Take My Life
The cinematographer’s first film as director, about a man accused of killing a former mistress.
Such things as The 39 Steps and Shadow of a doubt well-studied are repaid in The Wrong Man, for example.
T.M.P. of the New York Times complained it was all talk and no pictures, missing the boat.
The pure resource available to Neame is an initial quarter-hour of perfect novelistic exposition establishing the hero who isn’t one yet, the standard film melodrama villain (“bombastic”, the hero calls him) is another resource, the Etruscan figure of the title galvanizes a rencounter the effects of which make tangible evidence through the progress of the film, a quite original means of analysis to be compared with Kazan’s On the Waterfront for structural effect.
“Its best points” are given by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times as Tunisia and the leading lady, the rest meant little or nothing to him.
Tom Milne in Time Out Film Guide resolutely agrees, “lame thriller”, Halliwell’s Film Guide likewise.
He writes his own ticket, as Stravinsky advised young composers to write no reviews but of their own work, pseudonymously.
“For the people the bard is grace, not cark.”
He lends to the poor and the workingman, sets a limit to extravagance, improves the time and his own purse thereby.
It is therefore a wonder that English critics are not more observant than Bosley Crowther (New York Times), who saw only a pair of scoundrels and hit-or-miss comedy.
A “great cause”, says the Countess of Chell.
Charles Frend’s Barnacle Bill is a similarly precise view of these recondite matters not received by the press.
The original of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.
The Million Pound Note
The great understanding laid before the public is that a work of art may be taken at face value, come a cropper in time and be restored to its place of virtue without ever being cashed, that is, understood.
Kafka views the matter quite differently in The Trial.
Neame’s film, be it noted, is as representative as any work in the purview of Twain’s observation, having always been taken for a weak analysis of social standing and impervious lucre.
The Man Who Never Was
The spectacular joke of the screenplay is rounded out by its cultured appreciation of Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death), Powell & Pressburger’s thank you to America, so that a dead Scotsman arrives on the beach in Spain as an English officer with articles in his attaché case indicating a false landing on Greece rather than Sicily, to fool the Germans (who “saw the merry Grecian coaster come... betwixt the Syrtes and soft Sicily”). An American librarian’s mourning for her downed airman is misunderstood by a Nazi boyo as suffered in earnest for this supposed agent, and that cinches the deal.
Neame and Oswald Morris rise to lofty heights of composition in the hospital scene, which is rather like Ben Nicholson, and something purely cinematic at the morgue. Quite another arrangement, Matisse perhaps, obtains in the sad girl dictating at the piano, the first of two scenes for which, beyond all explanation except that the film has not been understood, criticism has proven entirely incompetent.
The Horse’s Mouth
Gulley Jimson and his way of life are modeled exhaustively from Korda’s Rembrandt right down to the ginger moustache he briefly wears, a token of admonition.
Titus is Nosey here with a different function, a solicitous regard to the artist’s secrets bearing in mind Browning’s repudiation of Wordsworth on the Shakespearean sonnet.
The role of the collector and the nation has been observed, students are here arranged as a school that cannot survive.
The structure is provided by Jimson’s three paintings, The Fall of Man, The Raising of Lazarus, The Last Judgement. There is peculiar attention given to the private function of art (Mrs. Monday), continuing the theme of the prince (Hickson) and the patron (Beeder).
tunes of glory
Guinness is said to have turned down the role of another colonel in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and suggested Mills for it. The film now rises to his approximation of a Japanese actor in the mad scene, following on the suicide of the new commander.
The roles are about equal, and there is merely the function of a climax to speak of (as well as an astute decision), nevertheless this provides the dramatic point that justifies the tragedy by revealing just the right note of levity, not to say hilarity.
John Ford, who directed a remake of What Price Glory, is generally served up as a regulating influence on the basis of Fort Apache.
Escape from Zahrain
An essential analysis of Arab oil from a purely local perspective with an American lens and European training.
Half the profits on Zahrain oil go to the Americans, half to corrupt government officials, there is a death sentence on him who disagrees, an unmarked grave in the desert.
Schools and hospitals are wanting.
This is so precise as to be pedantic, yet A.H. Weiler (New York Times) calls it a “nonsensical tale”, and Time Out Film Guide a “turgid desert-trek drama.”
J. Lee Thompson’s Ice Cold in Alex certainly has something to do with it, nevertheless Halliwell’s Film Guide has “slow, boring... good to look at.”
