Film Review: Boom! (dir by Joseph Losey)


“Boom!” says poet Chris Flanders (Richard Burton) in the 1968 film of the same name. Boom, he goes on the explain, is the sound of life being lived. Every minute that we’re reminded that we’re still alive is a “Boom!” It’s the type of thing that 18 year-old artists say to get laid, though the film treats Chris’s comment with an almost supernatural reverence.

Chris has just shown up on an island that’s owned by Flora Goforth (Elizabeth Taylor), who is the richest woman in the world and who is apparently dying of one of those diseases that makes you lie in bed and yell a lot. Flora lives on the island with an entourage that includes a secretary named Miss Black (Joanna Shimkus) and a head of security named Rudi (Michael Dunn). Rudi is a dwarf and he dresses like a Nazi and often does a stiff-armed salute, just in case we missed the fact that he’s supposed to be a fascist. Why exactly Flora, who were supposed to sympathize with, would employ a Nazi, we never really find out. The film seems to think that there’s something extremely daring about casting a person of short statue as the head of Flora’s security though, ultimately, it’s about as profound as uttering “Boom!” every few minutes.

Anyway, Flora is dying but she’s also dictating her autobiography. It turns out that she’s rich because she married a lot of wealthy men, all of whom died and left her all of their money. Flora’s always in a bad mood but things improve a little when Chris mysteriously shows up on the island and starts saying, “Boom!” all the time. Flora and Chris have several conversations about life and the meaning of it all, the majority of which are full of obscure statements and half-baked attempts at being profound. The dialogue is pretentious but it’s also not very memorable, which is a shame. One can survive being pretentious but being forgettable is simply unforgivable.

Eventually, a friend of Flora’s shows up. Famed playwright Noel Coward plays The Witch of Capri, a flamboyant friend to the rich and famous. He loves to gossip and has a bitchy comment for every occasion. One could argue that Coward is merely playing himself, though one imagines that the real-life Coward could have also come up with a few genuinely witty lines. The Witch informs Flora that Chris has a habit of showing up at the bedside of rich women right before they die. Some people think that Chris is a gigolo while others believe Chris to be …. THE ANGEL OF DEATH!

(Dramatic music)

Which is it? Don’t worry, the answer is revealed by the end of the movie. Of course, it takes a while to get to the end. Boom! is two hours long but it feels much longer. Storywise, Boom! feels like it would be ideal as a 30-minute episode of some old anthology show but director Joseph Losey keeps the story moving at a very slow pace and there are so many dramatic pauses and unnecessary zoom shots that the film itself becomes a bit of an endurance test. Just when you think the movie is finally going to get moving, Chris says, “Boom!” or there’s an extreme close-up of Flora’s ring and everything slows down again.

Boom! is one of the many films that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made together in the 60s. Unfortunately, both actors are miscast in the lead roles. Flora is described as being old and sickly. Elizabeth Taylor was in her 30s and appeared to be in robust health during the shooting of the film. Chris Flanders is supposed to be in his 20s and a seeker of truth and enlightenment. Burton was in his 40s and looked like he was in his 60s. He spends most of the film looking and sounding as if he’s just come off a weekend bender, which makes him look all the more ludicrous when he hears the ocean and says, “Boom!”

On the plus side, the film is lovely to look at. Flora’s house is big and beautiful. The island scenery is gorgeous. Flora’s costumes are ludicrously ornate but still, they are what you would want to see an international movie star wearing in 1968. As such, the film is always nice to look at. In fact, perhaps the best way to watch Boom! is to turn down the sound so you don’t have to listen to any of the dialogue.

Boom! was based on a Tennessee Williams’s play called The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. The filmmakers decided to change the name to Boom! and I really can’t blame them for that. This was Elizabeth Taylor’s third film to be based on a Tennessee Williams play. Unfortunately, it matched neither the critical nor the commercial success of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof or Suddenly, Last Summer.

Boom!

Cleaning Out The DVR: The Comedians (dir by Peter Glenville)


Not to be mistaken for the Taylor Hackford-directed, Robert De Niro-starring disaster from a few years back, The Comedians is a film from 1967 that follows several different people as they attempt to survive day-to-day life in Haiti, back when Haiti was ruled by the dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier.

Richard Burton stars Mr. Brown (Richard Burton), a deeply cynical and world-weary Englishman who owns what passes for a luxury hotel in Haiti.  Though Mr. Brown hopes to be able to sell the hotel and get out of Haiti, he is also having an affair with Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), the German wife of Pineda (Peter Ustinov), the ambassador from Uruguay.  Mr. Brown tries to avoid politics, which it turns out is not easy to do when you’re living under a murderous regime.

Complicating Mr. Brown’s life is Major Jones (Alec Guinness), a retired British army officer who has come to Haiti to do business but who is promptly imprisoned when it’s discovered that he was invited to come to the island by a minister who was subsequently declared to be an enemy of the state.  The fascist Captain Concasseur (Raymond St. Jacques) arrests Major Jones and Mr. Brown takes it upon himself to try to get Jones released.  Unfortunately, Major Jones doesn’t quite understand how serious his situation is and he’s convinced the Haitians that he’s not only a brilliant military leader but that he can also arrange for them to receive a cache of weapons, which he claims he has hidden in a Miami warehouse.

Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Paul Ford and Lillian Gish) have also arrived on the island, hoping to set up a vegetarian center in Haiti.  (Mr. Smith even once ran for President of the U.S. as the candidate of the Vegetarian Party.)  In many ways, Mr. and Mrs. Smith serve as a stand-in for clueless American activists, obsessing over minor issues while ignoring the larger problems that are right in front of their faces.

From the start, The Comedians establishes Haiti as being a dangerous place, a country where the people live in fear of the brutal police and where the poor struggle to survive day-to-day while their rulers live a life of luxury.  It’s a place where political dissidents regularly disappear, though the police aren’t above murdering people in public as well.  It’s a country where the State rules supreme, controlling the citizens through both fear and a fierce cult of personality.  Rebels like Dr. Magiot (James Earl Jones) only want the country to be free but they know that, as long superpowers like America are supporting the regime, there’s little that the rebels can realistically hope to accomplish.

A major theme running through The Comedians is that the real suffering of the Haitian people is often overshadowed by the strategic concerns of the United States.  Unfortunately, pretty much the same thing happens within the film itself.  While there’s several black actors in supporting roles, the story focuses on the white characters and, as a result, it sometimes feels like the film’s message is less about the people being oppressed and more about how unfortunate it is that people like Brown, Jones, and the Smiths are being inconvenienced by it all.  Like many similarly well-intentioned political films from the late 60s, The Comedians get so bogged down in all of the personal dramas that it loses sight of what’s actually the important part of the story.  The film is often seems more interested in Brown and Martha’s affair than in the conditions that would lead to people like Dr. Magiot risking their lives to bring about change.

For the most part, it’s a well-acted film.  Richard Burton’s natural self-loathing is put to good use and Alec Guinness has a few poignant scenes as a pathological liar who doesn’t realize how much trouble he’s actually in until it’s too late.  (Guinness also has a scene where he wears blackface and pretends to be Burton’s maid.  He does this in order to escape from the secret police and the film doesn’t treat it as being a joke but it’s still rather cringey to watch.)  Elizabeth Taylor is miscast as Martha and her German accent comes and goes but Paul Ford and Lillian Gish do a good job playing clueless Americans.  Perhaps the film’s strongest performance comes from Zakes Mokae, who doesn’t say much as a member of the secret police but who exudes menace every time that he’s on screen.  Still, as well acted at it may be, the film is slowly paced and always seem hesitant about taking any position beyond a general sense that dictatorships are bad.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with reminding people that dictatorships are bad.  That’s especially an important message today.  The past few years have left me convinced that a lot of people secretly yearn for a dictatorship and would be willing to trade their freedoms for a false sense of security.  Though the film may struggle dramatically, it’s still works as a warning about what true authoritarianism actually is.

 

Cleaning Out The DVR: The Sandpiper (dir by Vincente Minnelli)


I recorded The Sandpiper that last time that it aired on TCM.  This 1965 film is one of the many films that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made together after they fell in love during the making of Cleopatra.  And while it’s true that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won Taylor an Oscar and probably should have won one for Burton as well, the majority of the Taylor/Burton films were overproduced melodramas that often seemed as if they’d been rushed into production in order to capitalize on the couple’s tabloid popularity.  Unfortunately, Virginia Woolf aside, neither Taylor nor Burton seemed to bring out the best in each other as actors.

The Sandpiper finds Taylor playing Laura Reynolds, an artist who lives in a California beach house with her young son, Danny (Morgan Mason).  Laura is a free spirit who believes that everyone, including her son, should have the freedom to make their own choices.  She is resistant to any and all authority.  She’s a bohemian, a rebel, the type who doesn’t care what society has to say and who flaunts her refusal to follow the dictates of respectability.  Good for her!  However, she’s also Elizabeth Taylor, which means that she’s impossibly glamorous and even her “cluttered” beach house looks like it’s a hundred times more expensive than anything that anyone viewing the film will ever be able to afford.  Though Taylor tries hard, there’s nothing convincingly bohemian about her.

Richard Burton plays Dr. Edward Hewitt, who runs the nearby Episcopal school.  Dr. Hewitt is not a free spirit.  Instead, he and his wife, Claire (Eva Marie Saint), very much believe in structure and playing by the rules.  They believe in a traditional education and, when a judge orders Danny to be enrolled at their school, that’s what Hewitt plans to give him.  This, of course, brings Hewitt into conflict with Laura.  Both of them have differing ways of looking at the world and Laura is not a fan of religion in general.  However, since they’re played by Burton and Taylor, they’re destined to fall in love and have a scandalous affair.

