporter of war in its many forms.

Now that generation of youth, regarded as wayward and drug-addled, is older than Wayne when he gave his notorious interview of 1971.

Back in the 1970s, liberals laughed at Wayne and threw snowballs at him when he was in a Cambridge parade and received the Hasty Pudding Man of the Year at Harvard.

He also went on TV to guest star on Maude, Bea Arthur’s liberal bastion series. She promised a shootout with Wayne at High Noon.

Of course, Maude was a half-baked hypocrite and she melted when John Wayne told her he never discussed politics with a woman. They ended up in a waltz.

The problem that faces the old Bernie Saunders liberal types who are pushing 80 (and soon to be pushing up daisies) has more to do with an old Bette Davis quote.

She said of her hated rival Joan Crawford: “They don’t change just because they’re dead.”

People should remember that Davis was only partly correct. She should have said: “You can’t change your mind once you’re dead.”

Demise of TV Satire?

DATELINE:  Trump’s Attack on Humor

trumpet the New Archie Bunker?

President Trump wants to shut down Saturday Night Live because it is an “Enemy of the People.”

In his view, no views should be expressed on TV unless they are kind, balanced, and fair to him.

Of course, television has a long history of unpopular, brutal satire. The shows include That Was the Week That Was. TWTWTW, as it was known, or TW3 in some circles, was half-an hour of unremitting political jokes that skewed Republican Barry Goldwater during 1964. It was on in prime-time and was pre-empted every week, almost, by paid TV commercials from the GOP. They eventually saw it canceled.

The other shocker was The Smothers Brothers Hour, on Sunday nights that was sixty minutes of unremitting anti-Nixon, anti-Watergate cronies in the Roger Stone archetype.

It was so virulently anti-Nixon and his dirty-tricks-team that Nixon put it on the Enemies List and had his influential friends at the network cancel the show.

All in the Family started out as a brutal satire of crypto-Nazi bigotry in the Queens suburbs of New York. It was enormously popular during the 1970s, but its satiric bite was lessened sharply when Archie Bunker, the bigot, became a lovable American hero. Embraced as a delightful example of American parochialism, he flourished, a fan favorite of conservative America.

During the same years came SNL.  It was out of prime time, even reveling in the idea with the Not Ready for Prime Time players, a group of future movie stars who did satiric barbs.

SNL still lives, over forty years later, and has become nastier in its attacks on Trump, which incenses the President. He wants it investigated and stopped.

If there had been a radio show in Germany in the 1930s, Hitler would have had it raided and had its comedians sent to a concentration camp. Indeed, Jack Benny made a comedy movie about such an idea in his greatest film called To Be or Not To Be. ICE may yet raid SNL.

So Trump is in fine company as he awaits impeachment and prison for his dubious unconstitutional, uneducated, and anti-satire demands to close down freedom of speech.

Star Trek VI, Shakespeare Par-Broiled!

DATELINE:  The Final Undiscovered Country

Butrick recalled Merritt Remembered!

Did we miss this gem the first time around in 1991? We are glad to re-discover The Undiscovered Country, the last original cast movie of the Star Trek series. It is elegantly listed as VI.

This film, directed by Nicholas Meyer, is Shakespearean satire. It is delicious to behold. The sixth in the movie franchise of the original series, perhaps we had run out of steam and avoided it, but the characters had not abandoned their mission.

Christopher Plummer as Chang, the Klingon villain, delivers famous lines and taunts that you have to read Shakespeare in the original Klingon.

The movie is loaded with delights. Spock quotes Sherlock Holmes and mentions he is a distant ancestor. Christian Slater, a devotee and fan of the show, has a cameo.

Merrit Butrick, who played Kirk’s son in two movies, but had died of HIV in 1989, appears as his son again in a photo—and in a major plot device. We think Butrick would have been thrilled.

The Undiscovered Country deserves to have an elevated spot in the canon of Star Trek. As the last entry, it is bittersweet and, so many years after its appearance, meets the end exactly as we might wish.

The movie is loaded with one-liners and the usual attack that leaves the Enterprise in shambles.

Leonard Nimoy came up with the idea for the last film, and he knows how to play off the two main characters and his chemistry with William Shatner.

If you have not discovered the last franchise dedicated to Gene Roddenberry, you are remiss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smollett: Jussie Say No!

 DATELINE: Hate Crime & Gay Bashing?

jussie  Studying Script?

The original horror and appalling crime against a self-identified gay actor from TV’s Empire brought gasps of shock. Now it seems to be on the verge of becoming an object lesson for people who denigrate gay life, hate crimes, and gay bashing.

If Jussie Smollett staged his attack like a bad movie script, he would be guilty of what used to be called a “publicity stunt,” in the old days of the 1950s when tabloid stars like Jayne Mansfield were always in the forefront of fake news.

If Smollett arranged for Empire extras to do this deed, you will have a diminished impact for all hate crimes by crypto-Nazi types. Already the vultures of hate are singling out the charges as spurious and laughable. It makes hate and gay bashing seem a joke. Those who are quick to pounce on gay people now feel justified in their disrespect.

Already the white rednecks originally described as wearing Trump MAGA caps have been dropped as the culprits. Latest revelation seems the not-charged suspects know Smollett and are Nigerian extras who work in Hollywood on the self-same show as Jussie. Yet, the crime happened in Chicago where crime is more credible.

Then, we hear Smollett was being written out of the script of the TV series—and moments of shock became moments of sickening revulsion that sympathy has been misplaced and kind hearts have been manipulated. Police want to re-interview the publicity-seeking actor. He makes appearances in full sympathy mode. Of course, he is an actor.

Police treat such matters with deference. If it looks like a crime, it may be a crime. The motive and culprits may require a Sherlock Holmes to resolve the logic and put to rest the likelihood of a publicity stunt.

