Category Archives: Directed by Sydney Pollack

Tootsie (1982, Sydney Pollack)

Tootsie opens with Dustin Hoffman giving acting classes. He’s a failed New York actor–but a well-employed waiter–who must be giving these classes on spec. It seems like Hoffman being a beloved acting teacher might end up having something to do with the plot of Tootsie, which has Hoffman pretending to be a female actor in order to get a part, but it doesn’t. Save a throwaway scene where he’s helping love interest Jessica Lange work on her part.

The film, with its two (credited) screenwriters and two story concocters (though Larry Gelbart is both), is a narrative mess. Teri Garr, as Hoffman’s student and good friend, disappears somewhere in the second act, once Lange gets more to do. Bill Murray (in an uncredited, main supporting role) at least provides some continuity, which not even director Pollack (who also acts as Hoffman’s agent) gets to do. The conclusion of the movie is this swirl of contrivances, all forcefully introduced earlier in the picture, and no one who should be there for it has a scene. Tootsie just ignores the previous couple hours to get the coda to work.

And it does. Tootsie does, despite all the narrative problems and missed opportunities and dropped characters, come through for the finish. It helps having Owen Roizman’s photography, it helps being shot in New York City, it needs stars Hoffman and Lange. No matter what story problems, Tootsie never fails its actors. Even with it’s Pollack–Tootsie, the film, never fails Pollack, the actor, even if Pollack, the director, doesn’t quite have the film under control. Pollack’s got a great rant towards the end.

I’ll start from the bottom of the cast and work up just because I’m not really sure what I’m going to say about Hoffman yet.

George Gaynes is hilarious as this lech actor on the soap opera where Hoffman gets his job (as a woman). Gaynes just has to be a believable buffoon, but he does it with such ease, he calms Tootsie a bit. It never seems too extreme just because Gaynes’s so sturdy. He tempers it, along with Dabney Coleman. Coleman’s the jerk director of the soap. He’s also dating Lange. He also doesn’t have a big enough part in the story during the second half. Coleman’s still good though. He’s got the right energy–and right buffoonery–to keep it going.

Charles Durning is about the only actor who doesn’t get anything to do overall. He gets a lot to do in the story, he’s just poorly written. He’s Lange’s dad, who gets a crush on Hoffman when Hoffman’s “in character” as the female actor. It’s a sitcom foil, which wastes Durning; there’s also some continuity issues regarding Durning’s supportive dad when Lange’s character is initially introduced as an alcoholic because of being an orphan? Maybe I missed some exposition, but I was paying attention.

Murray’s good. He’s dry, he’s funny, he’s Hoffman’s conscience if Hoffman had a somewhat disinterested, bemused conscience. He’s present through most of the film, though, which is important. Most other characters just evaporate when the story doesn’t need them. Tootsie keeps Murray around even when it doesn’t.

Now, Teri Garr. She’s great. She also gets one good scene and it’s after the movie’s been ignoring her for an hour. It’s not a great part, either. She’s such a function in the script, she and Hoffman’s subplot literally kicks off just because his particular lie to her. Any other lie and it would’ve been fine. But her great scene is great. It’s a shame she’s not around more.

The same sort of goes for Jessica Lange, who shares the same space in the film as Garr, at least until Garr leaves. Then Lange gets to be around and sometimes she gets stuff to do, sometimes she just gets to sit around. Lange’s best acting moments are far superior to the script’s moments for her as an actor. Pollack works on directing Lange more than anyone else in the film.

Including Hoffman, who Pollack sort of lets do his own thing, to great success. Hoffman’s performance, as an example of comedy Method acting, is outstanding. There’s not much of a role past the MacGuffin–Pollack relies way too heavily on montages after a certain point, including a completely nonsensical one–but it’s an outstanding performance. The film positions Hoffman front and center, then transforms him into his new role–an actor playing this female actor–on screen. It’s awesome. It also is nowhere near enough to fix the script problems because Tootsie’s a fairly shallow movie overall.

And it shouldn’t be. There’s so much potential, not just for Hoffman, but for everyone in the cast. Lange, Garr, Murray, Coleman… okay, not Durning, but everyone else and a lot with them. And maybe even Durning if the film remembered Lange’s alcoholism subplot instead of forgetting it immediately.

Tootsie’s all right. It should be better, it could’ve been a lot worse. It’s well made, has a nice pace, has a nice Dave Grusin score–and a nice original song from Stephen Bishop–and some phenomenal acting. Hoffman and Lange are excellent and Garr ought to be. She just doesn’t have enough material. Because Tootsie’s a tad thin.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sydney Pollack; screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, based on a story by Don McGuire and Gelbart; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Pollack and Dick Richards; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Michael Dorsey), Jessica Lange (Julie Nichols), Teri Garr (Sandy Lester), Bill Murray (Jeff Slater), Dabney Coleman (Ron Carlisle), Sydney Pollack (George Fields), George Gaynes (John Van Horn), Doris Belack (Rita Marshall), and Charles Durning (Les Nichols).