Dr. Hewitt is one of the many religious figures that Burton played throughout his career.  In fact, Burton played so many alcoholic priests that I spent most of the movie assuming that Hewitt was an alcoholic as well.  However, he’s not.  He’s just Episcopalian.  That said, Burton delivers every line of dialogue in his trademark “great actor” voice and every minute that he’s onscreen just seems to be full of self-loathing.  Even before he cheats on his wife, Hewitt seems to hate himself.  Of course, once Burton does start cheating on his wife, it only gets worse.  The film presents Hewitt as being something of a hesitant participant, someone who knows that he’s doing the wrong thing but he simply cannot stop himself.  Laura, meanwhile, is presented as being someone who is fully willing to break up a marriage to get what she wants.  One gets the feeling that 1965 audiences probably just assumed they were watching the true story of how Taylor and Burton fell in love during the making the Cleopatra.  That said, it’s all pretty tame.  Just like Taylor, director Vincente Minnelli was too much of a product of the old Hollywood to truly embrace this story for all of its sordid potential.

If you’ve ever wanted to watch Charles Bronson debate religion with Richard Burton, this is the film for you.  Bronson plays a sculptor and an atheist who upsets Hewitt by calling him “reverend.”  Bronson is actually more convincing in the film than either Burton or Taylor, bringing a rough authenticity to his role.  Whereas Burton and Taylor both seem to be going through the motions, Bronson comes across as if he actually has a personal stake in the film’s story.  It’s not enough to save the movie, of course.  Fortunately, a year later, Liz and Dick would be used to better effect in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 

Cleaning Out The DVR: The V.I.P.s (dir by Anthony Asquith)


The 1963 film, The V.I.P.s, is about a group of very important people who have all shown at Heathrow Airport at the same time, all in an effort to get the Hell out of England.  They’ve all got their own individual reasons for wanting to leave the country but the important thing is that they all want to leave.  Unfortunately, a fog has rolled onto the runway and the plane can’t take off.  Because this film was made in 1963, all the passengers are allowed to leave the plane and wait, overnight, in a hotel.

Among the Very Important People:

Flamboyant film producer Max Buda (Orson Welles, playing a version of himself) needs to leave London before he receives a gigantic tax bill.  Accompanying him is his latest discovery, Gloria Gritti (Elsa Martinelli).  Max is the type who does things like barging into the plane’s cockpit and demanding to know why the pilots aren’t willing to risk crashing the plane.  That may sound self-centered on Max’s part but Welles is such a charmer that you forgive him.  Add to that, he’s trying to avoid paying taxes and that’s something that I can definitely get behind.

The Duchess of Brighton (Margaret Rutherford) is an eccentric but impoverished noblewoman who is going to lose her home if she doesn’t fly to Florida and take on a somewhat demeaning job.  The Duchess is the type who struggles to find room in the overhead compartment for her ludicrous oversized hatbox.  She’s never really been out in the real world before.  Margaret Rutherford won an Oscar for her performance, which is occasionally amusing but never particularly subtle.  (Have you seen Airport?  Rutherford has the Helen Hayes role, basically.)

Lee Mangrum (Rod Taylor) is a businessman who is on the verge of losing his business.  Miss Mead (Maggie Smith) is his secretary.  Miss Mead is secretly in love with Lee, who somehow hasn’t noticed.  We’re supposed to sympathize with Lee but he’s so incredibly clueless that it’s hard not to feel that Miss Mead could do better.

Finally, we have Frances Andros (Elizabeth Taylor).  Frances is one of the most popular film stars in the world.  She’s married to Paul Andros (Richard Burton), who is very wealthy and who, like most Burton characters, is also very moody.  Frances has decided to leave Paul and go to America with her lover, Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan).  However, the fog gives Paul a chance to come to the airport and try to talk Frances out of leaving him.

Make no mistake about it, Liz Taylor and Burton are the main attraction here.  Welles, Rod Taylor, Rutherford, and Smith all get plenty of scenes but it’s obvious that the people behind The V.I.P.s understood that most of the audience would be there to watch Liz and Burton acting opposite each other.  This was, I think, the first film that they made together after falling in love on the set of Cleopatra.  Due to Cleopatra’s legendarily difficult production, it was released around the same time as The V.I.P.s, despite going into production years before the latter film.  Audiences could go watch Liz and Dick fall in love in Cleopatra and then head over to a different theater and watch the two of them fight in The V.I.Ps.  Elizabeth Taylor may be playing Frances Andros and Richard Burton may be playing Paul Andros but they really might as well be playing themselves.

The V.I.P.s is a big and glossy film, the type of movie that the Hollywood studios used to make as their way of saying, “See!  You won’t get this on TV!”  It’s frequently silly but it’s also undeniably watchable.  While Burton and Taylor’s later films tended to feature the two of them at their worst, they’re both actually really good in The V.I.P.s and the scenes where they argue have an emotional heft to them that, with the exception of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woof?, wasn’t found in their other films.  For once, you watch the film and you really do hope that Liz and Dick will work things out and stay together.  The V.I.P.s may be dated (just try to chase someone through an airport or get off a delayed flight now) but it’s still entertaining.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (dir by Mike Nichols)


I’ve starred in a production of Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

That’s right.  I’ve played Martha, the heavy-drinking and dissatisfied wife of a burned-out English professor named George.  Yes, I’ve played the same role for which Uta Hagen won a Tony and Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar.  Among the other actresses that have played Martha on stage: Colleen Dewhurst, Meg Tilly, Diana Rigg, and Kathleen Turner.  And, of course, me.

