Rogue Male: Peter O’Toole Wasted

DATELINE: More or Less Dangerous Games!

rogue assassin Roguish Assassin?

In 1976 Peter O’toole was still looking like a major star. When he did Rogue Male, he seems to be going down the rabbit hole to disappear. It’s The Most Dangerous Game, redux and doubled-down.

The film postulates in 1939 that Neville Chamberlain was worse than a Nazi sympathizer and appeaser. As Sir Robert Hunter (no joke), he goes to assassinate Hitler, is foiled, and uses his British pluck to go after the Fuherer. This Fredric Raphael script is based on a Household novel.

The film is a string of incidents that reveal some smart, intriguing supporting characters along the way, from a German who aids escape, to O’Toole’s Jewish lawyer, his tailor, and on and on. Alas, the film does not rely on this network of adventuresome people.

They are ultimately all for naught.

The picaresque adventure of Hunter features many veddy veddy English creatures, but there are enough enemies to undercut the social amusement. He finds escape to England after torture simply means he trades in one set of vicious Nazis for the collaborators (Jon Standing) in Chamberlain’s government.

We know Winston Churchill is around the corner to save the day. And O’Toole is too busy embarrassing his uncle (Alastair Sim) who is a high-ranking cabinet member. Most film fans recall Sim as the best Ebenezer Scrooge on film 25 years earlier.

The film features one of the final performances of Sim as O’Toole’s breezy Earl of an uncle. He is all too infrequently seen. He is delightful with his nephew whom he calls “Bobbity.”

Les Miserable approach to having O’Toole parallel hunted by a clever government agent is heavy-handed. The agent reads a book by the would=be assassin on hunting and uses its contents to track him down.

Worse yet, O’Toole is literally trapped in an underground rabbit hole for the finale, but we are left puzzled as to motivations and logic between these dark characters.

 

 

Zulu Dawn: Daybreaker of History

 DATELINE: Big Stars, Little Pictures

Epic Stars

Grandstand Stars in Peanut Gallery!

How can you pass up one of the last epic movies of Peter O’Toole?

Zulu Dawn was made back in 1979 to commemorate the British disaster of arrogance in the Old Empire in 1879 when spear-carrying Zulu natives beat the pants off of the robust British army in their pretty uniforms,

Not satisfied with riding 600 men to their deaths in Balaclava, and not to be outdone by the Americans with the Alamo and Custer’s Last Stand, the British class society puts its considerable stupidity on the line.

Great disaster events always seem to inspire epic movies.

We have to laugh again at Peter O’Toole’s sense of the uncanny, in asking “can he do it again?”  O’Toole was Irish, which certainly was a drawback that endeared him to Welsh best pal Richard Burton, but what they really had in common was playing British heroes with feats of clay.

In this epic that runs only two hours,  O’Toole’s job is to display all the tenacious idiocy of the British aristocracy. He is wooden in this role, but the film itself is like a totem pole on race relations.

The other aspect of the movie to make us scratch our heads was the top-billing given to an American star in a British epic of folly. It turns the screw on all those English stars playing Americans.

Yep, that’s Burt Lancaster, never too shy to stretch his accents. We love nearly every attempt of Lancaster in movies from Hemingway’s The Killers to Vera Cruz to Sweet Smell of Success. This time, the epic star of From Here to Eternity and Elmer Gantry wants to go up against Lawrence of Arabia and the The Lion in Winter’s better cousin Becket.

The movie also throws in Simon Ward, who tried his hand at epics like Winston and came up too short.

Well, forget it. This movie is workmanlike, like someone followed the recipe book and never added a pinch of salt.

Lancaster here plays the role of an Irish officer, which surely had to amuse O’Toole. Their epical petticoats were showing all too deliberately. He sounds like an extra from the Fighting 69th.

If you like to see the arrogant British colonial spirit receive its come-uppance, with a cast of great English second bananas (Denholm Elliott and John Mills and Bob Hoskins), you will enjoy this. As for us, we kept waiting for Michael Caine to show up. No, he doesn’t.

