Death in Venice Part 2

Death in Venice and Washington?

DATELINE: Drips for Drips

Not since Death in Venice when Dirk Bogarde’s bad dye job melted during a pandemic have we seen such a just dessert.

Yes, that’s Rudi Giuliani playing the role of a lifetime: the man who catches the coronavirus while chasing young electoral college voters! In the famous Visconti movie, Von Aschenbach loses his youth to bad makeup under the unrelenting conditions of Venice at its worst.

Now, Rudi loses his cool to bad mascara dripping off his sideburns under the unrelenting conditions of Trump at its worst.

We did not realize that Rudi had been cast in a remake of the great classic tale of unremitting moral decay in the face of losing an election.

Trump has simply drained his hair of all color, and Rudi has not taken the cues properly. His master will not be pleased to turn his press conferences into streaming jokes with streaming bad dye dripping.

The other case of drips came when the Wicked Witch of the West stole Toto and was pressed by the Electoral College to return the mutt to a Kansas voting booth. 

All bad taste aside, when you’re paid $20,000 a day to represent the POTUS, you likely don’t have a potus to put hair dye in.

 

Dark Dirk’s Shadow

DATELINE:  British Murder Mystery

 As a Charming Killer!

Of course, Janet Greene is no Agatha Christie, but English female mystery playwrights were big in the 1950s. Her big play has more sociopathic psycho than most.

So, the big cheese to play the role was a perfect choice.

From light comedy to darkest character drama with sociological implications, Dirk Bogarde stormed onto the scene in British, arty films in the 1950s. He could play a charming medical students in the film series, Doctor in the House,or he could be a dangerous sexual predator as in Cast a Dark Shadow  all within the same year!

No actor in the Hollywood system could do that sort of range.

In 1955, he managed to play one of his creepier wife-murdering fortune hunters, cast as the darkest shadow, Teddy Bare who is married to oldster Mona Washbourne. Her name is Moni, but it sounds like Mommy when Dirk speaks.

Moni makes a will, against Teddy’s wish. With no will, he receives all her money. He is forced to dispatch her immediately and must find another wife/victim.

In some ways, the young man after old ladies is not credible, but the idea of a young man hustling an older man was not feasible in 1955, but we give Bogarde credit for his unspoken suggestion. In one scene he is reading male health magazine with men in bikini photos.

That was about as blatant as you could be to send a gay message in 1955.

In glossy black and white, the film is a beautiful production with sharp sets and lovely photography from director Lewis Gilbert. The other women victims are younger and more apt, Margaret Atwood and Kay Walsh.

This is a lost gem that now is found on streaming services.

Russian Agents in The Serpent

DATELINE: Cold War Star Vehicle Still Resonates

the serpent

If deals with the Russians worries you, we found the perfect movie: The Serpent, a movie from the height of the Cold War that you may have missed. We are not sure it even played in American theatres.

We remain stunned by the stellar cast:  Henry Fonda, playing the head of the CIA, a version of Allen Dulles; his counterpart from England, in the person of Dirk Bogarde, and Farley Granger as Fonda’s aide-de-camp. Also around is 1940s star Robert Alda (yes, Alan’s father) as an interrogator of Russian defector Yul Brynner. Virna Lisi is around as  femme fatale. This concoction was directed by French master Henri Verneuil.

This is wishful John LeCarre, pulled from the bottom drawer of your spy genre. Yet, it is compelling to see the stars walking through the CIA headquarters in the age before computers.

We loved the scene of Brynner wired up for a lie detector test. He has more cables on him than an Xfinity technician, including a facial harness that Mr. Ed once wore.

We are shown the hard-working CIA agents at Langley—and it is hard work because they have to read stacks of newspapers and listen to radio broadcasts. There are computers in the CIA, but forget unobtrusiveness. These computers pre-date Marshall McLuhan. Not one is smaller than a two-story house.

Brynner plays one of the Kremlin bigwigs thrown out of power by Brezhnev in the mid-1960s—and he has plenty to tell the Americans, if they deign to trust him.

The Russians were pulling the wool over the eyes of Americans when Trump was a young entrepreneur without a thought of collusion.

By lending their considerable presence to the shenanigans, you have something more than a low-budget spy drama. We hesitate to call it a thriller. It could more rightly be labelled a sleeper. We certainly enjoyed it.

Not So Blithe, Spirit!

DATELINE: Third Time is No Charm

Not Blithe

Bogarde & Gordon Blow It Big Time!

We all know the legendary story of the actor on his deathbed who said, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”

To die on live national television is now an actor’s lost dream. You can’t blow it on live TV when they won’t let you work for genuine laughs unless it is stand-up.

There are still ways to prove your mettle as an actor when you are a highly respected movie star. One is to perform live comedy in a play—say the likes of Noel Coward. Now that seems easy. Didn’t Rex Harrison throw away lines all the time in Coward style?

We recently watched Noel Coward doing his own Blithe Spirit on live television in 1956 (a video copy, old wags). And now, we wanted to see one of our favorite actors Dirk Bogarde give it a shot in 1966.

He seemed right on the surface: British, handsome, pleasant, but deep down his specialty has always been some kind of existential suffering. He should have left that style at the door. It works in Death in Venice, not here.

Poor Bogarde. His comedy seems less manners and more black. Someone must have told him he was doing Edward Albee, not Noel Coward. He shouts at his wife like they are a road show of Burton and Taylor.

He steps on every laugh. Alas, in this Hallmark Hall of Fame production from 1966, so does his costar Ruth Gordon as Madame Acarti. Her singular acting delivery seems not to know where pause meets laugh.

Rachel Roberts actually suffers most here as Ruth because she is on the money around the penny-pinchers of laughs. Rosemary Harris is Elvira in traditional fashion.

Yes, comedy is hard when you die on live TV. Don’t go looking for this version of Blithe Spirit unless you are into historical tragedy.