Now, I should admit that I was only 16 when I played Martha so I was perhaps a bit too young for the role.  Fortunately, my friend Erik — who played George — was only a year and a half older so he was just as miscast as I was.  (It was, at one point, suggested that I should try to put some gray in my hair but I pointed out that, as a redhead, I would never have to worry about that.)  On Broadway and film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs for over two hours.  The production in which I starred only had a running time of 13 minutes.  Also, the version in which I starred did not feature the characters for Honey and Nick.  I mean, who needed them when you could just watch Erik and me yell at each other for ten minutes straight.

And that’s pretty much what we did.  When we told our drama teacher that we would be doing a scene from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for our “Dramatic Duet,” I’m pretty sure that I saw her roll her eyes.  I imagine that’s because she knew that both of us had a tendency towards the dramatic and that the main we picked the play was so we could compete to see who could be the first to go hoarse from yelling.  She was right, of course.  There was no nuance to our performance, largely because neither one of us really understood what the play was about.  We just thought it was funny that some of our classmates covered their ears while we were loudly insulting and taunting each other.  (For the record, I went hoarse before Erik did and I spent the next two days receiving compliments about my new sexy voice.)

Now that I’ve grown up a little, I think I have a better understanding of what Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is actually about.  At the very least, I now understand that the story is about more than just two burn-outs yelling at each other while a younger couple awkwardly watches.  I now understand that the game that George and Martha play over the course of the night is not a game of hate but instead a game of a very dysfunctional but also rather deep love.  If anything, I now have more sympathy for George and Martha and far less for the play’s judgmental younger couple, Nick and Honey.

Of course, it helps that I’ve seen the 1966 film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Directed (in his directorial debut) by Mike Nichols, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? features Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as George and Martha and George Segal and Sandy Dennis and Nick and Honey.  All four of them were Oscar-nominated for their roles, making Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? one of the few films to see its entire cast nominated.  Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis both won in in their categories but it really is Richard Burton (who lost to Paul Scofield) who dominates the film.

Burton was a performer who could be shameless in his overacting.  (Just watch his performance in The Exorcist II if you need proof.)  And really, one would expect that the role of George would appeal to all of his worst instincts.  Instead, Burton gives a surprisingly subtle performance.  He growls when you expect him to yell and he delivers the majority of his lines not with fury but instead with a resigned and rather sardonic self-loathing.  He’s actually less showy than Elizabeth Taylor, who gives an overall good performance but still sometimes comes across like she’s trying too hard to convince the audience that she’s a 50 year-old drunk and not one of the world’s most glamorous film stars.  Throughout the film, Burton seems to be digging down deep and exposing his true self to the audience and, watching the action unfold, you can’t take your eyes off of him.  Everyone in the cast does a good job with their roles but Burton is the one who keeps the film moving.  Just as George is ultimately revealed to be stronger than he originally appears, Burton also reveals himself to be a far more compelling actor than you might think if you just knew him from his lesser roles (and performances).

Admittedly, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is not my favorite of the many films that have been nominated for best picture over the last 90 years.  Even when the characters are inhabited by skilled performers, a little bit of George and Martha goes a long way.  That said, this is a historically important film.  The film’s language may seem tame today but it was considered to be shockingly profane in 1966.  The fact that the National Legion of Decency declined to condemn the film despite the language was considered to be a major step forward in the maturation of American cinema.  In fact, it can be argued that the MPAA rating system started as a way to tell audiences that a film like Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? was not morally objectionable but that it was still meant for adults.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? received thirteen Academy Awards nominations.  It was nominated in every category for which it was eligible.  It won 5 awards but ultimately lost Best Picture to rather more sedate theatrical adaptation, A Man For All Seasons.

 

Mortal Sins: Absolution (1978, directed by Anthony Page)


Father Goddard (Richard Burton) is a stern and repressed teacher at a Catholic boys school.  Goddard is strangely obsessed with two of his students.  The intelligent and athletic Arthur Dyson (Dai Bradley) is a favorite of Goddard’s.  However, Goddard cannot stand Arthur’s best friend, Benji (Dominic Guard).  Benji wears a leg brace and takes a sarcastic attitude towards Goddard and the Catholic Church in general.  When Goddard finds out that Benji has been hanging out with a drifter named Blakely (Billy Connolly) and that Blakely is camping near the church, Goddard calls the police.  After the Blakely’s camp is destroyed and the drifter mysteriously vanishes, one of the boys goes to confession and tells the priest that he has murdered Blakely and hidden the body.  Is the boy telling the truth or is Goddard the victim of an increasingly complicated prank?

Written by Anthony Shaffer (who also wrote the classic The Wicker Man), Absolution is an extremely complicated mystery that sometimes seems like it’s trying to do too much at one time.  It starts out as a character study of an out-of-touch priest and then it becomes a coming of age story about Benji and his friendship with the free-thinking Blakely.  Then it turns into a murder mystery and a horror movie before finally settling on being an anti-Catholic tract.  The story does hold your interest because of the actors but that does not mean that it always makes sense.  The film’s central conspiracy is clever and complicated but also thoroughly implausible.

