Everybody Wins (1990, Karel Reisz)

What a weird movie. Debra Winger cannot act. Don’t know exactly why Terms of Endearment worked, but she cannot act. She’s really terrible in this one. Arthur Miller adapted his play, which was from 1982–except it was a one act play. Somewhere in the adaptation, Everybody Wins becomes a ludicrous attempt at a thriller. It’s set in a Connecticut town, which looks a lot like Pennsylvania in the film, and Reisz gives the setting absolutely no personality.

Winger convinces Nick Nolte to investigate a case, except she’s a total flake and doesn’t tell him anything about the case until the last fifteen minutes. So, right away, it’s unbelievable for Nolte, playing a renowned investigator, would put up with Winger. Most of their scenes involve her hiding something from him, but he sticks around… because if he left, it’d be a one act movie. Will Patton shows up for a bit and he’s fine. He and Nolte have an interesting relationship for a few scenes. Poor Jack Warden stuck in a nothing role, just to pop in whenever you’ve forgotten he’s in the movie.

It’s not really a case of the film being predictable, but once some of the clues come out, it’s unbelievable Nolte the investigator wouldn’t piece anything together. Except he pieces absolutely nothing together–in the entire film–which dismisses it as a mystery or detective film. There’s no real jeopardy involved, so it’s not a thriller either. Winger’s so terrible it’s not a romance. The film’s only interesting with Nolte and Patton and Nolte and Judith Ivey, who plays his sister (the character’s got an interesting history, but none of it, apparently, gets to come through in the film).

I’ve seen Reisz and Nolte’s other collaboration, Who’ll Stop the Rain, and I guess Everybody Wins is better. Everybody Wins is shorter and, for the first half, it’s just boring, not particularly bad. In fact, I think some of the beginning might even be good. Nolte does a good job, but it’s definitely one of his autopilot performances. Reisz has some good moments (just can’t make the setting stick until the end, when it’s too late to fix the film). There’s even homage to Who’ll Stop the Rain, which I can’t believe anyone would pick up on, but who knows, maybe there’s somebody else out there going through all of MGM’s Nick Nolte releases too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Karel Reisz; screenplay by Arthur Miller; director of photography, Ian Blake; edited by John Bloom; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Peter Larkin; produced by Jeremy Thomas; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Debra Winger (Angela Crispini), Nick Nolte (Tom O’Toole), Will Patton (Jerry), Judith Ivey (Connie), Kathleen Wilhoite (Amy), Jack Warden (Judge Harry Murdoch), Frank Converse (Charlie Haggerty) and Frank Military (Felix).


The Jerk (1979, Carl Reiner)

“Classics.” In the sense, “oh, it’s a classic.” Possibly even, “it’s classic.” “Classic” is a lousy classification for film. It’s applied mostly as if it were a genre, with something like King Kong escaping to the sci-fi section, but A Night at the Opera absent from the comedy one.

The Jerk is considered a “classic” and I don’t quite get it. It’s occasionally funny, but mostly drags on. It’s poorly titled (according to IMDb, the working title was Easy Money, which is better), because The Jerk suggests… well, it suggests Steve Martin is playing a jerk. According to Oxford’s, a jerk is (in the informal) a contemptibly obnoxious person. The film gets the title from the colloquialism, “What do you think I am, some kind of a jerk or something?” Except, in that colloquialism jerk doesn’t mean obnoxious person, it means sap, dope, maybe patsy. I suppose they could have called any of those, but didn’t. Because The Jerk, starring Steve Martin in a bathrobe, looks like a movie you’d want to see. It looks like a funny movie.

The film’s structure is also particular. Bernadette Peters has almost no dialogue for the film’s last third or so. She’s around–both on screen and in the story–but she’s not doing anything. The film is so delineated into scenes, once she’s done, she has to stick around, but the film doesn’t have anything to do with her. The first half of the film has this deliberate pacing–lots of funny moments in amusing scenes. The scenes flow from one to the other, more on the comedic factor than any sort of dramatic one. It’s not extreme enough to be notable, but it creates a pleasant viewing experience. The second half of the film, which feels like someone checked his or her watch and got really worried about the running time, is hurried and almost all in summary or half-scene.

Steve Martin wrote the script with Carl Gottlieb, who’s the only guy to work on all of the first three Jaws films. I imagine the tight structure of the first half is from his hand, but it’s hard to blame the second act on either writer. Once director Carl Reiner shows up in a cameo, it’s apparent the film’s lost its footing. Most of Reiner’s filmography is Steve Martin films, so I guess they liked each other, but Reiner’s not bringing anything particular to the film. I just finished watching it an hour ago and nothing’s resonating. It’s all seeped away, except maybe the subtly touching relationship between Martin and his adopted brother, played by Dick Anthony Williams.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Reiner; screenplay by Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias, based on a story by Martin and Gottlieb; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by Bud Molin; music by Jack Elliot; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by William E. McEuen and David V. Picker; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Steve Martin (Navin R. Johnson), Bernadette Peters (Marie Kimble Johnson), Catlin Adams (Patty Bernstein), Mabel King (Mother), Richard Ward (Father), Dick Anthony Williams (Taj Jonson), Bill Macy (Stan Fox), M. Emmet Walsh (Madman) and Dick O’Neill (Frosty).


Mission to Moscow (1943, Michael Curtiz)

Mission to Moscow is straight propaganda. There’s a lot of Hollywood propaganda in the early 1940s, even the late 1930s, but usually, with those films, there’s at least the pretense of dramatic storytelling. There’s a love story attached, maybe a love triangle, something. There’s nothing attached to Mission to Moscow. It’s essentially a long advertisement for the Soviet Union. Most amusing, I suppose, is when Stalin himself shows up. The film’s from 1943, so nobody knew about him yet.

