Tag Archives: Peter O’Toole

Becket (1964, Peter Glenville)

Becket has some genre constraints. Significant ones. It’s a king-sized 70mm Panavision English history epic only it doesn’t feature any big battles. In fact, it goes out of its way not to show battles. It’s also an early sixties historical epic and it’s trying to be a little edgy in how it shows the relationship between King of England Peter O’Toole and his friend and advisor Richard Burton, the title character. Burton doesn’t just help O’Toole drink and carouse, he also advises him with matters of state, giving better advice than anyone else. Are they lovers? Queen Pamela Brown certainly implies it, but she’s also a shrieking evil harpy of a royal who wants to infest the kingdom with her idiot sons. Becket’s real clear—O’Toole might be a tyrant and a rapist, but his wife is even worse; England would be worse off with her having a say.

The film’s a toxically masculine take on certain aspects of toxic masculinity but not others. If O’Toole and Burton were lovers in the film, it’d probably make them more likable. Without, the film just implies Burton helps O’Toole rape comely subjects, sometimes taking part, sometimes not. O’Toole, being a Norman, doesn’t look on the Saxon peasants as human beings—but, you know, does and chooses not to so he can abuse them—and Burton, the only good Saxon in all England, helps him along. See, Burton’s an amoral collaborator. Being amoral and without honor means he can collaborate with a free heart, making him a great sidekick for O’Toole, both socially and politically. The scenes where Burton debates the Church on O’Toole’s behalf—the film’s set in the 12th century, before England split from the Roman Catholic Church—are fantastic. 1160 is about the last time a bunch of ignorant White men debating each other had much purpose and it’s great material for Burton. He excels at being intellectually superior. While O’Toole excels at having fun. Unfortunately, Burton’s arc takes into spiritual superiority, which Becket avoids almost as much as it avoids whether or not Burton and O’Toole got horizontal. O’Toole goes from having funny to being a maniacal, drunken jerk… O’Toole excels at it as well; the second half of Becket is all about the response to the title character, not about the title character’s experiences.

To stop having trouble with the Church, O’Toole—and the actual, you know, King Henry II—gives Burton—Becket—the job of Archbishop of Canterbury, making him the head of the Church in England. O’Toole assumes Burton’s going to be his old self, Burton instead decides he’s got to do it legit and devout. He doesn’t so much find God—or at least not in an overt way, Becket’s not getting into that part—as he finds a moral center. Is he arguing one amoral, exploitative system against another? Sure, but he’s ignorant of the Church’s crimes while party to the State’s. It gives Burton a great part—for a while—because he can sell the heck out of holier than thou; intellectually so, then spirituality so. Shame the movie dumps him in the last third or so.

It’s obviously going to happen—the movie opens with O’Toole talking to Burton’s coffin (spoiler alert)—but when the movie shifts focus from Burton to O’Toole, while introducing nagging wife Brown and nagging mother Martita Hunt, not to mention awful royal sons, it’s clear early on we’re never really getting back to Burton. His experience—in the film named after his character—isn’t important. He goes off and does monk-y things. Even when he’s convinced of his inevitable martyrdom, it comes at the literal end. Nothing of his experience of living with it. Becket, Becket decides, is a mystery. Even if Burton was doing a perfectly good job of explaining him.

It’s like the film doesn’t want to think too hard about anything. Other than giving its stars some good scenes. It’s a historical epic, after all. Director Glenville’s pretty plain, direction-wise; when he does have a really good shot, it’s a surprise. Geoffrey Unsworth’s photography is solid, but for an epic, not a character drama. Glenville’s not directing a character drama, but the stars are acting in one. The film, based on a stage play, never feels stagy enough. Good epic music from Laurence Rosenthal. Becket’s an event instead of an achievement, leveraging Burton and O’Toole without ever facilitating them.

John Gielgud’s awesome as the King of France. Otherwise no one in the supporting cast is really up to Burton or O’Toole’s level. Definitely not Burton’s monk sidekick David Weston, who’s… fine. Fine for a not entirely unsuccessful historical epic.

