Fools (1970, directed by Tom Gries)


What the Hell, 1970?

In this self-conciously hip and with-it portrait of life in San Francisco at the tail end of the hippie era, Jason Robards plays Matthew South, a veteran B-movie actor who is fed up with everyday life and who is prone to long monologues about how the machines are taking over.  (Just imagine how Matthew would feel about the world today.)  When Matthew gets into an argument with two people in a park, Anais Appleton (Katharine Ross) comes to his rescue and soon, they’re in the middle of a falling in love montage.  Actually, there are several falling in love montages and they’re almost all scored by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.  It’s easy listening with a hippie tinge.

Fools follows Matthew and Anais as they wander around San Francisco and have several strange encounters, none of which make much sense.  For instance, there’s a scene where two FBI agents suddenly burst into the room and then admit that they’re at the wrong address.  Why is that scene there?  What does it mean?  Later, Matthew and Anais go to a dentist and they listen to a patient try to seduce her psychiatrist (who is played by Mako).  Why is that scene there?  What does any of it mean?  Everywhere that Matthew and Anais go, they see evidence that society is dumb and that the answer to all life’s problems is a love song from Kenny Rogers.  Matthew never stops talking and Anais never stops looking pretty (she’s Katharine Ross after all) but neither ever becomes a strong enough character to ground Fools in any sort of reality.  It’s a movie that preaches nonconformity while so closely imitating A Thousand Clowns and Petulia that the entire thing feels like plagiarism.

Anais has a husband, an emotionally distant lawyer named David (Scott Hylands).  David isn’t prepared to let Anais leave him, no matter how tired she is of their marriage.  He hires a detective to follow Anais around.  It all leads to an act of violence that doesn’t fit the mood of anything that’s happened before.  Cue another falling love montage before the end credits role.

Fools is one of those films that probably would never have been made without the success of Easy Rider.  Everyone wanted a piece of the counterculture in 1970 and Fools tries so hard that it’s painful to watch.  Of course, neither Matthew nor Anais are really hippies.  They do eventually come across some hippies playacting in the street.  One of them is played by future David Lynch mainstay Jack Nance so that’s pretty cool.  Otherwise, Fools deserves to stay in 1970.

 

Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969, directed by Abraham Polonsky)


In 1908, a Paiute Indian named Willie (Robert Blake) has fallen in love with a white woman named Lola (Katharine Ross).  After Lola’s father discovers Willie and Lola together, Willie shoots him.  Willie claims that the shooting was in self-defense while the white citizens of California insist that it was cold-blooded murder, motivated by a tribal custom that would allow Willie to claim Lola as his wife upon the death of her father.  Willie and Lola go on the run, trying to escape through the Morongo Valley.

Because President Taft is scheduled to make a trip to the area, the locals are eager for Willie Boy to either be captured or killed.  Several posses form, all intent on tracking Willie down.  A humane deputy sheriff named Cooper (Robert Redford) reluctantly leads the search for Willie.  Cooper’s occasional lover is a school teacher named Elizabeth (Susan Clark) who insists that Cooper rescue Lola from Willie.  The only problem is that Lola doesn’t want to be rescued and Willie would rather die than surrender to the white men.

Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here is one of those revisionist westerns that were all the rage in the late 60s and the early 70s.  (The same year that he led a posse in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, Robert Redford also tried to outrun a posse in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.Willie Boy gets off to a good start, showing how Willie has to spend almost every hour of the day dealing with prejudice and racism.  The film does a good job of showing that even “liberal” whites, like Elizabeth, are capable of being prejudiced.  There are hints that Cooper and Willie share a mutual respect and both Blake and Redford do a good job portraying the weary respect that the lawman and the outlaw have for each other.