The Chalk Garden
The complaint has always been that it isn’t like the play. Our critics have been to the theater, but they do not profit thereby.
Neame says a chalk garden needs loam and whatnot (Dover, Beachy Head), the grandmother tends her daughter’s child, the girl is wild. A governess in the same situation once upon a time, a manservant unmanned by circumstances, these two finally united, also the child and her mother.
He has a view of the white cliffs from the shore that satisfies every artistic contingency, but these are children variously. The chalky shell must have an innards (Nemerov),
You pick one up along the shore.
It is empty and light and dry,
And leaves a powdery chalk on your hands.
The life that made it is gone out.
That is what is meant when people say,
“A hollow shell,” “a shell of his former self.”
When children scrawl the blackboard full
Of wild spirals every which way,
To be erased with chalk dust, then with water.
The baby in the bulrushes is a quack who sells nostrums and gets the bum’s rush downriver to an African tribal chief and his village about to be flooded out by a dam they refuse to acknowledge, something like the Act I finale of Cyrano de Bergerac with the comedians replaced by tribesmen.
“This odd company are not expert enough”, said A.H. Weiler of the New York Times.
The government ark has no room for the tribe’s animals, therefore...
Weiler was thinking, if you will allow the metaphor, of DeMille and not of Huston (The African Queen).
“The Biblical Moses,” said Variety, “in a manner, has been updated”.
Neame’s lawgiver has diamonds in his stethoscope.
In a sense, it begins right after Beaudine’s The Old Fashioned Way, “have I soiled this gift with crass commercialism?”
A speculation on Greek myth knocked Weiler for a loop. “I’m talkin’ about fire!”
Frankenheimer has something to say about this in I Walk the Line.
“Naïve biblical parallels,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, “quite agreeable.”
A Man Could Get Killed
Diamonds for Red China through Lisbon via East Germany, our man in the Gotham Trust Company cracks the case for M.I.5.
“Now, unless this is about debentures...”
That is precisely what it’s about, among other things.
A ripping comedy on Hitchcock from Breen & Clarke, superbly co-directed with Cliff Owen.
“A bad movie”, according to the New York Times, mincing nothing whatsoever in its review.
The richest man in the world is not so dumb as he appears, yet the dumbest cat burglar in the world has the better of him, despite all.
Neither recognizes the gambit for what it is, the fair lady (who happens to resemble the rich man’s late wife and a Chinese empress in his collection, the prize).
The entire film is made of this misunderstanding and all its aliquots, set in Dammuz at the feast of Ali Hajj, who had his wishes granted and gave one to the people.
“Paint not the thing, but the effect it produces.” The gambit is a well-conceived plan that can be sacrificed, and within the film Mallarmé’s axiom.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
You shall have to regard it, if you have any sense whatsoever, as precisely what it appears to be, an arrangement of John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May for the British market and laid in Edinburgh as the next best thing to America. Also in the past, and for the same reasons of prophylaxis.
The “army” of such women is noted down and filmed by Zeffirelli in Tea with Mussolini.
The “half-dreamed dream” and quite mortal danger of the Fascist leader, amusingly represented as a frankly attractive teacher on the staff of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, her effect on the Art Master (all his portraits are her) and the Music Master (he becomes a timorous nit) is equally amusing, and so forth.
The great critic on Neame’s version is Zeffirelli, who in Jesus of Nazareth foretells the good news unto Ebenezer, without limit, totally unexpected.
The fine lines connecting Neame with Edwards and Hurst can be known, he divines another way of handling the story with Bricusse. Sim’s entrepreneur is now a Shylock, and on Christmas Eve. The entire scope of the film is laid out from The Merchant of Venice, the point for Zeffirelli is just the meaning of that gentle rain, which is not stinted here.
Thus the main effort is in the opening sequence that establishes the derivation of Scrooge’s name, screwer of the poor, and then Scrooge in hell, and lastly Scrooge as Father Christmas.
The Poseidon Adventure
The World Turned Upside Down? Or, in a topsy-turvy, arsy-versy world, down is up.
A great reading of La Divina Commedia for modern man. Its greatest moment is perhaps when Shelley Winters swims to Gene Hackman’s rescue, a truly Michelangelesque vision, inspired by a trick shot of Esther Williams as a disembodied spirit.
The Odessa File
Ex-SS men thrive under new names, and plot with Nasser to scuttle the State of Israel using plague bombs and radioactivity.
