Look Back in Anger
Richardson’s film is a variant of the play, it introduces several characters. The Act III, Scene One curtain takes place in a railway café, Helena and Jimmy go to see George Stevens’ Gunga Din, the sweet-stall in the market is shown, Colonel Redfern nearly runs down Jimmy in his motorcar, the Redferns have an old bitch he’d like to put down but Mrs. Redfern won’t hear of it, the jazz club opens the film with dancing, later it hears from Jimmy about the Edwardians, the American Age, and so forth.
Mrs. Tanner appears in her own right, there is a Mr. Kapoor selling shirts cheap in the market, and a Mr. Hurst the market inspector.
Edith Evans ought to have won a BAFTA, Richard Burton is the very incarnation of Jimmy Porter, Mary Ure and Claire Bloom take the parts of Alison and Helena exceedingly well in perfect characterizations. Gary Raymond plays the Welshman Cliff, Donald Pleasence the inspector. The screenplay construction is by Nigel Kneale.
The Ovidian transformation is well-acted by Burton and Ure.
The oblivion of a music-hall comic, his touch-me-not body of fragrances (the pit and the pendulum of popular opinion) rises and hovers above his disgrace so that his daughter may touch his wounds.
She is a painter, “talent and courage” have run out in her, one or both.
“Sammy” Beckett on Van Velde, “the first to admit that to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world and the shrink from it desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, living. No, no, allow me to expire.”
At “the secret ancestral home of Yoknapatawpha County corn liquor,” a wellspring of The Border.
Screenplay James Poe, cinematography Ellsworth Fredericks, score Alex North.
“A sanctuary of sin and pleasure.”
“Je t'apporte l'enfant d'une nuit d'Idumée!”
“Whatever happened will be forgotten, erased.”
A long tale recounted on the eve of a hanging. The Governor interjects, “is this necessary?”
“Just imagine the luxury of having one person on this earth to whom you could always speak the truth. That would be my concept of a true marriage.”
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “melodrama of the most mechanical and meretricious sort.” Time Out, “a disastrous attempt to bring Faulkner to the screen: it forever fudges the issues.” TV Guide, “so filled with degradation and degeneracy...” Robin Karney (Radio Times), “opaque, turgid and unsuccessful”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “confused... unadaptable... pussyfoot daring... little sense.”
Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema, “Richardson’s direction lacks any genuinely unifying force or conviction.”
a taste of honey
The various prescriptions are administered directly from Le Sang d’un Poète (dir. Jean Cocteau). Thus the schoolroom adventure with Keats that ends with Jimmy the sea cook, “black as coal”. And thus the flummery of Geoff, “‘e’s punsy”, and the higher orders of fun and merriment and “la vie ordinaire” to contend with before the Mallarméan birth.
Pretty fancy stuff for the great city of Manchester in the morning and all day long to Guy Fawkes Night.
the loneliness of the long distance runner
More spectacular shenanigans among the young, with a fearful eye to the telly and the exchange of ideas between the generations. Less than personal, more than intimate. An arcane plateau surrounding the city of Nottingham, where the laborer’s hire goes for pretty knickknacks and things, trash for all that, and in the general abstraction there is the beach at Skegness or the forest “where the grapes of wrath are stored,” an absolute vision of “trampling out the vintage”. Useless to compare the earlier versions of this prison drama, or to apply a field of vision encompassing Schlesinger’s Billy Liar or the New Wave, or looking ahead to Anderson’s If...., because the particular lingo is flexible enough to encounter any number of fables and still be quite recognizable, this one having its own peculiar style and frame of reference. The technique is perfect.
This is Richardson’s Citizen Kane. The shockful intransigence having been fully absorbed, a lazily perusing audience felt more than kindly disposed always, if not surprised. The theme is pretty constant in Richardson from the first (Tom is Jo’s son in a taste of honey).
Country gentlemen and city ladies, with an inn at Upton between.
The masterfully-adapted screenplay moves very fast, Richardson’s filming encompasses it with brisk tablatures of silent film technique as an added distancer.
Garrick’s ladies keep Dr. Johnson away now, back then “amorous propensities” did not mean “a jig or a tale of bawdry,” necessarily, to read the reviews.
the loved one
The greatest praise that Richardson could have hoped for was delivered by Bosley Crowther in the New York Times, he called it “un-American”. It left nothing unsaid, in other words.
Mind you, the Brits are boffed royally as well, Sir Ambrose Abercrombie cannot even bring himself to read Dennis Barlow’s excellent verses (so full of truth and beauty) on the suicide by hanging of Sir Francis Hinsley.
It is true that Barlow is the hero of the piece. Having done his bit to launch a morbidly credulous American girl into orbit, he returns home to “sunny England”.