The man reason to watch the film is that Richard Burton gives one of his best performances as the self-loathing Father Goddard.  Burton had a famously mixed-record as a screen actor but Absolution makes good use of his tendency to ham it up.  Much of what motivates Goddard is left unclear in the movie, though it is subject of much speculation among his students.  Burton fills in the screenplay’s blanks with an intense performance as a man who has convinced himself that he has complete control when he actually has none at all.

Celebrate National Trivia Day With The Actors Who Could Have Been James Bond!


 

Today is National Trivia Day so I thought why not share some trivia?  I love film trivia.  I especially love trivia about who was considered for certain films.  Hell, one of my most popular posts on the Shattered Lens dealt with all of the actors who were considered for the Godfather!

(I even came up with an alternative cast for The Godfather, even though I consider the actual film to be the best cast film in history.)

I also happen to love the James Bond films.  (Well, not so much the recent Bond films.  I’ve made my feelings on SPECTRE clear.)  As a franchise, I absolutely love them.  So, with all that in mind, here is a look at the actors who could have been Bond.  I’ve compiled this article from many sources.  And yes, you could probably just find a lot of the information on Wikipedia but then you’d miss out on my editorial commentary.

Hoagy Carmichael

Ian Fleming himself always said that his pick for Bond would have been the musician, Hoagy Carmichael.  He even made a point, in Casino Royale, of having Vesper Lynd exclaim that Bond looked like Hoagy Carmichael.  Of course, the first actor to actually play Bond was Barry Nelson in a 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale.  Nelson is probably best remembered for playing Mr. Ullman in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Barry Nelson, the first James Bond

When Dr. No went into production in 1961, many actors were considered for the role before Sean Connery was eventually cast.  Many of them were very well-known actors and, had they been cast, Dr. No would not have been remembered as a Bond movie.  Instead, it would be remembered as a star vehicle for … well, let’s take a look at some of the better-known possibilities:

Among the famous actors who were mentioned for Bond in 1961: Cary Grant, Richard Burton, James Mason, Trevor Howard, Stanley Baker, George Baker, Jimmy Stewart, Rex Harrison, and David Niven.  (Of that list, I think Burton would have made for an interesting Bond.  If the Bond films had been made in the 1940s, Grant would have been my first choice.  Trying to imagine Jimmy Stewart as a British secret agent is … interesting.)

Once it became obvious that a star was not going to play Bond, the role was offered to Patrick McGoohan and Rod Taylor.  McGoohan had moral objections to the character.  Rod Taylor reportedly felt that the film would flop.  Steve Reeves, the American body builder who became famous for playing Hercules in Italy, was reportedly strongly considered.  At one point, director Terrence Young wanted to offer the role to Richard Johnson, who later played Dr. Menard in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.

Of course, the role went to Sean Connery and made Connery a huge star.  In 1967, after Connery announced that he would no longer play the world’s most famous secret agent, there was a huge and widely publicized search for his replacement.  Some of the names that were considered are intriguing.  Others are just bizarre.

Oliver Reed

To me, perhaps the most intriguing name mentioned was that of Oliver Reed.  Reed definitely would have brought a rougher edge of the role than some of the other actors considered.  However, that’s one reason why Reed wasn’t picked.  Apparently, it was felt that he did not have the right public image to play the suave Mr. Bond.

Somewhat inevitably, Michael Caine was sought out for the role.  Caine, however, refused to consider it because he had already starred in three back-to-back spy thrillers and didn’t want to get typecast.  Caine’s former roommate, Terrence Stamp, was another possibility but wanted too much control over the future direction of the Bond films.  Future Bond Timothy Dalton was considered to be too young.  Another future Bond, Roger Moore, didn’t want to give up his television career.  Eric Braeden has the right look for Bond but was German.  Rumor has it that producer Cubby Broccoli even considered Dick Van Dyke for the role, though I find that hard to believe.  An even more surprising possibility was the nobleman Lord Lucan, who was offered a screen test in 1967 and who, ten years later, would vanish after being accused of murdering his children’s nanny.

Lord Lucan

Among the actors who auditioned before George Lazenby was cast in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Michael Billington, Jeremy Brett, Peter Purves, Robert Campbell, Patrick Mower, Daniel Pilon, John Richardson, Anthony Rogers, Hans De Vries, and Peter Snow.

After the mixed reception of both Lazenby’s performance and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby was soon out as James Bond.  Even today, there’s a lot of controversy about what led to Lazenby being dismissed from the role.  Some say Lazenby demanded too much money.  Some say that Lazenby was merely used a pawn to try to get Sean Connery to return to the role.  Regardless, Lazenby only made one film as Bond.  (Of course, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has retroactively been recognized as being one of the best of the series.)

With Connery still claiming that he would never return to the role, the film’s producers went through the motions of looking for a new Bond.  Once again, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton were considered.  Connery suggested that a talk show host named Simon Dee should play the role.  An actor named Roger Green auditioned.  So did Michael Gambon, though he later said he was turned down because, in his own words, he “had tits like a woman.”  Interestingly, several Americans were mentioned.  Clint Eastwood as James Bond?  Burt Reynolds?  Adam “Batman” West? The mind boggles but their names were mentioned.

