Robin and Marian: Aged in the Woods

 DATELINE: Sherwood Denizens Return

shaw as sheriff Nottingham, not Cape Cod!

The idea looked brilliant in pitch phase: Robin Hood and Marian re-unite after 20 years and are older, but not necessarily wiser. You call it Robin and Marian and the critics will go wild. Throw in a cast to salivate over: Richard Harris and Robert Shaw stand out.

The script is by James Goldman who gave us The Lion in Winter, a rather pedestrian and witless look at Henry II and Richard the Lion-hearted. That, of course, was a sequel of sort to Becket, wherein Peter O’Toole played Henry and Richard Burton was the meddlesome priest.

The level of writing descends with each period drama. Now, you have Richard Harris as the Lion-Heart king, fresh off being King Arthur in Camelot.

We presume Anthony Hopkins and Peter O’Toole were unavailable.

Goldman does not botch the tale, but his legend is soggy-bottom stuff. Alas, the youth market of the mid-1970s wasn’t quite ready for middle-age.

The notion of a stellar cast gained traction with the actors: put Sean Connery looking to shed his James Bond image as an older bearded Robin, and Audrey Hepburn would come back as Marian after a film hiatus. Throw in with equal billing, the villain of the decade: Robert Shaw (Quint from Jaws) as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Wow. If you present off-beat director Richard Lester (3 Musketeers, etc.) as the man behind the camera, you cannot lose. It did not work out perfectly but is an adventure for sure.

If you compare this to Richard Fleischer and Kirk Douglas producing The Vikings, you have something less fun and less successful. Oh, it’s highly watchable, but not a romp. Shaw as usual runs off with the movie as the deadpan, time-worn Sheriff who knows Sherwood Forest and its foibles all too well.

Lester tries to steal the movie with his standard atmospheric shots of Medieval times, including people with physical deformity and mud-caked urchins everywhere.They stand out, but not in a good way.

Connery and Hepburn are, well, Connery and Hepburn, acting older. Throw in some choice character actors like Ian Holm as King John and Kenneth Haigh as the Sheriff’s rival, and you have top-drawer performers.

A pleasant time-killer is the least to be expected. What you actually have is a James Goldman version of a geriatric Romeo & Juliet, which does not satisfy.

 

 

 

From Russia (With Kisses & Flowers)

DATELINE: Spy Extravaganza

Lotte Lenya Lets Bond Have It

Lotte Lenya & Sean Connery in Fight Royale!

No, From Russia with Love is not about a date between Trump and Putin. It’s the 1963 movie about James Bond, based on Ian Fleming’s hilarious novels, and starring Sean Connery.

With its iconic music, beautiful location photography, glorious Technicolor, and outrageous performances, it is a hoot and a half, even fifty years after its original release. Every set up will have your mouth agape and fighting back laughs.

If you want to know how a movie can stand up to time, take a look: even with its anachronistic and silly car phones, beepers, and lasers. These were cutting edge back then.

Not half the entertainment is in its two foremost early Bond villains: Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya.

Shaw’s tow-headed muscle guy was a forerunner of Dolph Lundgren’s Soviet superman from Rocky. It was the start of a decade of over-the-top villains, culminating with Quint from Jaws.

No overwhelming technology or special effects had yet to take hold in the well-produced low-budget Bond movies. However, a regrettable act or two occurs, with Connery slugging a woman. The producers also steal Hitchcock’s North by Northwest crop duster chase with a helicopter going after Bond.

Pipsqueak septuagenarian Lotte Lenya steals every scene, as she did as the procuress in Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. Her final confrontation, a fight with James Bond, is a kick or two to the head. She gives him a run for his secret agent style. You can’t beat an old lady fighting James Bond in grand style.

Original New York Terror Movie

DATELINE:  Classic Thriller

 

Matthau

Taking of Pelham One Two Three, from 1974, is a masterpiece

Directed by Joseph Sargent, it holds up after 40 years of action thrillers have passed into oblivion. Twenty-five years before 9-11, it showed New York City in full terrorist mode. Of course, back then, it was not called “terrorism,” but when a gang of dangerous criminals hijacks a subway train, the word fits.

Acutely written and underplayed by a bunch of New York actors, the leading transit policeman is Walter Matthau, a man give over to snippy one-liners and packaging disheveled frumpiness. He is at the top of the game here. And, his sidekick is Jerry Stiller, not Jack Lemmon.

Indeed, the passel of familiar faces from TV and movies of the era is a who’s who cast: James Broderick, Tony Roberts, Dick O’Neill, Kenneth McMillan, Dolph Sweet, Tom Pedi, and Doris Roberts. For the most part they throw out some zinger lines to break up the tension.

The bad guys are gems: Hector Elizondo and Martin Balsam, of course, effective as always, but Robert Shaw added another villain portrait to his growing gallery as the mercenary ringleader. His end rivals his work in Jaws the following year.

New York City is magnificent as itself, harsh, bustling, dirty, cynical, and unique.

To watch a well-put together suspense thriller, you may be surprised to learn it won next to nothing in awards, a few nominations, but nothing from Oscar land. They didn’t take terror films lightly back then, and this one dishes out some great entertainment along with the speeding subway trains and crashing police cars.