Lawrence of Arabia: Hi-Def, Small Screen

DATELINE: Whatever Happened to Michel Ray & John Dimech

Michel ray & o'toole O’Toole with Michel Ray

Impossible, you might say, to watch the biggest, grandest, most spectacular epic film ever made on the small screen?

High Definition is the response, and TV screens are not exactly tiny nowadays. Not since its premiere in 1963 have we seen such a gorgeous print of David Lean’s masterpiece. Though we have seen the four-hour epic a dozen times or more since it first appeared, we were not prepared for the sharpness, clarity, and beauty, that stunned us in the restored version in HD.

It was like seeing it again for the first time.

The story of T.E. Lawrence, WWI hero who became a god to the Arab tribes he led against the Turks for the British, is more complex than you might expect. The film flows from spectacular set-up to another. You have the majesty of riding camels in the desert, to Lawrence’s moment to join the Arab cause with his two teenage boyfriends. There are the scenes of rescuing Gassim from the Nefud desert to the walk atop the derailed train he blew up while the crowds of soldiers cheer him on.

Peter O’Toole was not discovered for this role, nor just introduced. He had made several films, but the role of Lawrence catapulted him into legendary fame. He amazes in every scene. And the music swells in tandem.

Nearly every star (Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins) is gone now, leaving us their juicy performances. None is more delightful than to see the final film of Michel Ray. He quit movies after this to become a billionaire businessman. Not a bad decision. And, his partner John Dimech also disappeared from films after several more appearances.

The two played the Arab boys who adored Lawrence. Sal Mineo was bounced from one of the roles because Arab countries objected to his role in Exodus as a Jew.  Michel Ray went to Harvard and married well. Dimech went into art on Malta.

Stories behind David Lean’s spectacular film abound, yet the film itself stands then and now as the greatest ever made. Yes, we never say such things lightly. We had not seen it in 20 years—and it left us breathless once again.

Prepare to commit yourself to an experience unparalleled.

The Stunt Man: Rush Job

DATELINE:  Mad Director Meets Madder Stunt Man

otoole

If you ever wondered what it might’ve been like to walk onto the set of legendary superstar Peter O’Toole during filming, your chance came in 1980 with the movie The Stunt Man, directed by Richard Rush.

The title is two words because Burt Reynolds sued director Rush over the title, wanting it for his movie tribute to stuntmen. They split the difference.

It’s a comedy action thriller drama Hollywood insider movie about the making of an out-of-control World War I epic anti-war movie with more explosions and killings than supports its so-called plot of the movie-within-a-movie.

It also costars Steve Railsback, in a rare heroic role as a Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Fleeing from police, he wanders onto the set of O’Toole’s Eli Cross production and is immediately sucked into the ruse of taking up the role of a stunt man who was killed accidentally that day.

O’Toole knows he has a fugitive on his hands, but needs to prevent an investigation into his botched movie stunt.

Railsback was fresh off playing Charles Manson in Helter-Skelter for a movie mini-series. Peter O’Toole based his wacky director on his work with David Lean during the making of Lawrence of Arabia.

Flying around the set on a crane, O’Toole’s ego-maniacal director will risk anything to get his movie on film, including the accidental death of crew-members. Yes, this is a comedy, but not quite like you expect.

This movie probably would never be made today, even with rogue directors and winking cable studios financing the project.  Then, again, we admit that Twin Peaks was given a green-light.

When Railsback asks O’Toole why he is protecting the fugitive, O’Toole answers: “Because I’m in love with your dark side.” It makes perfect sense.

Railsback was never so handsome, and O’Toole was never quite so cuckoo.  It makes for a delicious movie, though it is about a half-hour too long.

In its earlier incarnation, it was given little publicity in its release. O’Toole commented the film was not released, “It escaped.”

 

Peter O’Toole on TV in 1986

DATELINE:  Rare Appearance

Banshee

In one of his rare acting performances on the small screen, legendary Peter O’Toole took a role on a Ray Bradbury Theatre production of a short story called “Banshee.”

This anthology series ran for several years and featured notable stars in a thirty-minute Twilight Zone-style show.

Most of the summaries of the episode with O’Toole are oddly incorrect on various websites.