Things start to fall apart when Willie shoots Lola’s father.  The scene is shot so confusingly that it’s hard to know what exactly happened and it feels like a cop out.  Rather than definitely saying whether Willie had no choice but to shoot Lola’s father or that Willie intentionally committed murder, the scene tries to have it both ways and it doesn’t work.  Once the chase begins, the movie is equally split between Cooper and the posse and Willie and Lola and the end result is that the two main characters end up getting short changed.

Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here was directed by Abraham Polonsky, a screenwriter who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.  While this is definitely a film made from a left-wing perspective, its actual message still feels muddled.  Willie is the driving force behind the plot but the film seems to be more interested in the less intriguing Cooper.  The film ends on a note of ambiguity, which perhaps felt daring in 1969 but today, just feels like another cop out.  Despite a great performance from Blake and a better-than-usual one from Redford, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here is an unfortunate misfire.

Embracing The Melodrama Part III #6: The Betsy (dir by Daniel Petrie)


“Wheeeeeeee!”

— Loren Hardeman Sr. (Sir Laurence Olivier) in The Betsy (1978)

Here’s a little thought experiment:

Imagine if The Godfather had starred Laurence Olivier and Tommy Lee Jones.

That may sound strange but it actually could have happened.  When Francis Ford Coppola first started his search for the perfect actor to play Don Vito Corleone, he announced that he could only imagine two actors pulling off the role.  One was Marlon Brando and the other was Laurence Olivier.

As for Tommy Lee Jones, he was among the many actors who auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone.  At the time, Jones was 26 years old and had only recently made his film debut in Love Story.  As odd as it may be to imagine the quintessentially Texan Tommy Lee Jones in the role, Coppola always said that he was looking for a brooder as Michael and that’s definitely a good description of Jones.

Of course, as we all know, neither Olivier nor Jones were ever cast in The Godfather.  Marlon Brando played Don Vito and Al Pacino was cast as Michael.  However, a few years later, Olivier and Jones would co-star in another family saga that combined history, organized crime, and melodrama.  That film was 1978’s The Betsy and, interestingly enough, it even co-starred an actor who actually did appear in The Godfather, Robert Duvall.

Of course, now would probably be a good time to point out that The Godfather is perhaps the greatest American film of all time.  And The Betsy … well, The Betsy most definitely is not.

The film’s German poster even gives off a Godfather vibe

Based on a novel by Harold Robbins, The Betsy exposes the secrets of Detroit.  Decades ago, Loren Hardeman founded Hardeman Motors and started to build his considerable fortune.  Sure, Loren had to break a few rules.  He cut corners.  He acted unethically.  He had an affair with his daughter-in-law and then drove his gay son to suicide.  Loren never said that he was perfect.  Now in his 80s, Loren has a vision of the future and that vision is a new car.  This car will be called the Betsy (named after his great-granddaughter) and it will be the most fuel-efficient car ever made.

Since the film appropriates the flashback structure used in The Godfather Part II, we get to see Loren Hardeman as both an elderly man and a middle-aged titan of industry.  Elderly Loren is played by Laurence Olivier.  Elderly Loren spends most of the film in a wheelchair and he speaks with a bizarre accent, one that I think was meant to be Southern despite the fact that the film takes place in Michigan.  Elderly Loren gets really excited about building his new car and, at one point, shouts out “Wheeeeeee!”

Middle-aged Loren is played by … Laurence Olivier!  That’s right.  Olivier, who was 71 years old at the time, also plays Loren as a younger man.  This means that Olivier wears a hairpiece and so much makeup that he looks a bit like a wax figure come to life.  Strangely, Middle-aged Loren doesn’t have a strange accent and never says “wheeeee.”

To build his car, Loren recruits race car driver Angelo Perino (Tommy Lee Jones).  Angelo’s father was an old friend of Loren’s.  When Angelo agrees, he discovers that the Hardeman family is full of drama and secrets.  Not only is great-granddaughter Betsy (Kathleen Beller) in love with him but so is Lady Bobby Ayers (Lesley-Anne Down), who is the mistress of Loren’s grandson, Loren the 3rd (Robert Duvall).