The Blessed Reverend of Whispering Glades is “going into another racket”, that’s all there is to be said about Los Angeles, “the home of the American motion picture industry”.
“The most beautiful black-and-white film I have ever seen,” says Richard Lester. This is the only intelligent remark ever uttered on the subject of this film, Truffaut’s Les Mistons accurately conveys the entire critical apparatus.
The main thing is Richardson, and with him Watkin. They have Genet’s script with all its panoply of Griffith and De Mille to the present, they take their time and soak up the views.
Jeanne Moreau fulfills all her part with a direct parallelism to Bette Davis at her most vile. It is a very complex role, Richardson and Watkin are there to evoke and receive it.
The rest of the cast is up to it.
“Une Production Woodfall Film”. Its particular virtue is a direct measurement of the quanta that make up the poetry of cinema, this is pointedly seen in a couple of shots at ground level that show Mademoiselle’s feet nervous in high heels, precisely weighed. Mademoiselle is a schoolmarm, she burns and floods the town until at last her plot is laid, but then her suspect lover is laid low by the villagers, a woodsman from another country.
The psychological manifestations, hooted at by critics as “Freudian” (they meant insightful), were only on the surface, the crucial aspect is Mademoiselle’s contempt for the woodsman’s son, which provides the conclusion, but no critic has dared to venture so far.
New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the chorus of idiots howled down the film, which is easily recognized now by its mastery and devotion, and one can’t believe Richardson could have cared less what the hacks thought in any event, only this was the start (after The Loved One) of his Coventry period, a sordid mockery practiced without reason or significance.
The Sailor From Gibraltar
Such a film is in the vein of Orson Welles (The Lady from Shanghai, Mr. Arkadin), quite deliberately, and there he is like Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca, playing one Louis de Mozambique ever so briefly aboard the Gibraltar bound for points unknown, all points of the compass, the one true point.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times rendered his opinion as “utterly wayward twaddle”, surely an expert. Variety and Time Out Film Guide were of the same.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Thirty years before, Sir Alexander Korda filmed the unveiling of the Night Watch in Rembrandt, there you have the critical response.
Wellington is the abiding spirit, the lares and penates of what we have been assured for forty years is a mere pile, a misguided satire, incompetent and worse.
Capt. Nolan’s affair, which so mystified the critics, is perhaps to be understood in the light of Wendkos’ Hell Boats, if one may say so.
A recent review goes so far as to say Mrs. Thatcher would not have allowed it.
The exciting story of how it came to be written by Charles Wood and not John Osborne has not been fully documented but prismatically over the years in various articles, books, and a legal judgment.
Osborne was sued for plagiarism, which is like placing copyright restrictions on the Battle of Agincourt and denying the Bard his pen.
Wood gives everyone full measure, in the round, looked at every way.
The tragedy is that of the capable man who cannot make himself understood.
Watkin’s cinematography is a critique of Tom Jones (like Mrs. Duberly and Lord Cardigan fetching it off) notable for its frequent abjuration of deep focus.
The splendid score is never mentioned, but the animations are variously admired for their beauty (they take up from Hamilton’s The Devil’s Disciple as editorial cartoons brought to life with the skill of a Winsor McCay) and condemned for holding up the action, viz. distracting the audience, sc. confusing the critics.
The specific example brought to mind most readily is De Gaulle, General Estienne’s disciple on modern warfare, ignored by the French High Command but concurrent with Guderian.
Yet nowadays the director of the loneliness of the long distance runner is “anti-Establishment”, just as in its review the New York Times pronounced him a “heavy-handed political moralist” and nothing more.
Variety took the occasion to denounce Tennyson’s poem as “doggerel” for good measure.
Laughter in the Dark
Nabokov arranged in gegenwärtig London by Edward Bond, designed by Julia Trevelyan Oman, attired by Jocelyn Rickards, analyzed in color by Dick Bush, accompanied with Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea laid on by Raymond Leppard, produced by Neil Hartley with Gershwin-Kastner and the celebrated production company Les Films Marceau, a Woodfall film. “Yes?”
“A vanilla ice, please.”
“Only drinks left.”
“Oh. Well, I’ll have one of those. Thank you.”
“Your straw, sir!” The obscure point of departure is something on the order of the missing scene from Losey’s The Servant (“I haven’t had anything”), the convenient inspiration Richard Williams’ animations, which are not in evidence. “Anything interesting at the office?”
“No.” Burton, who reputedly was let go after shooting some footage, persevered along another line in Dassin’s Circle of Two. A manner of filming around the manor also visible in A Delicate Balance, at the cinema there’s Romain Gary’s The Birds Come to Die in Peru, from Antonioni’s Blowup there’s Peter Bowles as the brother-in-law. “What a dump.”