In the meantime, the entire incident leaves a distaste far beyond the original shocking action. No one will emerge from this unscathed. The outrageous charge of a noose put around an actor’s neck and bleach thrown upon him suddenly looks like hyperbole gone to koo-koo-bird levels. It’s a bad script that demands a rewrite.

Turning a blind eye to this stuff may be the legacy of Jussie Smollett, not to mention the end of his career, or the making of his infamy…We may add to the next hate tale like this, “Jussie say no.”

Old Dark House Mates & Inmates

DATELINE: Over-rated Classic

empty house Ate for Dinner .

Your first reaction to this chestnut of horror comedy is shock at the jaw-dropping cast.

Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, and Ernest Thesiger!  You have a round-robin of possible villains and victims. The problem is that they are given nothing significant to perform. Even Karloff uses makeup to look menacing, but his dumb waiter is left hanging.

Yeah, it was a dark and stormy night, but that ain’t enough.

James Whale gathered quite a retinue of talent and gave them an empty script in a drafty house.

Billed as an atmospheric thriller comedy, that’s about all this J.B. Priestly story is. With a marvelous cast, and Whale’s shadows and tricks, like a fun house mirror, the plot is ridiculous, throwing a bunch of ingrates caught in a bad torrential rain into a private household as if it’s a flea-bag hotel. T’aint funny.

Here they find their hosts eccentric (well, Horace Femm is Ernest Thesiger, which says it all) and his odd-ball bully sister.

Charles Laughter as Sir William shows up too with a show biz girlfriend, and he is given little to do. Melvyn Douglas is his trademark self, complete with pipe, and Boris Karloff still is given no dialogue yet again in one of his movies. He just looks menacing as Morgan, the scar-faced butler.

We wanted so much for this film to give us a thrill and become a marvel, but we found it disappointing to the ultimate degree—and in no way does it hold up to the other horror tales of the Universal series. This alleged classic is a let-down from the get-go.

 

Invisible Wells Classic

DATELINE: Whale of a Film

Rains

When James Whale chose to do his next amusing gothic horror, it turned out to be H.G. Wells’ story about a mad scientist who becomes invisible. It has now become a trite metaphor, but this is the original—and therein hangs some fascination. The Invisible Man came out in 1933.

To play a man who won’t be seen for most of the film, Whale chose Claude Rains whose voice manages to carry his performance. And Jack Pierce’s makeup is the notion of a wig, fake nose, dark glasses, and a bandaged mummy wrap to hide the lack of face.

Rains would go on to become one of the most familiar of second-banana stars—stealing movies like Casablanca in every scene they gave him.

For a film made in the early 1930s, the delightful special effects of invisibility set a standard that today still cannot be achieved. There is something in the primitive, expressionistic style that gives the unwrapping of Rains to scare the locals with such hilarious and horrific power.

As Dr. Jack Griffin, Rains gives a couple of classic homicidal maniac speeches about murdering people for the good of science, while his lovely girlfriend Gloria Stuart (of Titanic fame about 60 years later) frets about. Whale nixed Rains as Dr. Praetorius in the Bride of Frankenstein because of on-set difficulties between them.

Henry Travers is the dutiful sober-sided scientist. Best known as Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, he is less befuddled here. As the loud, half-crazed tavern owner, there is Una O’Connor, shrieking whenever there is a chance.

We also saw Oscar-winner Walter Brennan in one of his earliest roles as the man with the bicycle. He does a wonderful low-brow Brit accent. Also there is John Carradine, father of Keith and David, as a minor character on the telephone.

Alas, Whale was saddled with many American actors whose regionalisms are completely out of place in a small English town. The village boys are decidedly American in tone.

Whales frequently films shorty Rains from the knees looking upward, giving him a frightful height, and the sets are spectacular and sumptuous, a sign that the budgets had improved for the director of Frankenstein.

 

Whatever its shortcomings, this remains an impressive achievement in cinema history.

 

 

The Captains of Star Trek

DATELINE: No Vanity from Shatner!

man in box

When first we saw that William Shatner had produced, written, and directed a movie documentary about the five captains of the Star Trek franchise, we suspected vanity. He calls it The Captains, putting himself into a stew with the others.

How wrong we were about the ego of Captain Kirk’s acting creator. Shatner’s touching and delightful film shows what an erudite, generous, kind man he is. Each conversation with one of his successors in the Star Trek world is careful and insightful.

He talks to Scott Bakula, Sir Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew, Avery Brooks, and Chris Pine.  He genuinely likes these actors and respects their opinions.

Also around are those who were part of the franchise like Jonathan Frakes (The Next Generation) and even his old friend Christopher Plummer (from The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek VI). Shatner understudied Plummer in Henry V on stage at the beginning of their careers! 

Obvious questions were on Shatner’s mind in a personal way, and he turned it around to find out if playing a Star Fleet captain had an impact on the personal life of the actors. It deals with divorce to mortality. Of course, it is big.

Shatner notes how he might have been embarrassed to leave serious classic acting to do Star Trek, and how often he was denigrated for his work. Yet, talking to the other stars, he becomes more aware of why playing a leader required an attitude.

In the meantime, he shows humor and expresses insight into his own career. There are even clips of him, as a blond in the mid-1950s playing Billy Budd on Canadian TV.

He learns that every star suffered 16-hour work days on the series and movies, and that it had a devastating toll on their personal lives and children.

Yet, this is not a downbeat story: Shatner has come to revel in his role as Captain Kirk, not always something he could claim. Each actor he speaks with shares personal feelings that elicit a growth in Shatner on the screen.

What a marvelous little film, even if you may not have seen some of the Star Trek oeuvre, there is much to savor here.