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Tag Archives: Peter O’toole

Flick Clique: July 8-14

Body and Soul (1947). Great boxing melodrama-cum-film noir that I am currently reviewing for DVD Talk. I will have more details later, of course. Personal fave John Garfield contributed one of his grittiest performances to this one as Charley Davis, a scrappy boxer who is ultimately undone by people trying to exploit his success. The kind of characters in this story – earnest young guy turned corrupted cynic, level-headed ma, loving girlfriend, gee-whiz buddy – have since become cliché, but durn it I enjoyed it all the same. Garfield is terrific, as are Lilli Palmer, William Conrad, Hazel Brooks (as the sultry femme fatale), and ex-boxer Canada Lee, who contributes an amazing, dignified turn as Garfield’s one-time rival turned coach. It’s fun to watch this and spot all the elements that Martin Scorcese cribbed (stole?) for Raging Bull. Chief among them is the climactic fight scene itself, a flurry of hyper-real shots, documentary-like footage, astonished crowd shots and flashing photo bulbs. Another asset: James Wong Howe’s luminous photography.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969). I originally added this one on Netflix a long time ago out of morbid curiostiy, and maybe because I’m a big Pet Clark fan. The fact that it arrived last week is good timing, however, since Peter O’Toole recently announced his retirement from acting. Surprisingly, the big budget musicalized Mr. Chips isn’t nearly as deadly as I feared (C. hated it, however). Although O’Toole isn’t much of a singer, composer Leslie Bricusse tailors the tunes to his limited voice. The film overall is too long and bloated, saddled with one subplot too many, but I enjoyed the score and the two stars have a nice chemistry (this version emphasizes the Mr. and Mrs. Chipping relationship a lot more than the ’39 classic). Petula’s musical highlight is the song all about how wonderful London is – a not very memorable tune, but it’s fun and energetically performed. Most of the numbers are actually subtly done as inner monologues and such, which almost makes me feel that it could have been better served as straight-up drama. O’Toole’s performance is touching and quite wonderful; Clark matches him in sheer emotional heft. Sure, the film is no classic, but it definitely doesn’t deserve to be tossed in the “bloated musical misfire” trash heap with Star!, Lost Horizon and the like.

The Laramie Project (2002). Made-for-HBO dramatization of what happened when director Moises Kaufman and members of his New York Tectonic Theater Project ventured out to Laramie, Wyoming to interview townspeople and gauge their reactions shortly after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. I thought it was pretty good, well performed with a commitment to, if not end hatred, at least have an understanding of it. The film often gets bogged down in overly-earnest triteness, however – I kept thinking the property would have worked better on stage as a series of monologues (has anybody seen the stage version?). There were times when the dramatizations came across as preachy and Lifetime TV-movie-ish.
Shag (1988). A sorta teen female American Graffiti which follows four Southern girlfriends – demure Carson (Phoebe Cates), brash Melaina (Bridget Fonda), sweet Pudge (Annabeth Gish) and snippy Luanne (Page Hannah) – as they spend the last of their summer vacation in 1963 Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with dozens of other horny teens. I caught this flick on ThisTV, thinking it was the ’80s-’60s period piece with teens in a dance competition scored to a great “golden oldies” soundtrack (nope, that was 1988’s similar The In Crowd, which I’m now dying to see). This one was a little too frenetically performed from the cast (although Fonda and Gish have some good moments), seemingly to make up for the pallid script. They did do a good job on the period details, including some scenes with dozens of extras in boxy swimwear, crew cuts and poofy hairstyles. This definitely seems like one of those cable-TV staples that one would happen across, vaguely enjoy for a few minutes, then instantly forget. Fun fact: the script was co-written by openly gay ’80s Saturday Night Live cast member Terry Sweeney.

Flick Clique: June 24-30

Céline: Through the Eyes of the World (2010). Watched out of morbid curiosity, this three-hour documentary/concert film chronicles Céline Dion’s 2008-09 Taking Chances tour through six continents, numerous costume changes, and one lost stuffed lamb belonging to her son. The film is overlong and probably would have been better served being split in two, with the behind-the-scenes stuff in one program and the music (much of which I skipped through) in another. Like most big-budget major stadium tours, it’s a tightly controlled affair with every bit of business from Céline’s onstage patter to the backup dancers’ steps pre-planned to a T (contrary to the title, she even states at one point that she doesn’t want to risk anything!). There’s also a lot of footage of Céline visiting dignitaries and celebs, shopping for high-end goods, and acting goofy with her elderly husband and young son (whose long, long hair must constitute as some sort of child abuse). The mega-production of the tour is pretty impressive, oddly, and Céline has the pipes to sell it. Her singing voice is getting more nasally as she gets older, however – during the tour’s stop in Ireland, the film briefly shows the clip of Céline from when she won the Eurovision Song Contest in the same city several years earlier. It surprised me how much purer her voice sounded in 1988. The film’s candid footage takes great pains to make Céline look like a normal person, which she isn’t. Despite all that, in the end she does come across as quite a down-to-earth, fun lady who doesn’t take herself too seriously.
Lawrence Of Arabia (1962). Spotted the two-disc DVD edition at Big Lots for a fiver, so I decided to check it out again. I first saw this on TV about 20 years ago, in a pan-and-scan edition which was probably edited to ribbons. I remember liking the photography and Peter O’Toole, but the film in general dragged and was difficult to understand. The current re-watching finds it still full of beautiful photography, and O’Toole’s star-making performance still holds up — and it’s still somewhat hard to understand, plot-wise, but Christopher (who read the autobiography of the real Lawrence) filled me in on what I couldn’t decipher. Knowing that T. E. Lawrence was gay also adds more shading to O’Toole’s interpretation, giving it more depth than the typical historic epic gets. Although the casting of non-Arabs like Anthony Quinn and Alec Guiness grates, the film is skillfully directed by David Lean with some still-impressive shots that use the abstract beauty of the Arabian desert well. I liked the selflessness and rebellious spirit of O’Toole’s character. The only part I didn’t agree with was starting the film off with Lawrence’s death in a motorcycle accident (the entire prologue could have been cut off, making a more concise/enjoyable film).
Lucy Gallant (1955). A soapy guilty pleasure which I have been wanting to watch for years (ever since it was regularly played on the AMC channel all those eons ago). I finally got to see it during some down time this week, courtesy of Netflix Instant. A mousy-looking Jane Wyman stars as the title character, an heiress on the run whose life gets handed a change in fate when the train she’s boarded conks out in a dusty Texas oil town. Meeting Charlton Heston’s randy oilman and seeing that the womenfolk in town need a style infusion, she decides to set up a local dress shop. Becoming a huge success alienates Heston, however, who goes off to Europe, fights in WWII, and marries/divorces a French model. When he returns to Texas, the now-tycoon Jane wants him back, but he won’t take her until she agrees to give up the business and pop out a few brats for him. Enjoyable but awfully sexist, and with a disappointing ending that attempts to have it both ways and fails miserably. Wyman, normally appealing in stuff like Magnificent Obsession, is so mousy and wan here, stretching credibility for the forward, fashionable gal she’s supposed to be. And Heston’s character is, simply put, a total douche. Things are enlivened considerably by Thelma Ritter as Wyman’s salty pal and a kitschy climactic fashion show hosted by Edith Head. It’s actually a well-made ’50s melodrama, as long as you take the regrettably sexist message with a grain of salt (or perhaps fine wool in a tasteful shade of grey). By the way, the Netflix version of this shot-in-Panavision film has it in 4:3 aspect ratio with a less than thrilling print.