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Three Days of the Condor (1975, Sydney Pollack)

The espionage genre has gotten so stupid over the last couple decades, it’s hard to even imagine how a mediocre entry could be good. Now, it’s watching the least worst. Three Days of the Condor is such a peculiar film, even though it’s wholly commercial–I mean, Dino De Laurentiis produced it.

It’s not just a spy thriller (it’s also an urban, domestic spy thriller and one of the best New York films in Panavision), there’s the entire thing with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. It’s not a romance, it’s not a friendship, it’s not a companionship… it’s a thing. In the vernacular of twenty-first century American filmmaking, it’s probably unintelligible, because their chemistry has so much to do with it being the two of them, the two icons. There aren’t film icons in the same way, certainly not ones like Redford and Dunaway were in 1975.

So there are these wonderful scenes with the two of them talking. Not getting to know each other, but talking to each other.

Then there are the spy thriller scenes. It’s amazing how well Redford plays a smart guy. It’s sort of against type.

Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow (especially von Sydow) and John Houseman are all excellent in supporting roles. Houseman, of course, just has to talk.

Pollack’s Panavision direction is great. There’s some lovely editing from Don Guidice.

The end is problematic, if “realistic.” We spend the film waiting to find out what happens and, instead, we found out why.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sydney Pollack; screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel, based on a novel by James Grady; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Don Guidice; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Stephen B. Grimes; produced by Stanley Schneider; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Robert Redford (Joseph Turner), Faye Dunaway (Kathy Hale), Cliff Robertson (Higgins), Max von Sydow (Joubert), John Houseman (Mr. Wabash), Addison Powell (Leonard Atwood), Walter McGinn (Sam Barber), Tina Chen (Janice) and Michael Kane (S.W. Wicks).


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Sabrina (1995, Sydney Pollack)

I remember the back of the laserdisc for Sabrina said something about how, going in to the film, one knows what’s going to happen, but the film’s about enjoying it happen. For a back of the disc blurb, it’s incredibly accurate. Sabrina is a joy from start to finish, mostly because Sydney Pollack has put together a perfect film. The more obvious compliments will follow, but I need to mention the importance of Harrison Ford. Obviously, the film works because of Ford, but the way he makes it work is interesting. His performance is excellent because–for the film to work–the viewer has to be examining each of his mannerisms, each line delivery. There’s little things he does, especially towards the end, I think I’ve seen him do before, but never so well. The film focuses on him in a particular way–he’s not exactly the protagonist, not exactly not–in the last scenes and it’s wonderfully done.

The next obvious essential is Julia Ormond. She does the nebbish well, she does the posh well. But when it becomes clear the posh was just a cover, obscuring the intelligent woman underneath, that discovery is also fantastic. Her best scene, though, is her last one with Greg Kinnear, when she does this thing with her eyes. It’s amazing. Kinnear–another of Pollack’s casting gambles for the film (I wonder if he decided Ormond was perfect when testing her for the voiceovers, she does these brief dips in volume and they’re perfect)–is great too, especially since his character has the second most visual change throughout the film.

The supporting cast–Nancy Marchand, John Wood, even Richard Crenna–is all great. Sabrina also features John Williams’s last (as far as I can tell) explorative score–it’s fantastic–and some great editing. Fredric Steinkamp almost cuts the scenes too fast, not allowing for a breath following the punch lines. It makes the comedic scenes tight, but it also does something with the romantic and dramatic ones. It contributes to Sabrina‘s particular feel, which the wonderful location shooting in Paris obviously does as well.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen Sabrina–less than ten years, nearing it–I don’t know if I was hesitant about watching it… I suppose I was a little, worried it wasn’t actually good. It’s better than I remember. From the moment the Paramount logo fades at the beginning, its excellence is clear.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sydney Pollack; written by Barbara Benedek and David Rayfiel, based on the film written by Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman, from the play by Taylor; director of photography, Giuseppe Rotunno; edited by Frederic Steinkamp; music by John Williams; production designer, Brian Morris; produced by Scott Rudin and Pollack; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Linus Larrabee), Julia Ormond (Sabrina Fairchild), Greg Kinnear (David Larrabee), Nancy Marchand (Maude Larrabee), John Wood (Tom Fairchild), Richard Crenna (Patrick Tyson), Angie Dickinson (Mrs. Ingrid Tyson), Lauren Holly (Elizabeth Tyson, MD), Dana Ivey (Mack), Miriam Colon (Rosa), Elizabeth Franz (Joanna), Fanny Ardant (Irène), Valérie Lemercier (Martine) and Patrick Bruel (Louis).


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