John Gavin

And interestingly enough, an American was cast.  John Gavin is best known for playing Sam Loomis in Psycho but he was also, briefly, James Bond.  After Gavin accepted he role and signed a contract, Sean Connery announced that he would be willing to return to the role.  Gavin was paid off and Connery went on to star in Diamonds are Forever.

After Diamonds, Connery left the role for a second time and, once again, Bond was recast.  This time, Roger Moore would finally accept the role.  However, before Moore was cast, several other actors were considered.  Some of the regular possibilities were mentioned again: John Gavin, Simon Oates, Timothy Dalton, and Michael Billington.  Others considered included Jon Finch, Ranulph Fiennes, Peter Laughton, and Guy Peters.  Some of those names are probably as unknown to you as they are to me but it’s intriguing to think that Guy Peters may not be a well-known name but, at one time, there was a possibility that he could suddenly become one of the biggest stars in the world.

Looking over the history of the Bond franchise, it’s interesting to see the number of times that Moore tried to leave the role, just to be talked into returning.  Every time that Moore considered quitting, a new group of actors would be considered for the role of Bond.  In 1979, when Moore said he might not return after Moonraker, Timothy Dalton, Michael Jayston, Patrick Mower (who was also considered for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and Michael Billington were all considered as replacements.  So was Julian Glover.  Ironically, when Moore did agree to return to the role, Glover was cast as the villain in For Your Eyes Only.

David Warbeck

To me, the most intriguing actor mentioned as a replacement for Roger Moore was David Warbeck.  Warbeck was a television actor and model who subsequently had a nearly legendary film career in Italy.  Not only did he play a key role in Sergio Leone’s Duck You Sucker!, but he also starred in Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat and The Beyond.  He also appeared in the best of Italian Apocalypse Now rip-offs, The Last Hunter.  In interviews, Warbeck claimed that he was under contract to Cubby Broccoli to step into the role in case Roger Moore ever walked off the set.  The likable and rugged Warbeck would have been an interesting Bond.

In 1983, when Moore again said he might not return to the role, Michael Billington (who actually did appear in a Bond film when he played a KGB agent killed at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me) would be once more considered as a replacement.  British TV actors Lewis Collins and Ian Ogilvy were also considered for the role.  In a repeat of what happened with John Gavin in Diamonds are Forever, American actor James Brolin was actually put under contract until Moore agreed to play the role in Octopussy.

James Brolin, in a screen test for Octopussy

After A View To A Kill, Moore left the role for the final time.  Famously, future Bond Pierce Brosnan was actually cast as his replacement until the surge of interest created by his casting led to the renewal of Remington Steele, the American television show in which Brosnan was starring.  Once the show was renewed, Brosnan could no longer work the Bond films into his schedule.

Among the other names mentioned: Sean Bean, Simon MacCorkindale, Andrew Clarke, Finlay Light, Mark Greenstreet, Neil Dickson, Christopher Lambert, Mel Gibson, and Antony Hamilton.  Sam Neill was another possibility and reportedly came very close to getting the role.  Watch any of the films that Neill made when he was younger and you can definitely see hints of Bond.

Sam Neill

In the end, Timothy Dalton finally accepted the role.  Ironically, for an actor who spent 20 years being courted for the role, Dalton turned out to be a bit of a flop as Bond.  He made two movies (both of which were considered to be disappointing when compared to the previous Bond films) and then left the role.

Looking over the contemporary reviews of Dalton as Bond, one thing that comes through clearly is that a lot of people resented him for taking a role that they felt should have gone to Pierce Brosnan.  When the Bond films resumed production with Goldeneye in 1994, Brosnan finally stepped into the role.  Reportedly, if Brosnan had turned down the role, the second choice was Sean Bean.  Much like Julian Glover, Bean may have lost out on 007 but he did end up playing the villain.

Sean Bean

Among the other actors who were reportedly considered before Brosnan accepted the role: Mark Frankel, Paul McGann, Liam Neeson, Russell Crowe, and Lambert Wilson.  Ralph Fiennes, who has been M since Skyfall, was also considered.

As opposed to his predecessors, Brosnan seemed to be very comfortable with the idea of playing Bond and never threatened to leave the role.  Looking over the Bond-related articles that were published from 1995 to 2004, I found the occasional speculation about whether Rupert Everett would be the first gay James Bond or if Sharon Stone would be the first female James Bond but I found very little speculation about Brosnan actually leaving the role.  Indeed, when Brosnan officially retired as Bond in 2004, it was less his decision and more at the prodding of the franchise’s producers, who felt that the series needed to be rejuvenated with a new (and younger) actor.  After Brosnan left, the series was rebooted and Daniel Craig played the role in Casino Royale.

In the past, I’ve made it clear that Daniel Craig is hardly my favorite Bond.  I loved Skyfall (and I consider it to the 2nd best Bond film, after From Russia With Love) but, even in that case, I felt that the film succeeded despite Craig instead of because of him.  With Casino Royale, we were supposed to be seeing a young and inexperienced Bond.  That’s never come through to me, probably because Craig looked like he was nearly 50 years old when he made Casino Royale.