Burton and O’Toole could do more with more. They do quite well with what they have but Burton getting the second-half shaft causes unsurmountable damage.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Glenville; screenplay by Edward Anhalt, based on Lucienne Hill’s translation of the play by Jean Anouilh; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by Laurence Rosenthal; production designer, John Bryan; costume designer, Margaret Furse; produced by Hal B. Wallis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Peter O’Toole (King Henry II), Richard Burton (Thomas Becket), David Weston (Brother John), Donald Wolfit (Bishop Folliot), Martita Hunt (Empress Matilda), Pamela Brown (Queen Eleanor), Siân Phillips (Gwendolen), Gino Cervi (Cardinal Zambelli), Paolo Stoppa (Pope Alexander III), and John Gielgud (King Louis VII).


High Spirits (1988, Neil Jordan)

High Spirits is another fine example of how excellent production values, earnest performances and a genial air can make even the most problem riddled film enjoyable.

The studio, infamously, took Spirits away from director Jordan in the editing and the resulting version isn’t his intention. The narrative is disjointed–characters get lost, their arcs collapse, in the case of the hotel employees… they don’t even get established.

The film has an utterly wonderful comic performance from Peter O’Toole near its center. Eventually, O’Toole has to give up the spotlight to Steve Guttenberg, who isn’t nearly as funny (or as good). Guttenberg’s generally likable, thanks to having an fire-breathing dragon of a wife (Beverly D’Angelo) and a pleasant way about him. Terrible outfit though. Spirits has great photography from Alex Thomson, a nice score from George Fenton, lovely Anton Furst production design and lame eighties costuming from Emma Porteus. Why Guttenberg’s wearing a heavy wool coat around indoors half the movie is beyond me.

Jordan’s direction is decent but not exceptional. The special effects and Thomson’s photography make the film after a certain point, especially the effects.

Besides O’Toole, the best performance might be Liam Neeson’s hilarious turn as a horny ghost. As his wife–and murder victim (not to mention Guttenberg’s romantic interest)–Daryl Hannah is good. She doesn’t have a lot to do though. D’Angelo’s on the low side of mediocre.

Regardless of Jordan’s original intent, High Spirits is often rather funny and exquisitely well-made. It’s fine.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Neil Jordan; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Michael Bradsell; music by George Fenton; production designer, Anton Furst; produced by David Saunders and Stephen Woolley; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Daryl Hannah (Mary Plunkett Brogan), Peter O’Toole (Peter Plunkett), Steve Guttenberg (Jack Crawford), Beverly D’Angelo (Sharon Brogan Crawford), Jennifer Tilly (Miranda), Liam Neeson (Martin Brogan), Peter Gallagher (Brother Tony), Ray McAnally (Plunkett Senior), Martin Ferrero (Malcolm), Connie Booth (Marge), Donal McCann (Eamon), Mary Coughlan (Katie) and Liz Smith (Mrs. Plunkett).


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Supergirl (1984, Jeannot Szwarc), the director’s cut

Supergirl never really had a chance. The Superman-inspired opening credits lack any grandeur, ditto with Jerry Goldsmith’s lame music. Goldsmith improves somewhat throughout, but the lack of a catchy theme song hurts the film.

The film has a few things going for it, however, including Helen Slater in the lead and Szwarc’s direction. A handful of scenes are quite good, hinting at what a better script might have been able to embrace. Unfortunately, David Odell’s script is moronic. He doesn’t just give Supergirl a dumb villain (Faye Dunaway must have been really desperate for work), he doesn’t even give Slater a story arc. There are hints at one–when Slater gets to Earth, she’s finally smarter. The opening (with Mia Farrow and Simon Ward looking embarrassed as Slater’s parents) suggest she’s kind of slow, or at least unfocused.

The trip to Earth, the film can’t help but implying, matures her.

There are also some excellent special effects. Even when the effects don’t work, it isn’t because they’re not competent, it’s because it’s a dumb idea. Dunaway’s an evil witch. It’s a flying superhero versus a witch. There isn’t a lot of room for good action set pieces with that scenario.

Other than Slater, the best performance is probably Hart Bochner as her love interest. He’s not good, just not terrible. I suppose Peter Cook is only embarrassing himself, not bad. Brenda Vaccaro, Jeff to Dunaway’s Mutt, is atrocious.