Because he blames his grandfather for the death of his father, Loren the 3rd has no intention of building Loren the 1st’s car.  Loren the 3rd wants to continue to make cars that pollute the environment.  “Over my dead boy!” Loren the 1st replies.  “As you wish, grandfather,” Loren the 3rd replies with a smile.

But we’re not done yet!  I haven’t even talked about the Mafia and the union organizers and the automotive journalist who ends up getting murdered.  From the minute the movie starts, it’s nonstop drama.  That said, most of the drama is so overdone that it’s actually more humorous than anything else.  As soon as Laurence Olivier shouts out, “Wheeeee!,” The Betsy falls into the trap of self-parody and it never quite escapes.  There’s a lot going on in the movie and one could imagine a more imaginative director turning the trashy script into a critique of capitalism and technology.  However, Daniel Petrie directs in a style that basically seems to be saying, “Let’s just get this over with.”

The cast is full of interesting people, all of whom are let down by a superficial script.  Nothing brings out the eccentricity in talented performers quicker than a line of shallow dialogue.  Jane Alexander, who plays Duvall’s wife, delivers all of her lines in an arch, upper class accent.  Edward Herrmann, playing a lawyer, smirks every time the camera is pointed at him.  Katharine Ross, as Olivier’s mistress and Duvall’s mother, stares at Olivier like she’s trying to make his head explode.  Tommy Lee Jones is even more laconic than usual while Duvall always seems to be struggling not to start laughing.

And then there’s Olivier.  For better or worse, Olivier is the most entertaining thing about The Betsy.  He doesn’t give a good performance but he does give a memorably weird one.  Everything, from the incomprehensible accent to a few scenes where he literally seems to bounce up and down, suggests a great actor who is desperately trying to bring a spark of life to an otherwise doomed project.  It’s a performance so strange that it simply has to be seen to be believed.

Tomorrow, we take a look at another melodrama featuring Robert Duvall, True Confessions!

 

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: The Hero (dir by Brett Haley)


It’s too bad that The Hero didn’t get that much attention when it originally released because, towards the end of the film, Sam Elliott has a scene that features some of the best cinematic acting that I’ve ever seen.

I’m not going to spoil the scene, because I think you should experience it for yourself.  I’ll just say that it’s a scene that will take you totally by surprise and force you to reconsider everything that you had previously assumed about both the film and the lead character.  I’m not ashamed to say that the scene brought tears to my mismatched eyes.  When you hear Elliott say, “I’ve wasted your time,” it will bring tears to your eyes too.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that scene.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a character study of an actor.  Sam Elliott plays Lee Hayden, who we’re told was one of the top actors in the world in the 70s.  He specialized in westerns, films and TV shows in which he always played the hero.  Of course, that was a while ago.  Lee is 70 years old now and both westerns and heroes are out of date.  At this point, Lee’s only steady work comes from doing the voice over for a series of steak commercials.  He spends most of his time smoking weed with his best friend, Jeremy (Nick Offerman).

It’s not a bad life though Lee certainly has his regrets.  For instance, he hasn’t always been the best father.  His daughter (Krysten Ritter) doesn’t seem to want much to do with him.  He misses acting.  As is made clear in the film’s opening scene, doing 6 different takes for a commercial voice over isn’t exactly the most challenging or rewarding way for a former star to spend his semi-retirement.  But he has his one friend and he has marijuana and what else does he need?

But then one day, Lee is told that he might have cancer.  He might be dying.  Lee starts to think about his life and his legacy.  He tries to reconnect with his daughter.  He accepts a lifetime achievement award from the Western Hall of Fame and, just when you think both the film and Lee are about to get snarky, they surprise you by treating the award and Lee’s aging fans with a poignant respect.  Lee also pursues a relationship with a much younger stand-up comedienne (Laura Prepon) and while I did arch an eyebrow at the huge age difference between them, the film itself actually addresses the issue in an unexpected way.