Walter Huston plays the ambassador to Russia and his story sort of guides the film. It follows him, but the way he moves is for the exposition, not for the character. There isn’t a single conflict for his character in the entire film. Huston’s fantastic, of course, but he’s better at the beginning. For most of the film he looks concerned or he gives speeches, but at the beginning there’s still some dramatic excitement. There are a number of other good performances, particularly Oskar Homolka.

As long as Mission to Moscow is, it’s competently told–writing this screenplay later got Howard Koch blacklisted–and there are a number of nice segments. The film ought to be famous as Michael Curtiz’s follow-up to Casablanca (but isn’t) and it’s probably his strongest directorial effort. There’s one particular scene, at a formal reception, which is beautifully constructed. The camera moves from each country’s representatives, both establishing their political situation as well as the particularities of the characters. It’s too bad this scene–as well as an excellent trial scene–are surrounded by such boring material.

The film plays on Turner Classic Movies from time to time and I read Warner Bros. is considering a DVD release (though I don’t know as part of what collection–no one knows Huston or Curtiz anymore).

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by Howard Koch, based on the book by Joseph E. Davies; director of photography, Bert Glennon; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Robert Bruckner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Walter Huston (Ambassador Joseph E. Davies), Ann Harding (Mrs. Marjorie Davies), Oskar Homolka (Maxim Litvinov, Foreign Minister), George Tobias (Freddie), Gene Lockhart (Premier Molotov), Eleanor Parker (Emlen Davies), Richard Travis (Paul), Helmut Dantine (Major Kamenev), Victor Francen (Vyshinsky, chief trial prosecutor), Henry Daniell (Minister von Ribbentrop), Barbara Everest (Mrs. Litvinov), Dudley Field Malone (Winston Churchill), Roman Bohnen (Mr. Krestinsky), Maria Palmer (Tanya Litvinov), Moroni Olsen (Colonel Faymonville), Minor Watson (Loy Henderson), Vladimir Sokoloff (Mikhail Kalinin, USSR president), Maurice Schwartz (Dr. Botkin) and Joseph E. Davies (Himself).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.

Home from the Hill (1960, Vincente Minnelli)

Whenever I see a list of “classic” films, I rarely see any of the complex character pieces Hollywood produced in the 1950s and 1960s. They produced quite a few, but none ever get much credit. Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch wrote a few of them, but the Paul Newman films are–as Paul Newman films–better known than Home from the Hill. I first saw Hill back when I was watching Eleanor Parker films and I’ve probably seen it once since then, just to watch the laserdisc. Like many films I saw seven years ago, I don’t remember a lot about it. The best way to remember a lot about a film is to write about it for a class or something (I doubt these posts will ingrain themselves like actual research did for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town). For example, I forgot how fast Home from the Hill moves along. Thirty-seven minutes passes with the snap of the fingers. It’s a longer film too, 150 minutes, and it’s either got a ten minutes first act or a fifty-five minute one. I’d have to be graded on it to make a judgement.

Home from the Hill features a quintessential Robert Mitchum performance. He’s a Texan land baron who hunts, drinks and philanders. He’s got a wife–Parker–and son, George Hamilton, he has nothing to do with and an illegitimate son, George Peppard, he’s got everything to do with. Each of these characters has an incredibly complex relationship with one another and–for a film with a lot of sweeping camerawork–Minnelli is incredibly gentle with the way he explores the relationships. The editing of the film, the physical cutting between shot to shot, is imperfect, but there are these wonderful moments in the film when Minnelli just lets big things go little. Big things go unsaid. It’s lovely. The film’s extreme beauty in these evolving character relationships, the way they change and their changing value for the audience. It’s some of the finest family work ever done in film (seeing it makes me wonder if Spielberg has seen it, based on his work in Jaws–P.T. Anderson might not have seen it, but he’s seen Jaws I’m sure). It’s a different type of family work then something like Ordinary People, almost an entirely subset. In many ways, the modern Japanese family drama handles camerawork in the same ways.

The acting is excellent. It’s some of Mitchum’s best work and Parker’s great, but it’s the two Georges who surprised me the first time I saw it and surprised me again today. Besides looking identical to a young Anthony Perkins, Hamilton is great. Nuanced, subtle, had a lot of difficult stuff to do. He’s become a joke. So has Peppard. He’s remembered for “The A-Team,” but his performance in Home from the Hill is indicative of a “star quality” the 1960s rarely produced. Peppard’s performance is even more impressive. Mercury Theater member Everett Sloane has a small role–he’s unrecognizable, or at least was to me–and even he has a complex relationship with the characters. Frank and Ravetch adapted a novel, so I’m not sure how much of the structuring was theirs and how much was from the source (after finding out the structure of The Killing is from the novel, no one gets undue credit), but the film’s laid out brilliantly. Again, it’s worth a graded essay, but this post will have to do.

Warner Bros. is rumored to have the film in the works for DVD–I watched my LaserDisc, which is actually rotting, my first experience with that malady–hopefully by the end of this year.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Vincente Minnelli; screenplay by Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch, based on the novel by William Humphrey; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by Harold F. Kress; music by Bronislau Kaper; produced by Edmund Grainger and Sol C. Siegel; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Mitchum (Capt. Wade Hunnicutt), Eleanor Parker (Hannah Hunnicutt), George Peppard (Rafe Copley), George Hamilton (Theron Hunnicutt), Everett Sloane (Albert Halstead), Luana Patten (Libby Halstead), Anne Seymour (Sarah Halstead), Constance Ford (Opal Bixby), Ken Renard (Chauncey) and Ray Teal (Dr. Reuben Carson).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 2: Technicolor.

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