Slater’s performance deserves a better film. It’s unfortunate Supergirl doesn’t deliver.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; screenplay by David Odell, based on a character created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Malcolm Cooke; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Timothy Burrill; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Helen Slater (Kara), Faye Dunaway (Selena), Hart Bochner (Ethan), Brenda Vaccaro (Bianca), Maureen Teefy (Lucy Lane), Peter Cook (Nigel), Simon Ward (Zor-El), Mia Farrow (Alura), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), David Healy (Mr. Danvers) and Peter O’Toole (Zaltar).


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The Stunt Man (1980, Richard Rush)

The Stunt Man opens with an exquisitely interconnected sequence, introducing all of the principals–Peter O’Toole, Barbara Hershey and Steve Railsback–while concentrating on Railsback. Hershey’s introduction, which turns out to be the first of director Rush’s muddling of reality, manages to be both blatant and muted. I wonder how it plays on someone’s first viewing of the film (this time is my third or fourth). This opening sequence plays up the film’s almost screwball comedy–something Dominic Frontiere’s score makes possible.

But the film isn’t actually a screwball comedy. It’s a film about films, where there’s a blur in the difference between the two, whether it’s Rush cutting from an actual, practical effect sequence to a movie-in-movie shot or Railsback’s vet on the run meeting and falling in love with his dream girl, Hershey’s successful Hollywood actress. The Stunt Man practically begs for an intense analysis, since all three of the main characters are incredibly complex, but also Rush’s approach to telling their rather singular stories.

I hadn’t noticed before–probably because the first one or two viewings were at a young age and the last time I saw it, I was more concentrated on seeing it OAR for the first time–but O’Toole’s character is never explained. There are barely any hints at it. On one hand, he’s a megalomaniac film director who manipulates everyone around him for the best filmed result, but then there’s the exceptionally complicated relationship with Railsback’s vet. It occasionally starts to make sense, then almost immediately stops, with O’Toole, or the film, providing a contrary reason. Trying to make sense of it all–while Rush is busy filling the film with these big set pieces–puts the viewer on the same unsteady ground Railsback spends the entire film traversing.

Railsback–who never really had a major role after this one, never even had a role in a respectable production again from my perusal of his filmography–is outstanding. He’s got to be the lead with O’Toole around and O’Toole’s performance here is one of his best. It’s a catered career best performance–and one of the few I can think of where the actor exceeds the expectations. O’Toole has a great time with the role, but part of The Stunt Man‘s beauty is how it gets away from everyone involved. I’m not sure Rush and company knew they were going to make such a singular motion picture.

Barbara Hershey doesn’t get the film’s hardest role–Railsback has a couple gut-wrenching monologues where he asserts himself as the lead in spite of O’Toole’s glister–but where Railsback has so much to accomplish through dialogue, Hershey instead has to do it all quiet. She’s got Rush and Frontiere constructing the perfect arena for these physical expressions and they’re amazing. Rush doesn’t just know how to shoot her, Hershey knows how to act in his shots.

With the emphasis on stunts–not to mention the Vietnam connection (comparing this nearly unknown film to something more well-known and popular, like First Blood, is painful)--The Stunt Man becomes less and less accessible to audiences with each year. The film’s enthralled with the magic of filmmaking, the bottled wonderment; it’s also responsible for its contents–the Vietnam details are never cotton candy–and then there’s that screwball tone. It’s a difficult film to describe and should be seen instead. It hasn’t been, however, and the viewership isn’t going to go up and that state’s a bad thing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Richard Rush; screenplay by Lawrence B. Marcus, adaptation by Rush, based on a novel by Paul Brodeur; director of photography, Mario Tosi; edited by Caroline Biggerstaff and Jack Hofstra; music by Dominic Frontiere; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Peter O’Toole (Eli Cross), Steve Railsback (Cameron), Barbara Hershey (Nina Franklin), Allen Garfield (Sam), Alex Rocco (Police Chief Jake), Sharon Farrell (Denise), Adam Roarke (Raymond Bailey), Philip Bruns (Ace), Charles Bail (Chuck Barton) and John Garwood (Gabe).


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