They are a new industrial cadre, “discipline and management” is the watchword.
The event, which is quite factual, coincides with the assassination of President Kennedy.
By no coincidence at all, co-written by the screenwriter of Sink the Bismarck!. The major stumbling-block to any analysis is the apparent irreducibility of the script, which plainly has Hercules and Peter the Great vs. a cockeyed Orpheus for the fate of the Earth, but it is not insurmountable.
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky!
Variety said it was “one continuous cinematic bummer,” Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide) described it as being “shoddy, unspeakably inept”. Janet Maslin of the New York Times derided “occasional glimpses of monitors saying things like ‘Time to impact—Days: 2.’ These signs don’t inspire confidence in the scientific talent that has been brought in on the case.” The appointed time is 0700 hours, Sunday, December 7th, a fact not noted in her review.
And there arose a new CIA department head, a fantastic fellow, a Republican dirty trickster with sports metaphors, “who knew not Joseph.”
Or, how Mozart left the Archbishop’s service.
Nicely-judged characterizations are the essence of the film. Sam Waterston plays a young agent trained by Walter Matthau, and shows this in a certain resemblance at a pinch, but he is bound by the rules of the gamesters and all but lost. In most cases, the actors (such as David Matthau as a less than debonair company man, or Herbert Lom as a top KGB agent) simply embody their parts.
“When in the course of human events...” When, on the contrary, combined operations go awry, the head says “Now I know what FBI stands for, Fucking Ballbusting Imbeciles.”
Our man in Munich, a deft station chief if ever there was one, gets dumped by the new guy, writes his memoirs and has them published by a sterling British house run by George Baker (a wonderful turn, Neame operates as an American director with a solid British background). The book is Hopscotch, billed as “Memoirs of a crack C.I.A. agent”.
When Matthau appeared on Saturday Night Live, he requested that Mozart be played. Accordingly, a chamber orchestra was hired for the evening. “Wasn’t that lovely?”, said Matthau to the camera. “We’ll be right back with the usual crap.”
The theme is related to such films as John Sturges’ McQ and John Cassavetes’ Gloria.
The technical impressiveness of this is quite overwhelming. It doesn’t dazzle with complicated shots so much as it establishes perfect shots expressing every bit of style demanded by a screenplay whose themes are Mozart and the intelligence community.
The vernacular style is amusingly distributed over widely disparate locations, and never fails to speak the same language. In Savannah or Salzburg, it resolutely deploys the naked lens of the camera on the visual aggregate and finds it pleasing.
First Monday in October
The technique of Lawrence & Lee is evident from the first. Maslin thought the file clerk’s entrance hit a wrong note, but couldn’t say why. The scene works this way, an elderly man (Barnard Hughes) at his office desk is on the telephone, the clerk enters and says something like, “here are the files you requested, Mr. Chief Justice.” The punchline comes a little bit later when the unwitting person on the other end of the line asks if his caller has a number where he can be reached.
First Monday in October is a variant of Inherit the Wind, but the fundamentalist faith it addresses is the one that believes in corporations and their “goddamn holy commercials”.
The new lady Associate Justice (Jill Clayburgh) is a prim self-righteous prude, “the Mother Superior of Orange County”, and a passionate believer. Her opponent on the Court is Justice Snow (Walter Matthau), “the Great Dissenter”, who has no use for censorship or Omnitech, a multinational corporation with a stockholders’ lawsuit up for review, though he does believe in a cockamamie car of the future powered by fairy dust or some such thing.
Clayburgh’s performance begins with a correct voice during the confirmation hearing, and is a perfect characterization. Matthau is brought to a pitch of intellectual precision and physical technique that is remarkable even for him, the role is thematic and the entire film is closely related to The Sunshine Boys. Barnard Hughes makes an ideal Chief Justice, and Noble Willingham does a magnificent turn as an orator of the Southern school declaiming the State of Nebraska’s case against The Naked Nymphomaniac before the Court. Herb Vigran sets the tone as much as anyone in a walk-on as another Associate Justice.
The critics, as they often do, seem really to have had no idea what the thing was about. “Neame’s a good director, Matthau’s grand, Clayburgh’s fine, but what the hell was the point,” seems to have been the overall response.
Its greatness is in the boldness of its inquiry into the sheer abyss of feudal corporate myth and the anti-poison. A state of grace is not, after all, the same thing as blind faith. Between the two there is enlightenment, which is the tone of the ending, with Sousa and a marching band behind the credits.