Among the actors who were mentioned for the role before Craig received the role: Ralph Fiennes (again), Colin Salmon, Ewan McGregor, Henry Cavill, Rupert Friend, Julian McMahon, Alex O’Laughlin, Clive Owen, Dougray Scott, and Goran Visjnic.  Dominic West, who I think would have been great in the role, reportedly ruled himself out because he heard a rumor that Brosnan would be returning to the role.

Dominic West

Daniel Craig, of course, has been talking about leaving the role ever since he was first cast.  I think Skyfall would have been a perfect movie for him to leave on.  (It would have saved the world from SPECTRE.)  However, Craig has apparently agreed to do at least one more Bond film.  Maybe two.

When Craig does leave, who will replace him?  Idris Elba, of course, is probably the most widely discussed possibility.  James Norton has also been named as a possibility.  Others that I’ve seen mentioned: Tom Hardy, Jack Huston, Aidan Turner, Tom Hiddleston, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, and Henry Cavill (again).

My personal choice?  Dominic Cooper.  He’d be an off-center Bond but I think it would still be an intriguing pick.

Dominic Cooper

Who knows what the future may hold for 007?  All I know is that I look forward to the speculation.

Happy National Trivia Day, everyone!

Action in the Alps: WHERE EAGLES DARE (MGM 1969)


cracked rear viewer

Alistair MacLean’s adventure novels, filled with muscular action and suspenseful plot twists, thrilled moviegoers of the 60’s and 70’s in such big budget hits as THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and ICE STATION ZEBRA. In his first foray into screenwriting, 1969’s WHERE EAGLES DARE,  he adapted his own work to the silver screen, resulting in one of the year’s biggest hits, aided by the box office clout of Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood . The film’s a bit long, running over two and a half hours, but action fans won’t mind. There’s enough derring-do, ace stunt work, explosions, and cliffhanging (literally!) to keep you riveted to the screen!

A lot of the credit goes to veteran stunt coordinator Yakima Canutt, in charge of all the action scenes as second unit director. Canutt staged some of the most exciting scenes in film history, from John Ford’s STAGECOACH to William Wyler’s BEN HUR, and certainly keeps things busy…

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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Longest Day (dir by Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald, and Darryl F. Zanuck)


As my sister has already pointed out, today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day.  With that in mind, and as a part of my ongoing mission to see and review every single film ever nominated for best picture, I decided to watch the 1962 film, The Longest Day!

The Longest Day is a pain-staking and meticulous recreation of invasion of Normandy, much of it filmed on location.  It was reportedly something of a dream project for the head of the 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck.  Zanuck set out to make both the ultimate tribute to the Allied forces and the greatest war movie ever.  Based on a best seller, The Longest Day has five credited screenwriters and three credited directors.  (Ken Annakin was credited with “British and French exteriors,” Andrew Marton did “American exteriors,” and the German scenes were credited to Bernhard Wicki.  Oddly, Gerd Oswald was not credited for his work on the parachuting scenes, even though those were some of the strongest scenes in the film.)  Even though he was not credited as either a screenwriter or a director, it is generally agreed that the film ultimately reflected the vision of Darryl F. Zanuck.  Zanuck not only rewrote the script but he also directed a few scenes as well.  The film had a budget of 7.75 million dollars, which was a huge amount in 1962.  (Until Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, The Longest Day was the most expensive black-and-white film ever made.)  Not only did the film tell an epic story, but it also had an epic length.  Clocking in at 3 hours, The Longest Day was also one of the longest movies to ever be nominated for best picture.

The Longest Day also had an epic cast.  Zanuck assembled an all-star cast for his recreation of D-Day.  If you’re like me and you love watching old movies on TCM, you’ll see a lot of familiar faces go rushing by during the course of The Longest Day.  American generals were played by actors like Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Henry Fonda, and John Wayne.  Peter Lawford, then the brother-in-law of the President of the United States, had a memorable role as the Scottish Lord Lovat, who marched through D-Day to the sounds of bagpipes.  When the Allied troops storm the beach, everyone from Roddy McDowall to Sal Mineo to Robert Wagner to singer Paul Anka can be seen dodging bullets.  Sean Connery pops up, speaking in his Scottish accent and providing comic relief.  When a group of paratroopers parachute into an occupied village, comedian Red Buttons ends up hanging from the steeple of a church.  When Richard Beymer (who is currently playing Ben Horne on Twin Peaks) gets separated from his squad, he stumbles across Richard Burton.  Among those representing the French are Arletty and Christian Marquand.  (Ironically, after World War II, Arletty was convicted of collaborating with the Germans and spent 18 months under house arrest.  Her crime was having a romantic relationship with a German soldier.  It is said that, in response to the charges, Arletty said, “My heart is French but my ass is international.”)  Meanwhile, among the Germans, one can find three future Bond villains: Gert Frobe, Curt Jurgens, and Walter Gotell.

It’s a big film and, to be honest, it’s too big.  It’s hard to keep track of everyone and, even though the battle scenes are probably about an intense as one could get away with in 1962 (though it’s nowhere near as effective as the famous opening of Saving Private Ryan, I still felt bad when Jeffrey Hunter and Eddie Albert were gunned down), their effectiveness is compromised by the film’s all-star approach.  Often times, the action threatens to come to a halt so that everyone can get their close-up.  Unfortunately, most of those famous faces don’t really get much of a chance to make an impression.  Even as the battle rages, you keep getting distracted by questions like, “Was that guy famous or was he just an extra?”