The man who was Lord Jim, Lawrence of Arabia, and Henry II (twice), plays an eccentric film director living in Ireland on his remote estate. He plays John Hampton, which clearly is a play on the real eccentric legendary director who lived in Ireland on his estate.

That was, of course, John Huston. The dialogue even has that lilt of Huston’s—and O’Toole wears jodhpurs and boots with swagger, to suggest Huston.

He is visited by a nebbish writer played by Charles Martin Smith who comes for a spooky interview with a script that O’Toole shreds to pieces.

Greeting the writer in the dead of night, the flamboyant director is more than a little unsettled by the cry of a banshee, an Irish female ghost, out in the dark, forboding woods around his estate. While he urges the writer to go out to find this creature who cries for death, Smith locates an ethereal beauty near a graveyard who wants O’Toole to come out.

The story was written by Ray Bradbury and seems a trifle, though highly moody and atmospheric. The show falls short of Twilight Zone quality, but who can complain when Peter O’Toole enlivens every scene.

 

 

 

 

Charming Caper: How to Steal a Million

 DATELINE:  Masterpieces on Satire

 

 How to

If you look at this movie’s pedigree, you cannot go wrong. How to Steal a Million was a bit of fluff and a trifle from 1966 when stars were really able to carry a movie.

Audrey Hepburn can be forgiven for some of the ridiculous 1960s Givenchy outfits, but she is perfect in them—and her costar Peter O’Toole matches her every step of the way, even commenting it is time to give Givenchy a day off.

A wealthy socialite, Hepburn must orchestrate a theft from a Paris museum of a fake statue she owns but puts on loan in error! The museum is about to have the priceless fake examined—and she will be found out—and her father sent to prison.

O’Toole was escaping his epic dramas, for some fluff, with this film.

Director William Wyler (Mrs. Miniver, Ben Hur, Roman Holiday, The Heiress, and countless other classics) knows how to deliver high class and high quality. On top of that, it is one of John Williams’s first music scores (Jaws, Star Wars, etc.).

Combine this with top-of-their-career performances by Hepburn and O’Toole and you will forgive some of the anachronisms of the 1960s. O’Toole even gives us a quick impersonation of one of Hepburn’s earlier leading men (Humphrey Bogart, Sabrina).

Hugh Griffith is Hepburn’s reprobate father and Charles Boyer is around for a laugh, but Eli Wallach surprises as the wealthy boorish American billionaire art collector.

Filmed in Paris for atmosphere, the clever caper unfolds under the aegis of O’Toole who is actually a detective who uncovers art forgeries.

 

 

My Favorite Year Revisited

DATELINE: Missing Peter O’Toole

Some thirty years ago we first watched Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year. He was resoundingly praised for his portrayal of a combination of himself and Errol Flynn.

The plot was allegedly based on the old Sid Caesar show when Flynn was guest star. We doubt it.

O’Toole was in a separate movie than the rest of the cast as Alan Swann. We have been mesmerized by these star vehicles many times. Perhaps the majesty of the star renders everyone else to look like extras on TV commercial in 1954.

Directed by Richard Benjamin like a TV pilot episode of Dick Van Dyke’s comedy writers, there was a flavor of 1954 in scenes. Was this the Golden Age of television in reality? It’s doubtful.

Playing himself as a younger star in film clips, sword fighting and kissing damsels, O’Toole is marvelous. He was Lawrence of Arabia and Lord Jim, Henry II young and old.

So, to see him play homage to old Errol was a treat. Unfortunately, we had to put up with a nebbish hero sidekick in Mark Linn-Baker. Where did he go? Based on this movie, not far enough. He was not engaging or charming, but a thorn under the saddle.

Out on the town, adored by crowds, O’Toole’s swashbuckler takes it in stride. It was a bit of comeback for the great star—much like Barrymore and Flynn came back as shadow satires of their younger selves.

O’Toole died in 2013, making only a few rare film appearances in the later years. Nothing could match his early grandeur—and this was the last of those efforts.

We waited for every scene with O’Toole, claiming he was not an actor! He was a movie star! Oh, yes, make that Movie Star! And what an actor!!