It’s not the most tightly constructed film.  Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler was an obvious influence but The Hero never quite matches that film’s fatalistic glory.  But no matter!  The Hero is mostly about celebrating Sam Elliott, an underrated actor who shows that, much like Lee, he’s capable of much more than most viewers assume.  Elliott gives a poignant, wonderfully human performance as a flawed man who still deserves to be known as The Hero.

A Movie A Day #75: Wanted: The Sundance Woman (1976, directed by Lee Philips)


This made-for-TV sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid opens several years after the death of Butch and Sundance in Bolivia.  Etta Pace (Katharine Ross, reprising her role from the original film) is now a wanted woman.  Hiding out in Arizona, she does her best to keep a low profile.  But when Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo (Steve Forrest) comes to town and one of Etta’s friends (Michael Constantine) is arrested, Etta knows that she’s going to need help to survive.  Crossing the border into Mexico, she teams up with revolutionary Pancho Vila (Hector Elizondo).  In return for helping him get his hands on a shipment of guns, Vila agrees to protect Etta.

Wanted: The Sundance Woman was ABC’s second pilot for a possible television series about Etta Pace’s adventures at the turn of the century.  The first pilot starred Elizabeth Montgomery as Etta and directly dealt with Etta’s attempts to come to terms with the death of Butch and Sundance.  While Katharine Ross returned to the role for the second pilot, Wanted: The Sundance Woman does not actually have much of a connection to Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.  Katharine Ross could have just as easily been playing Etta Smith as Etta Pace.

Wanted: The Sundance Woman is held back by its origins as a TV movie and a rather silly romance between Etta and Pancho Vila.  Hector Elizondo is hardly convincing as a fiery revolutionary and Steve Forrest is reliably dull as Siringo.  It is not really surprising that this pilot didn’t lead to a weekly series.  On the positive side, the film does feature an exciting train robbery and Katharine Ross is just as good in this sequel as she was in the original.  Even though she was talented, beautiful, and had important roles in two of the most successful films of the 60s (The Graduate and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Hollywood never seemed to know what do with Katharine Ross.  While she did have a starring role in The Stepford Wives, Katharine Ross spent most of the 70s appearing in stuff like The Swarm, They Only Kill Their Masters, and The Betsy.  It’s unfortunate that Hollywood apparently did not want Katharine Ross as much Pancho Vila wanted the Sundance Woman.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (dir by George Roy Hill)


Butch_sundance_poster

Should I start this post by ticking everyone off or should I start out by reviewing the 1969 best picture nominee Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid?

Let’s do the review first.  I recently watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when it aired as a part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar.  This was actually my third time to see the film on TCM.  And, as I watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for the third time, I was shocked to discover how much I had forgotten about the film.

Don’t get me wrong.  I remembered that it was a western and that it starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford as real-life outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  I remembered that it opened and ended with sepia-toned sequences that suggested that Butch and Sundance represented the last gasp of the old west.  I remembered that Butch won a fight by kicking a man in the balls.  I also remembered that they robbed the same train twice and, the second time, they accidentally used too much dynamite.  I remembered that, for some reason, Butch spent a lot of time riding around on a bicycle.  I remembered that Butch and Sundance ended up getting chased by a mysterious posse.  I remembered that Sundance could not swim.  And I remembered that the film eventually ended on a tragic note in South America…

And I know what you’re saying.  You’re saying, “It sounds like you remembered the whole movie, Lisa!”

No, actually I did not.  The thing with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is that the scenes that work are so memorable that it’s easy to forget that there’s also a lot of scenes that aren’t as memorable.  These are the scenes where the film drags and you’re thankful that Paul Newman and Robert Redford were cast as Butch and Sundance, because their charisma helps you overlook a lot of scenes that are either too heavy-handed or which drag on for too long.  You’re especially thankful for Newman, who plays every scene with a twinkle in his wonderful blue eyes and who is such a lively presence that it makes up for the fact that Redford’s performance occasionally crosses over from being stoic to wooden.  It can be argued that there’s no logical reason for a western to feature an outlaw riding around on a bicycle while Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head plays on the soundtrack but Paul Newman’s so much fun to watch that you can forgive the film.