Among the big stars, most of them play to their personas.  John Wayne, for instance, may have been cast as General Benjamin Vandervoort but there’s never any doubt that he’s playing John Wayne.  When he tells his troops to “send them to Hell,” it’s not Vandervoort giving orders.  It’s John Wayne representing America.  Henry Fonda may be identified as being General Theodore Roosevelt II but, ultimately, you react to him because he’s Henry Fonda, a symbol of middle-American decency.  Neither Wayne nor Fonda gives a bad performance but you never forget that you’re watching Fonda and Wayne.

Throughout this huge film, there are bits and pieces that work so well that you wish the film had just concentrated on them as opposed to trying to tell every single story that occurred during D-Day.  I liked Robert Mitchum as a tough but caring general who, in the midst of battle, gives a speech that inspires his troops to keep fighting.  The scenes of Peter Lawford marching with a bagpiper at his side were nicely surreal.  Finally, there’s Richard Beymer, wandering around the French countryside and going through the entire day without firing his gun once.  Beymer gets the best line of the film when he says, “I wonder if we won.”  It’s such a modest line but it’s probably the most powerful line in the film.  I wish The Longest Day had more scenes like that.

The Longest Day was nominated for best picture of 1962 but it lost to an even longer film, Lawrence of Arabia.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #8: Anne of the Thousand Days (dir by Charles Jarrott)


Anne

After I finished writing my review of Rolling Thunder, I continued the process of cleaning out my DVR by watching the 1969 film, Anne of the Thousand Days.  How does a film like Anne of the Thousand Days compare to a film like Rolling Thunder?

They might as well have been conceived, written, directed, and released on different planets.

I recorded Anne of The Thousand Days off of TCM on March 26th.  The main reason that I set the DVR to record it was because Anne was a best picture nominee.  It may seem strange to think that this rather conventional film was nominated the same year as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Z, and Midnight Cowboy.  It gets even stranger when you consider what wasn’t nominated that year: Medium Cool, If…, Last Summer, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Alice’s Restaurant, The Wild Bunch, Once Upon A Time In The West, and a long list of other films.  In fact, if I wanted to, I could probably spend this entire review listing all of the 1969 films that feel like a more appropriate best picture nominee than Anne of the Thousand Days.

And yet, Anne was nominated for best picture.  In fact, it received a total of 10 Oscar nominations, the most of any film that year.  Tellingly most of the nominations were in the technical categories and the only Oscar that it won was for its costumes.  Genevieve Bujold received a nomination for playing the title character and Richard Burton became the third actor to receive a nomination for playing King Henry VIII.

As for the film, Anne of the Thousand Days tells the oft-told story of King Henry VIII and his marriage to Anne Boleyn.  Told in flashback as both Henry and Anne wait for her to be executed on charges of adultery, the film shows us how middle-aged Henry VIII first met and fell in love with 18 year-old Anne Boleyn.  Standing in the way of Henry’s pursuit of Anne was the fact that 1) Anne intensely disliked him, 2) Anne was already engaged, 3) Anne’s sister was already Henry’s mistress, and 4) Henry was already married to Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas).

Fortunately, Henry happens to be king and being king comes with its perks.

For instance, as king, he can order Anne and her fiancée to break up.  As king, he can casually dismiss his former mistress.  And, as king, Henry has the power that Anne finds to be the ultimate aphrodisiac.  At first, Anne merely loves the fact that Henry is obsessed with her.  But slowly, she comes to love Henry as a man as well…

The only problem is that Henry is still married and Catherine is still popular with the people.  Even after Henry divorces her and marries Anne, the common people refuse to accept Anne as their queen.  When Sir Thomas More (William Squire) refuses to recognize Anne as queen, Anne demands that More be executed.  When Henry initially shows reluctance, Anne announces that she will not sleep with him until More is dead.

Needless to say, Thomas More is quickly executed.

However, Henry’s attention has already moved on to Jane Seymour (Lesley Paterson) and, desperate to get Anne out of his life, he arranges for Cardinal Cromwell (John Colicos) to frame Anne on charges of adultery and incest.  With Anne facing a humiliating trial and the possibility of execution, Henry makes her an offer.  If she agrees to an annulment, he’ll free her.  However, their daughter — Elizabeth — will lose her claim to the throne…

It’s telling that Charles Jarrott did not receive an Oscar nomination for his work as Anne of the Thousand Day‘s director.  There are a lot of technically good things about Anne of the Thousand Days but, despite all of the melodrama and sex and historical detail to be found in Anne, it never comes to life as a movie.  The costumes are to die for, the sets are impressive, and the cast is full of talented British character actors but the whole movie just feels oddly flat.  Try as it may, it can never convince us that either Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn is worth all the trouble.

Anne of the Thousand Days was obviously a big production, which probably explains all the Oscar nominations.  But otherwise, it’s one of the more forgettable best picture nominees.