“Margot!” With Williamson, a key to Preminger’s The Human Factor. A theme closely worked by Lubitsch (Rosita), treated to Cartier’s pan (Anna Karenina) and Minnelli’s Madame Bovary’s social consternation, all to a tune recognizable as Lolita (dir. Stanley Kubrick), cf. Renoir’s Nana. The revelation by the bay is variously remembered in Roeg’s Cold Heaven (water accident) and Buñuel’s Cet Obscur Objet Du Désir (female friend). Not the porcupine in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (dir. Mike Nichols) but a Grande Corniche full of bicyclists.
Drôle de drame, Carné would say, where the leading player looks like Laughton and a mime puts a knife to his melon. Bergman has the idea of a mistress as an enemy’s weapon (A Lesson in Love), here it is as simple as throwing a small cat at a blind man to knock him into the cellar and lock him there. The cream of the jest, cinematically speaking, is that it’s the one about the art dealer and the usherette.
Tom Milne (Time Out), “not as bad as one might expect.” Andrew Sarris (Village Voice), “intellectually certifiable melodrama.” Variety, “fascinating attempt... profound human insights.” A.H. Weiler of the New York Times, “evident serious intentions.” Film4, “spoiled by the inclusion of ‘mod’ London—completely out of place and unnecessary.” Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “the cumulative effect is merely ludicrous... morally offensive”. Pauline Kael (The New Yorker), “Nicol Williamson is probably the worst major (and greatly gifted) actor on the English-speaking screen today.” Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “somehow this all worked better back when Hollywood people like Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea were involved.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “moments do work, though,” citing Philip Strick (Sight & Sound), “fails to create the slightest interest”.
The analysis follows on Olivier’s quite to the point. Richardson sets the text in order for a straight-through reading. Springes and woodcocks include the play, which brings a reaction. The major machinery (leaving aside Fortinbras except as a reflected image) is fully visible, like the cannons and portals of Olivier’s film.
The technique is close work, effectively a bare or Shakespearean stage, and has been amply commented upon, except to add that these constructions with the camera are often very beautiful and very striking.
This is the occasion on which Roger Greenspun of the New York Times wrote that “Tony Richardson has never seemed a good director of films”.
Ned Kelly is hanged to start with, the rest is a foregone conclusion. The advantages of outlawry and brigandage are “a spree”, that’s all.
Byron Haskin took a look at Australia in Long John Silver, the beauty of the place figures large here, too. In the end of the beginning, the hellish nature of the transportation is most directly alluded to.
There is an effect of lighting continually to be had in the cinematography, a streak here or there amid the chiaroscuro.
Richardson in post-production adds a sort of telegraphic effect of fame, Shel Silverstein’s ballad sung by Waylon Jennings.
Mick Jagger’s ear has been falsely criticized.
A Delicate Balance
A well-to-do suburban couple at dinner, a third person at the table says “shit” and walks out, the maid brings in coffee, opening shot.
“We’ll all go mad before you,” says Tobias to Agnes.
The Yankee pasha and his wife, her sister who drinks, their daughter who divorces. To them Harry and Edna fleeing terror.
The girl upended one hot July doesn’t appear (Harry had her more than once), nor does the sister drink vodka in the course of the film until perhaps the end. A fine surreal language, very accurate and true, is set in discrete elements among the larger movements that prepare the punchline.
A sottish sister-in-law and a wayward daughter live on the house that kindly Tobias built, but Harry and Edna ask themselves if such a favor could be returned, then the departure, “they wouldn’t have the right.”
This is so much like Beckett’s Human Wishes (throughout, especially II, ii) that either Albee read it in manuscript somehow, or else he felt the necessity of inventing it. The change from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is from a precision of language in an easy, American manner to one that is self-conscious, “thought-tormented”.
“I apologize for being articulate.”
The general sense is of a trilogy, Woolf-Balance-Seascape, or rather Pictures at an Exhibition, Town-Country-Seaside.
The middle variation of a theme, that is, between Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Seascape.
Ely Landau as producer is one link to Lumet’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, the technique is close to Richardson’s Hamlet. Long takes, the shifting camera very apposite amongst the characters in living room (cocktail sideboard, fireplace with fire, sofa), study (desk, fur rug, leather couch), greenhouse, dining room, boudoir, around and around.
Paraguay is mentioned, an island off Paraguay, “way off.”
“A Chinese bomb... the fatal mushroom.”
The little subtheme of Teddy’s death is a question that lasts a year or so, never one of infidelity.
“You got the entrée, buddy. You don’t need a key.”
A two-horse race in which one is drugged and falls, killing its rider.
The finale shows the key as Huston’s The List of Adrian Messenger for the telegraphic construction of dodgy suspects and impeccable culprits (Addison’s score contains perhaps an echo or two).
So here the least likely figures at a racetrack are the powers behind the doping.
This is very drily treated as a Thirties mystery filmed in color and anything but a Woodfall film.
Time Out Film Guide demands “a steward’s enquiry.”
The only direct reference to the war is the dog’s name, Rommel.
The primacy of virtue in the countryside, “parish of Booby”.
The great precedent is Preminger’s Forever Amber, mother of Tom Jones, father of Young’s Moll Flanders and Lester’s Musketeers and Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.
As Hitchcock would say, the film was undertaken by a professional with expertise gained in the interim (mind you, Film4 calls Tom Jones “grotesquely overrated”).
The result is a new work, derived at great length from the Biblical account of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Fielding’s excellences of construction are the mainstay, elegant and profound, again the influence is seen, unexpectedly, in quite another stylistic direction with Russell’s Lady Chatterley.
It opens with the rites of May, and closes on the marriage bed, after many peregrinations.
Canby (New York Times) praises the film but would have cut one shot and doesn’t say which (“it may go unnoticed by others”). Time Out Film Guide says “little more than a middlebrow’s Carry On.” Variety damns it as “leching and wenching”.
The Osceola brothers from Key Largo figure as a theme flickering through The Border from the first arrest in a shop to the two boys shot for transporting drugs at the end (in between they are the two wetbacks found dead in a coyote’s truck to entrap Charlie). Johnny Rocco is now J.J., who sits on the border exploiting human misery for all it’s worth. Charlie comes to understand the economic basis of the trade, and then to ease its consequences, before overcoming and rejecting it altogether.
The exceedingly complex imagery is one should think mostly ablative, but it is combined with exceedingly sharp cutting (a perfect match) and a dose of Hitchcockism for the actors, all of which produced an indigestible combination at the time. It is simplicity itself in this latter day, however.
There are humorous details abounding. Charlie’s new house, in which his wife and an old cheerleading chum re-enact a football cheer promising, “if-you-win-we’ll-give-you-head,” has the street number 6901. The barbecue scene later on pointedly echoes Hammersmith Is Out. J.J. dies having blown his own head off after bumping into barbed wire while pursuing Charlie with a shotgun in his hands, thus proving “good fences make good neighbors.” The pander of Club Paraiso offers Charlie (who has the drop on him) a “good business” out of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The film ends with not one but two freeze-frames.
The depth of casting is also Hitchcockian. Alan Fudge has what amounts to a bit part, and so do Lonny Chapman and William Russ.
The Border is generally considered to be a work of incompetence from Tony Richardson, somehow redeemed by Jack Nicholson’s performance. It is a work in every way worthy of its director, and Nicholson’s somewhat unusual portrayal of a lowly personage, while certainly appealing, is actually a very sophisticated and very difficult rendering of a character type closely related to Jake Gittes in Chinatown and Robert Dupea in Five Easy Pieces, just as The Border is ultimately to be seen in precisely the same light as Richardson’s The Entertainer, which you will recall takes place during the Suez crisis.
The Hotel New Hampshire
A long piss on the American cinema, America and the bad cinema it produces.
It has the precedence of Kennedy’s Suburban Commando and Resnais’ Les Herbes folles.
And it is the worst film ever made, consciously and deliberately, with a great deal of effort and perfectly flawless idiocy, to make the point.
The music is by Offenbach. As the parrot said to the toucan, “you get Offen my Bach, and I’ll get Offen your Bach.”
The Phantom of the Opera
Richardson betakes himself to the opera, where very few singers can act, and there are even fewer directors.
Their productions are hideous, they stem from melomania pure and simple.
The Phantom is modeled on Rene Auberjonois, rather than Lon Chaney.
Umberto D. gives the setup, his landlady is installed at the Opera.
The breakdown of society isn’t a single, solitary phenomenon, but always rises next to it something else. A prerogative of the Marshall Plan was the foundation of governments overseas, that at home being the sole repository of the people.
When the popular dissensions shook the mastery of the whole nation, it was all being described by its participants. What was wanting was a more precise analysis of its root causes.
The credit sequence is not merely ornamental but structural. Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Cyd Charisse and Elizabeth Taylor are invoked (or evoked), as well as Frost (twice) and Nemerov.
Not since John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has a director shut his eyes and ventured forth into his dilemma so arduously. The mere question of a comprehensive analysis doesn’t arise, there being only springboards into the abyss. How you come out of it is like playing for Furtwängler or the ending of The Grapes of Wrath.
Orion went under, so Richardson’s The Misfits went into post-post-production.
H-bomb testing, aerial or underground. The Test Ban Treaty.