Newman and Redford both have so much chemistry that they’re always a joy to watch.  And really, that’s the whole appeal of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the chance to watch two iconic actors have fun playing opposite each other.  Even though Katharine Ross appears as their shared romantic interest, the film’s love story is ultimately between Butch and Sundance (and, by extension, Newman and Redford).  You can find countless reviews that will give all the credit for the film’s appeal to William Goldman’s screenplay.  (You can also find countless self-satisfied essays by William Goldman where he does the exact same thing.)  But, honestly, the film’s screenplay is nothing special.  This film works because of good, old-fashioned star power.

Now, for the part that’ll probably tick everyone off (heh heh), I think that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is actually a pretty good pick for a future remake.  All you have to do is pick the right actors for Butch and Sundance.  I’m thinking Chris Pratt as Butch and Chris Evans as Sundance…

Oh, c’mon!  It’ll be great!

44 Days of Paranoia #33: The Stepford Wives (dir by Bryan Forbes)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, let’s take a look at the sci-fi social satire, The Stepford Wives.

Now, don’t panic.  I’m not talking about that terrible Nicole Kidman comedy that came out in 2004.  No, I’m talking about the original Stepford Wives.  This film originally came out in 1975.  I recently saw it on TCM and I was shocked to discover that, despite the fact that the film is undeniably dated in that fascinatingly weird way that most films from the 70s are, The Stepford Wives holds up rather well.

Joanna (Katharine Ross) and her husband, Walter (Peter Masteron) leave dangerous New York City and move to the idyllic suburb of Stepford, Connecticut.  Walter is immediately invited to join the exclusive Stepford Men’s Association but Joanna finds it far more difficult to fit in with the citizens of Stepford.  As Joanna discovers, all of the women of Stepford are oddly submissive and obsessively domestic.  When Joanna and her friend Bobbie (Paula Prentiss) attempt to hold a consciousness raising meeting, they quickly discover that the other women of Stepford would rather talk about cleaning products than women’s lib.

The more that Joanna investigates the social structure of Stepford, the more convinced she becomes that something sinister is being done to keep the Stepford Wives from desiring a life outside of pleasing their husbands.  The more disturbed Joanna is by Stepford, the more Walter loves it…

One of the many reasons why I love my boyfriend is because he knows that I’m not perfect.  He knows that I’m often a neurotic mess.  He knows that I’m just as obsessively insecure about my big nose as I’m obsessively vain about my red hair.  He knows that I tend to take on too much and that I get defensive whenever I’m told that I need to slow down.  He knows that I can be emotional and silly.  He also knows how much I value my independence.  He’s knows that I need to have a life of my own and, instead of being threatened, he has always been there to encourage me, to cheer for me when things go right and to hold me when things go wrong and, most importantly, to never judge me regardless of whether I succeed or fail.  He knows that I’m not perfect and that I’ll never be perfect and he loves me anyway.

That hasn’t always been the case with some of the guys that I’ve gone out with in the past.  For the longest time, I always thought I was the only girl who had a hundred men trying to change her but I’ve discovered that my experiences were hardly unique.  All of my friends have stories about men who have tried to change them.  There seems to be something inherent in the mentality of many men that leads them to assume that they can make any woman into a robot.

Perhaps that’s why The Stepford Wives resonated with me.  Most husbands may not be able to literally turn their wives into robots but it’s certainly not for lack of trying.  The Stepford Wives is a flawed film — the pace often drags and the performances are uneven — but it’s one that rings true for many women.

(And don’t worry, boys!  The men in this film are such pigs that there’s no way you won’t look better by comparison.)

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge