Noël Coward No Surprise in Surprise Package

DATELINE: Art Buchwald Satire

 Mitzi & Noel Mitzi & Noël sing and dance!

Sir Noël, showman and epitome of the English gentleman, made a plethora of movies from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. He only turned down playing Dr. No in the James Bond spy movie.

From Our Man in Havana to the Italian Job, he lent his delectable presence in costarring roles. In 1960 he went opposite Yul Brynner in the Stanley Donen comedy called Surprise Package.

The big surprise is that it was written by satirist Art Buchwald, though you would never know it. Our favorite humorist seems lost in this adapted script.

Apart from the delicious scenes between mobster Nico March (Yul) and the deposed and exiled King Pavel the Patient (Noël), the movie is not really funny or smart. However, every time you find Brynner and Coward in matchup mode, there is something extraordinary going on.

You almost have the sense that the film was meant for someone else: perhaps James Cagney, to shoot dialogue like a machine gun. Mitzi Gaynor seems to be playing Judy Holiday. Brynner is on top of it, impressive as always.

No one else in movies could have played the deadpan, throwaway lines like Noël Coward. He’s in his own movie world, like Mae West. The rest of the cast is along for the ride.

Coward steals every moment on camera, like the master showman he always was. He could depose Burton and Taylor in Boom, and so going up against Yul Brynner shortly before the Magnificent Seven might have amused Noël.

It’s a soufflé, for sure, and perhaps the success of Donen brought Coward in for the Greek isle locations shooting.

Yul had just finished another comedy with Donen, and likely enjoyed the change of pace from epical heroes and villains.

Surprise Package would be a bad TV movie nowadays with execrable actors. However, when the legends at the top of their game deign to appear in silly roles, you must pay attention.

 

 

 

 

Reel History: King Yul Brynner, Gunslinger

DATELINE: Larger than Epic

 Yul  from Westworld (1973)

Back in 1995, Reel History made a documentary on the life of Yul Brynner. Ten years after his death, he was bigger than ever, and more mysterious than ever.

Almost 25 years later, we took a look at his life as seen primarily through the eyes of his son Rock Brynner and his daughter Victoria.

Everyone agreed he was original, unique, idiosyncratic, and overwhelming. He could not be poured into a typical leading man role. From an eclectic international background, he transformed into any time period, historical personage, or futuristic creature.

Yul Brynner started at the top: no one else could play the King of Siam on stage with a bald pate and in colorful pajamas. He transferred that quality to Ramses the Great in The Ten Commandments, giving Cecil B. DeMille something special. Nothing he touched was standard: from mythic Faulknerian Jason Compton in The Sound and the Fury to a magnificent gunslinger in a movie of the same name.

He was Taras Bulba, Jean LaFitte, and King Solomon, no matter how much hair you put on him, or took off him.

Somewhere on the downslide for most actors, he came back as a robot in 1973’s Westworld, basically the same character as the leader of the 1960 Magnificent Seven, but now his blackness was frightful, beyond death.

The new series Westworld paid homage to Yul in one dramatic scene when one of the executives wandered through the robot catacombs—and there was the black silhouette, utterly recognizable of Yul Brynner.

In the end, he returned for years to play in the King and I for years, making it on Broadway and in a roadshow, almost to the day he died.

One little documentary hardly seems enough to cover his mammoth personality, style, and achievements.

In keeping with our small-screen, intensive reviews, we will examine each individual episode of the 10-part series of Season 2 of Jonathan Nolan’s Westworld, beginning at the end of April, 2018.

 

 

 

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.

Revamped and Rejuvenated Westworld Hits HBO

DATELINE: Move Over, Yul

ed-harris

If you liked Jonathan Nolan’s computer savvy approach to Person of Interest, you will thoroughly enjoy his latest foray into the technology of the future.

Nolan has sunk his teeth into the old Yul Brynner sci-fi classic by Michael Crichton, Westworld.  As producer, director, and writer, he is bringing his unique talents to a new fascinating project. It is hypnotic, chilling, and fascinating.

Bringing in Anthony Hopkins as the dubious owner and creator of Westworld and Jeffrey Wright as his technical expert left-hand, you have the behind-the-scenes string-pullers for android marionettes and martinets.

In the realm of the theme park itself, playing a version of Yul is Ed Harris as the Man in Black. This time he is not an android, but worse—a genuinely disturbing real person with an ugly penchant for violence.

 

Programmed not to hurt humans, the androids seem to be breaking down—or have been given a virus to send them into danger mode.

The opening episode on HBO sets up the premise of a handsome production with gripping ideas and smart cast (James Marsden is a robot, folks).

 

As in his highly successful Person of Interest, Nolan manages to make his anti-heroic theme park both a paradigm of evil and an homage to fantasy.

 

Though this may send you running to see the old 1973 flick with Richard Benjamin as the bumbling victim of Brynner’s obsessive robot, this new version is far subtler and has the luxury of weeks of exposition to make its point.

 

This has cable series mega-hit written all over it, and Nolan has managed to avoid the anti-intellectual CBS moguls whose appreciation for brainless entertainment has condemned them to pabulum TV and canceling Person of Interest.